Fishing the Neutral Zone Between Winter & Spring

By Capt. Cefus McRae

The early spring can be a fickle time of year for fishing. In many areas of the country, winter is still in full force and in other areas spring is almost in full bloom, depending on where you choose to fish. It’s during this time of year that we anglers find ourselves in the fishing “Neutral Zone”, between two relatively consistent fishing weather patterns – winter and spring. In some areas, Mother Nature can’t make up her mind. One day it’s 70 degrees, and a couple of days later, it’s 29 degrees. Those kinds of weather pattern swings can really put a damper on the fishing. Radical temperature and barometric shifts can upset fishing any time of year, but the changeover from winter to spring seems to be the most intense.

Crazy weather doesn’t mean you can’t catch fish, but it can be frustrating. In freshwater environments, the fish could be up on the shallow points one day, and then hanging out near the deepest part of the channel the next. March can be a crazy month…with rapidly moving fronts, roller coaster temperatures, barometric swings, and rain that tends to put fish in the dazed and confused mode. Large impoundments and inland rivers get muddy and take forever to clear up. This could mean you’ve got to go further upstream or downstream to find unstained water alogn with fish that are ready to eat.

Right now, bass are in the spawning mode. Stripers are in the backs of creeks chasing small bait schools. Crappie are coming up from their deep holes to their spawning grounds. But one cold snap could put a halt to that, and you’ll be waiting for another few warm days, or consistent weather pattern days, in a row.

One strategy for fishing the Neutral Zone period is to adjust your fishing tactics to the conditions. Cold water — deeper and slower. Warmer conditions — a little shallower and perhaps a more energetic presentation, including trolling.

For the salty critters, the same holds true. In the winter, you can count on redfish to congregate on shallow mud flats on a bright, sunny day, looking for warmth and food. But with the crazy fluctuations of temperature, the inshore species become less predictable, and you’ve got to spend a little more time hunting for them. Offshore, the migratory species will start their annual movement north, and a cold snap can halt them in their tracks, or even drive them back south again.

Another fishy suggestion is to locate schools of bait (fresh or salt), and fish around them. During the winter, bait can get scarce, and you can count on big fish to hang close to the kitchen well into the early spring. When the bait wads show up on your sonar, that’s a good place to start fishing, because the game fish won’t be too far away.

Fishing the Neutral Zone this time of year can be aggravating and rewarding. Remember, fish are usually focused on the Big Three: Food, Comfort, and Safety. This time of year, the food and comfort components are high on their priority list. Even in the coldest months, fish still gotta eat. And they are going to congregate where they can be comfortable, both in terms of oxygenated water and water temperature. So, try to think like a fish and fish places that offer those two items. There’s a good chance that you’ll discover how to crack the code on catching fish in the Neutral Zone. Tight Lines and Calm Seas, Capt. Cefus McRae