Winter Lure Fishing For Catching Zander In Rivers & Lakes

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As the really cold winter nights creep in, many anglers will put away their lure fishing gear and hibernate for a few months, waiting for the warmer months to return. The exceptions are the ones that live for zander fishing – cold nights below zero degrees C mean the time has finally come for the prime zander lure fishing season! 

That’s right, the zander (also known as the European pike perch) is a predator that remains active during the whole winter, and actually, the best results for using lures are achieved during the colder months.

Experiencing a cold, snowy winter night on the bank of a lake or a river, searching for this elusive night stalker, is indeed something special – and when frozen silence gets disturbed with a sudden ‘’tock’’ on the tip of your rod, you will forget the cold in no time!

Where To Fish For Zander In Winter?

Zander caught by Denis
One of my many river caught zander – without a doubt
my favourite fish to catch!

Like all other fish, zander will seek deeper water as the temperatures decrease. So, logically, you will search for them in the deepest parts of the water. But the zander, being a night hunter, will migrate towards shallower water when the day turns into night. So, it is important to understand that there are different spots for day and night fishing. 

Where To Find Zander In Rivers?

Finding zanders in a river is easier than locating them in a lake. Why? Well, we can use Google Earth to narrow down their preferred habitats!

The deepest parts of the river are usually river bends, which are easy to find using satellite images on Google Maps. Every river bend has a hole deeper than the upstream and downstream patch of the river; this is where you will find zander. 

During the daytime, they will usually stick to the deepest parts of the river (if the day is warm, they will often migrate to the entrance or the exit of the hole), but as the dusk settles in, they will start swimming upstream and downstream from the hole to their night hunting grounds.

The biggest concentration of zanders will always be near their daily habitat, so fishing spots surrounding the river bend are the best choice. If you have some experience in lure fishing for zander, you will easily find them.

If not – zander is an ambush hunter and needs either an underwater obstacle or a drop-off to make his ambush. So choose patches covered with sunken trees, banks riddled with stones, or any other place allowing the zander to hide and hunt!

Always pay attention to the temperature. If there is south wind and the water is getting warmer, the zander will probably move right towards the bank edge. If there is north wind and the temperatures are low, zanders will approach the bank, but not as close as you would expect. They will stick to the outer drop-offs and deeper places, so you must reach out to find them.

Check out my article on how barometric pressure changes affect your fishing, including detailed insights into how temperature and air pressure impact your chances of catching more fish.

Tip: Zander is also known as the pike perch and is related to the Walleye, which is prominent in the US states such as Minnesota.

Where To Find Zander In Lakes?

This is a tricky question, and you will need to have a really good understanding of the lake you plan to fish. 

If you are fishing from a boat, an accurate fish finder, such as a deeper start, will give you the needed edge. Search for schools of baitfish in the deeper water to learn the depth fish prefer to be present, and then either search for structures at the given depth (that will hide zander), or alternatively fish around the schools of baitfish.

If you are fishing from the bank, it tends to get complicated. I have a couple of lakes where I fish with great success and some that are nearly impossible to fish. Why is this?

Well, it’s because I have vast knowledge of the lakes where I successfully fish. I know where are the deeper parts, where are those sunken trees, rocks, drop-offs, gravel bars, etc. This gives me all the insight needed to find zander during the day when they are in the deep or at night when they will occupy the hunting grounds near the deep water. Over time you can gain these insights into where you fish and use this to your advantage.

My best advice is to try to head to the smaller lakes. Searching for them and finding the right spot is faster and easier. If the lake has a gravel bottom, search for drop-offs (at least 2m of water depth during the winter is a must) or solitary rocks, which zanders might use as ambush points. If the bottom of the lake is muddy, try searching for deeper canals, sunken trees, or places where mud transforms into more gravel/rock bottom.

Also, always try finding signs of baitfish! If there is a school of baitfish near the shore, trust me, zanders are nearby! Their food is much more scarce compared to the warmer months, so they will not miss an opportunity for a successful hunt if they find the food source. 

Note: The world record zander was caught in Lago Maggiore, Switzerland, in June 2016, weighing 11.48 kg (25.3 lb).

Are Carp Lakes Good For Zander Fishing?

This is an Interesting fact – many carp lakes have a healthy zander population, and it is almost impossible to fish for them during the warmer months. Why is this?

1. Carp fishermen will occupy the space needed for lure fishing. 

2. Feeding for carp 100+ meters from the shore is common, and the zander will use the opportunity given by massive baitfish concentration around these feeding spots. This means they will move far away from the shore, out of the lure-fishing reach!

3. When water gets hot, oxygen levels will drop. This means that feeding grounds near the shore will get abandoned, and zanders will move away from the shore into the deeper, colder water. 

But, when winter months mark the end of carp fishing season, zander season kicks in! They will approach the bank in numbers and occupy all those spots that looked great during the summer but were empty. 

My best fishing grounds are the famous carp lakes in Croatia, and I have had incredible results fishing for them during the winter months! This is also the same scenario for UK carp lakes – during this time, you should get your lures and other tackle out for the predators, particularly the zander.

When To Fish For Zander In Winter?

Although the zander is a night hunter, the wintertime will allow you to catch them during the daylight hours. This is because zanders will dwell in the deep parts of the water, and it is way easier to locate them and present the lure when you know that zanders are somewhere in the area!

I fish almost only during the night, as the best spots tend to be crowded during the day, and I also find the night to be more productive when you fish from the bank.

However, if winter night fishing is not your “cup of tea”, the next best times are the two hours around dusk and dawn, which can be very productive.

Note: The lakes of Spiritwood and Alkali Jamestown, North Dakota, have the only truly verified zander populations in North America.

How To Fish The Jigging Technique For Zander?

Jigging is the technique when fishing with soft silicone lures (both grubs and shads) in deeper water. It is a rather simple method. The main purpose of jigging is to bounce your lure along the bottom, enabling it to fall every time you lift it.

You can do this by lifting the rod or simply by holding the rod tip up and fast reeling when you need to lift the lure. The falling of the lure is very important, as they will almost always attack it when it starts falling!

This brings us to the more complicated part: jig heads.

How To Choose The Right Jig Head Weight When Predator Fishing?

In lakes, I will rarely use anything over 5g, except in the rare situations when I face big depths and the need for far casts. The general rule is to keep it as light as possible. Why is this? If a zander attacks your lure while it falls to the bottom, you want to maximize that window of opportunity. A lighter jig head means more time in the strike zone!

Selecting the correct weight jighead is critical. In rivers, you will have to get serious. I fish with everything from 3g for night jigging near the bank to 40g for day jigging in big depths! If you are facing a 15m hole in a river bend, with a moderate river flow, there is no way you will get the presentation right with anything under 15-20g. But, if you use a 30g jig head, the lure will drop through the water too fast, and you will either get snagged or spend the day without any strike. If you use a 10g head, you will not have contact with the bottom, and fishing will turn into blind guessing!

A good array of various jig heads is essential for a successful jigging day; using a chatterbait lure is a popular option for many anglers. But do not be scared: this technique is one of the easiest and demands only a good knowledge of your fishing spot.

All efforts will pay off quickly when you feel that distinctive ‘’tock’’ on the tip of your rod, signalling a zander on the other side of the line! It is pure adrenaline that will have you hooked in no time. 

Tip: As the zander ages and grows to weights of over 10lb or more, it becomes a far more solitary predator.

What Are The Best Lures For Zander Fishing?

Rapala shad rap
A few of my predator lures,
including a range of Rapala and others

Below are the lures that are most productive for zander fishing. These are my personal choices, which I will always have available for every predator fishing trip. These are proven winners that can be used all year round.

Note that zander will always be a shy fish, but these lures will entice them to take a meal and give you the best chance of catching these awesome fish! 

Wobblers (only for night fishing):

Check out my in-depth review of my top picks of Rapala lures, which feature eight of the best freshwater and saltwater lures available for catching toothy critters!

Soft lures:

6 Best Tips For Catching Zander

  • Always remember that the zander prefers a slow presentation. Always remember that a fast retrieve is the main reason for not catching zander! And if you think that your retrieve is too slow – try slowing down even further!
  • Finding prime zander lakes and rivers is 90% of the task. Talk with the locals, Google the forums and Facebook groups, take your time, and gather information. If you find the right zander spots, success will follow.
  • Zander will occupy the areas in the lake that are completely unproductive during summer. Go and check out these areas during the night, and search them out with weedless soft shads (if there are snags). You might be surprised! 
  • Zander will choose three distinctive river habitats: sunken trees and obstacles, sandy bottom (because of dunes that give them cover), and rocky terrain. If any of those is near deep water, this is the ideal spot for winter zander fishing!
  • In winter, the weather will affect zanders a lot. Sudden falls in temperature will bring unproductive days until the weather stabilizes (even if it continues to be cold). Sudden temperature rises will bring good fishing days! Do not go fishing as the water levels rise because of melting snow. If the water levels rise because of rain – go fishing!
  • Always use the best quality hooks that you can afford. Check out my in-depth article on choosing the correct treble hooks for targeting predator fish.

Final Thoughts

The zander is adapted to feed in low light levels, generally at night, on lures or live prey.  Almost always, the zander attacks lures that are a lot more “twitchy” and love to ambush those slower-moving baits.

I hope this article has inspired you to go predator fishing this winter, especially for the amazing zander. It’s definitely one of my favourite fish to go fishing for!

You can learn more about catching predator fish by reading my in-depth review of my favourite group of fish: the pike, perch, catfish, and zander.

Denis Savretic