The real-world process that leads to fishing success
(Jan. 08, 2007)... You can really get schnookered if you try to learn about fishing by watching pros compete in a tournament. Or by watching fishing show hosts cash in on a peak bite that’s edited down to six minutes of one hookset after another.
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As you head out onto the water to begin fishing, have a plan in mind that can help you succeed. Divide your fishing time in half, and experiment during the first half. Try different things, and see what works best. Then, settle in and fish the most produc
Photo by Mark Strand
Talk about getting half the story, if that.
By the time a well-traveled fisherman settles on a pattern or two, you are witnessing the end product of a process.
When it comes to being successful on the water, it’s all about the process.
You must search first, then settle in and fish the most productive pattern you can put together, using the resources you have. More on what these resources are in a minute, but the key thing to remember is that you have to search first.
Many articles have urged weekend anglers to stop in at local bait shops, buy a few lures, and chat up the knowledgeable help to gain insights. Where are they bitin’ and on what and how deep and how were you workin’ it? We’re often told, also, to walk up to people who just pulled off the water and ask them about their luck. After all, they just got done fishing the same lake you’re about to start fishing.
This is all good advice, and it produces good information, sometimes. But to bank your fishing fortunes on this is not a good idea. Some people don’t like to tell the truth about how they catch fish on their favorite local lake. Some people who work at sporting goods stores don’t fish very much, so what you hear is warmed-up wisdom they heard from other customersâ€“ some of which is good and some intended to throw other anglers off track.
In the real world, there are fish-producing patterns that are far different from the ones everybody talks about. Fishing tournaments, regardless of what you think about them, have forced innovative competitors to find ways to catch fish away from the crowds. The pressure of competition has forced competitors to try unusual approaches, especially when formerly productive patterns fall apart and weigh-in time draws near.
So, the best searching will always be your own fishing. When you hit the water at the beginning of every outing, you should be in search mode. You should fish quickly, using lures that allow you to check large expanses of water in short order.
You are not necessarily looking to catch a lot of fish while searching. In many cases, simply getting a strike from a few fish is all the feedback you’ll get, but that at least tells you where fish are. After trying several search patterns, settle on the one that seems most promisingâ€“ then settle in to fish it, with the time you have left.
Before you start fishing, as you are heading to the water, decide on a plan. Decide on maybe three or four things you’re going to try, and how much time you’re going to give each to produce. On any given outing, one good rule is to experiment for the first half and settle in for the second half.
When you get to the lake, stick to the plan.
More on Resources
As you decide how to approach each outing, ask yourself what resources you have.
The first big one is time.
You can afford to be more experimental on the first morning of a week at a resort, than if you are stealing two hours at the end of a workday.
Another big one is equipment.
If you only have one fishing rod and it’s best suited to casting fairly light crankbaits, that almost dictates what to do. But if you have trolling rods with line-counter reels and rod holders, along with casting and jigging rods, you have to think harder about strategy.
Same thing with boats: some people don’t have a boat, so they fish from shore, wherever they can legally walk. If you have use of a boat, decide how far it can reasonably take you, in the time you have to fish.
Top competitors in fishing tournaments travel with large boats, typically, that can handle big waves. Those boats are powered with big motors that can move anglers 50 miles one way, if necessary, to a productive spot. Realistically assess your boat and decide whether you want to brave the waves and run long distances in order to check faraway spots.
After you gather information from other anglers and try a few things for yourself, you will have some idea of what’s working. No matter how much you like to bump stumps with fat crankbaits, if you do it for three hours and have one small fish to show for it, it’s time to do something different.
Even if you don’t like trolling, if you catch a couple nice fish trolling mid-depth shoreline breaks, settle in and do that for the second half of your outing.
No matter where you go, no matter what you fish for, the essence of this process should be the same. Ask the fish what they want, by showing them different presentations, then settle in and use the most productive one.
If anything, anglers with less experience need to adhere to the process even more than a wise old pro who’s seen it all. The old pro might be excused for sticking with something too long. He sees a certain set of conditions, something he’s seen countless times, and immediately settles in using an approach that has been good to him in the past.
What’s your excuse for sticking with something too long? If you simply like to fish a certain way, and it doesn’t matter how many fish you catch, then no one should fault you for fishing that style. But if you really want to progress as an angler, continually experiment, and build on your own experiences. That’s the way to be more consistently successful.