As I’ve said throughout my career, you’re never done learning when it comes to fishing. I think that anybody who’s reading this wants to be a better angler. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, you always want to catch bigger, better and more fish. In this column I’d like to take a look at three things that you can do to help make you a better angler.
I recently did a seminar with Big Jim McLaughlin and at the end of it he asked if I would give everybody a tip on how they could catch more fish this year. I said that if people learned to use their electronics better they would catch more fish. Even though a lot of people have a fishfinder or graph, I think many of them either don’t believe what they see on their electronics or they don’t trust it. I believe that you have to trust your electronics for finding underwater changes like breaks, dropoffs, weed edges and other potential fish holding areas. When you find those spots there’s a good chance that you might mark some fish on them, but not always. Sometimes you’ll mark the structure but not the fish because they may be just outside of your sonar cone. Just because you don’t see fish, that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Let me give you an example.
Many years ago my brother, Wayne, and I fished a walleye tournament on Little Abitibi Lake in northern Ontario. It was the day before the tournament and we had caught some walleyes during practice. As we were driving across the lake, suddenly our graph went up and right back down. I swung the boat around and we ended up finding a small, unmarked shoal. We threw a jig down and immediately caught a fish. We thought that this could be a great spot for the tournament and, to make a long story short, we ended up getting second place. Guess where the winners fished? On that same little hump as well as another area on the lake. If our eyes had not been glued to our electronics we never would have seen that small bump on the bottom.
My second tip is to fish with as many different anglers as you can. You can meet anglers through your tackle shop or local fishing club who may be good in certain aspects of fishing that you aren’t. What really excites me is when I get to fish with someone who I know is a specialist in a certain technique for a particular species of fish because I get to pick their brains and learn why they are so good at that particular technique. I remember sight fishing for bass with Shaw Grigsby many years ago. Shaw told me that bass have different personalities and moods so it’s important to read the mood of the fish when you’re pitching lures at them in clear water. If they shy away from your lure because you cast too close to them, try making a long cast past that fish and bring your bait towards the fish on a bit of an angle and in a lot of cases they’ll come out and hit it. This little tip has paid big dividends for me over the years.
That leads me to number three; trying new techniques. Changing up and experimenting on the water is a very important aspect to catching more fish. Now, I’m not saying spend half your day retying lures. What I’m saying is to try three, four, five; up to ten different types of baits in different types of water. Doing this is like rolling dice – the more you roll the more you’ve got a chance of winning. Fishing is nothing more than a process of elimination. The fish are either active or they’re inactive. If they’re active you can catch them on a variety of horizontal baits and techniques, if they’re inactive you’ve got to hit them on the head with soft baits and finesse approaches.
I remember drawing long time tournament angler Larry Allard from Massachusetts in one of the early Bassmasters tournaments on the Thousand Islands back in the 80s. Larry took us into this feeder bay that had two little marshy corners and a rock bluff with a pretty good dropoff between them. Back then I thought the most productive way to fish a spinnerbait was to cast it out and reel it in with a slow, medium or fast retrieve but Larry threw a twin Colorado-bladed spinnerbait up against the bluff and let it flutter down. Then he twitched it with his rod tip – about every four or five turns of the reel handle he’d twitch his rod, let the bait flutter for a second, reel a few more turns, twitch, pause and so on. I watched him catch three giant largemouth bass in a row doing this while I was throwing a spinnerbait and using a steady retrieve. Needless to say he was leading the tournament after that day and I definitely learned something I’ve never forgotten.
So folks, when it comes to becoming a better angler, the bottom line is; you’re never done learning.