You’re thirsty so you go into the kitchen and open the microwave to get something to drink. Does that make sense? No.
You want to catch bass during the middle of summer when the water is 85 degrees so you go to the deepest part of the lake and start chucking a carolina rig because that’s your favorite tactic. Does that make sense? No.
One of the hardest hurdles for me as an angler has been to overcome the “want to” sensation and start doing what has to be done to catch fish. Everyone has their favorite baits to throw. We even are better in some areas than others which leads to a boost in confidence and more fish. However, when conditions and fish dictate what they want to bite, there are only two options; listen or don’t listen. The latter is going to result in frustration and less fish in the boat while the former is going to give you an increased chance in more bites. It’s that simple.
When I was growing up on Saginaw Bay, Largemouth fishing would be great until July and it seems like overnight the fish would stop biting. Heavy vegetation began creeping higher and higher into the water column until it was matted. And there I was with a lizard or crankbait beating the banks and getting frustrated that I couldn’t catch anything except “weeds”. Frustrated, the rods would just sit in the corner until fall or even until the next spring. The “want to” bug got me. Along with that, there are the million “what ifs”. Could I be using the wrong color? The wrong size bait? The fish must have left. Where did they go? They must not be biting.
That’s true, they weren’t biting. But I bet they would have bit something. Fish will always bite something. Whether they’re feeding, annoyed, curious, or it’s just impulse. Finding the right bait to elicit a strike for the reasons mentioned is what we have to do in order to be successful. Throughout the years, I’ve broken this down into a system that works for me.
First, I’m going to look at the big picture. In a body of water larger than a small pond, don’t discount any single portion of that water. Keeping an open mind from the beginning is key. However, choose a workable area of water to focus on. If you plan on fishing for a few hours, look for an area of water that can be fished in a few hours. If you’re fishing all day, choose an area that can be covered all day. If I’m in my kayak and I have four hours to fish, my area of water is going to be a lot smaller than if I were fishing an 8-hour long tournament. Don’t let “real estate” intimidate you. Believe there are fish in whatever area you chose to work.
Then, I’m going to want to make an educated guess as to where, in that area, the fish are. If it’s sunny, they’re going to be tight to cover, more than likely. But if it’s cloudy, they’re going to be off of the cover a little bit. Of course water clarity, cover, and structure also come into play. Experience and knowledge will certainly help in this decision making process. Once you think you have a guess as to where to begin looking, the next decision I make is how to work the area efficiently.
If there are electronics onboard, you can tell whether the fish are suspended or close to the bottom. You can also tell what kind of cover is in the area. This can determine what bait I use. It’s never a bad idea to start with a crankbait and when you get bit, you can tell what mood the fish are in. If they choke it, they’re feeding and will be aggressive. If they just barely get hooked by the back treble hook, they’re not that aggressive at all. Also, if they are hooked outside of the mouth, they may have just swatted at the bait. Chances are, though, if they are aggressive, you’ll get bit with a wide variety of baits. But if they’re real passive, that means you’re going to have to slow down and be more methodical. I’d probably opt for a shaky head jig, drop shot, or a stickbait texas or wacky rigged. That is also an indication that you should slow down your presentation.
What it comes down to is “fishing the situation” and letting the fish tell you how they want the bait presented and what bait to use. I don’t get caught up in changing the size or color of bait unless the bite is extremely slow to non-existent and then I’ll want to change something up when I’m completely sure there are fish there and they just aren’t biting. The worst case scenario being you catch maybe one or two fish or maybe none at all. However, that is also a learning experience.
If you’re anything like me and can get “hung up” on certain methods at times that aren’t producing fish, take a step back and do what needs to be done to put fish in the boat. If you fish methodically and thoroughly, you can be assured that you’ve covered your bases and have done the best you can do in that situation. The results will surprise you and it will be time well spent on the water being as efficient as possible.