This original blog entry appeared in the “Kayak Fish the Great Lakes” Educational section in the Fall of 2017.
They say practice makes perfect but they’re wrong. According to Vince Lombardi, perfect practices makes perfect. All-too-often we don’t fish with a purpose and that is the only thing stopping us from becoming a better angler. We fish for many reasons; socialization, enjoying the scenery, being outdoors. Regardless of the reason, there probably aren’t know too many anglers that would be unhappy with catching more fish.
In my early teen years I was baffled by fish. Every now and then, I would catch some bass and for a couple weeks per year, the fishing was excellent. Those of you newbies out there are saying, “me too!” while those with more experience know exactly what I’m talking about; the spawn. However, as sudden as the fishing heated up it would cool off. As years went on I would use these thorough skunkings as motivational situations. How do I catch fish when nothing is happening? To be honest, fish are always biting something, somewhere. It’s up to you to make them bite. Aside from when the water here in Michigan is frozen, the post-spawn is some of the toughest conditions you’ll face. However, this is the perfect time to begin honing your skills.
It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to come home at the end of every fishing trip with dozens of caught fish, especially when fishing from a kayak due to the nature of the game. You won’t be able to cover the amount of ground as you would in a boat. But if you learn how to practice, it’ll pay huge dividends in time. This requires time, effort, concentration, and discipline to do correctly, though.
If you’ve ever known someone that uses one type of bait the majority of the time and constantly does well, this will make sense. The key is to have a thorough understanding of how to fish a handful of baits a number of different ways. Pick a day, hit the water for a few hours with one type of bait. These are your practice sessions. Whether it’s a deep or shallow crankbait, spinnerbait, Texas-rigged worm, etc. Only fish that bait. You may get bit right away or you may not. Change your retrieve around every few minutes and focus on how that bait feels at the end of the line. This will do a couple different things.
First, you’ll be able to detect bites a lot easier. The more time you focus on fishing a certain bait a certain way, if you’re practicing right, you’ll be able to tell when there’s a single strand of vegetation on your bait let alone when a fish inhales it.
You’ll also be able to vary your retrieve to find out what the fish want that day. For instance, a chatterbait can imitate a wounded fish skimming the surface of vegetation if fished one way or a crawfish fleeing if fished another way. I can’t think of a single bait out there that can’t be fished in more ways than one. I challenge you to come up with one.
In an ideal world, you may even take a couple of different rods rigged up to a swimming pool and watch how the bait reacts with certain retrieval speeds, jerks, pauses, how the bait rises or sinks in the water column, etc. It can also be done in shallow water but if you don’t get kicked out of the Holiday Inn for this, it’s worth a shot.
Furthermore, it’s important that you visualize what your bait is doing under the water. By having a good idea of what you want that bait to do and then make the necessary corrections to do it, is extremely important and underutilized. You’ll have to become a master of visualization, animation, observation, and keep doing something different until you get that bite. If you’re not totally exhausted at the end of these few hours, you’re not doing something right.
What you’ll accomplish by being versatile in your presentation, you’ll be imitating natural forage. When conditions are tough and bass get tight-lipped, why on earth would a fish leave their comfort zone to take your bait when you’ve been throwing it and retrieving it the same way over and over again. Especially if you’ve fished that area thoroughly.
Also don’t forget the environmental factors as you’re doing this. What worked yesterday may not work today. If fly fishing has taught me anything, it is that a single cloud passing over the sun can turn the fish on and as soon as it passes, it’ll turn them right off again. Make mental notes of what’s going on around you. Weather, temperature, water temperature, and forage are probably the most important factors so do not discount their effects when practicing.
It’s easy to fall into the same rut over and over again. Sure, you may have some success but it can always be improved upon. Focus on one tactic and when you feel comfortable and notice an uptick in the number of bites, focus on another one. Pick four or five of these techniques out per summer and I guarantee within a few years you’ll be improving your catch rates.