Growing up I was fortunate that I was able to start participating in competitive fishing events a young age. My Dad took me in the KBI tournament for the first time when I was 10 years old and by high school I was fishing every event I could, from ice fishing to walleye and bass tournaments. Competing in these types of events made me a better angler because they forced to find and catch fish in all types of conditions to have success.
Looking back, I have had some great bass tournament finishes over the years and have even managed to win a few along the way. In those events where my partners and I were able to win we always figured out something special that would help us to put more big fish in the boat. Of course there have been plenty of days and events where things didn’t work out the way we wanted. That’s fishing. We should all try to learn from each day on the water, good or bad.
Anglers today have many tools at their disposal that they can use to help figure out the puzzle every day to catch the fish that they are targeting. Electronics have certainly become the most important thing to making us better anglers. Sonar that shows us fish below the boat and bottom structure, and GPS units that provide us with great mapping and the ability to return to an exact location help us catch more fish. Beyond that, boats and motors, rods and reels, and tackle continue to improve to make fishing easier. None of this great equipment will help us however if we are not putting our lure in front of some fish. Combining knowledge we have of fish movements and tendencies with the great equipment we have at our disposal will help us put the puzzle together when we hit the water this year.
Find The Bait
Aside from seasonal movements related to spawning, the presence of forage or baitfish is the single biggest factor in the location and movement of all fish species. At a lake trout ice fishing tournament this past January, my friends and I spent the day fishing some historically good spots in Regina Bay on Lake of the Woods where the derby was held. I had fished this derby at least 15 times over the years and had never been skunked before but I did not get a bite this year. One of the big factors for finding trout under the ice on Lake of the Woods is finding schools of ciscos or smelt near some sort of structure. Instead of continuing to drill a lot of holes in search of “bands” of bait on the flasher, we hunkered down on a couple of spots for the day trying to play the waiting game. Friends of mine that did catch fish mentioned that they were marking a lot of bait in the locations they were fishing. Deep down I knew this was important but it was a really cold day and I got lazy. Won’t happen again!
This past fall while filming a musky episode for my TV program Fishing with Gussy with my buddy Mike Reid, we approached a large rock pile that Mike had caught some big fish off of in the past. As we approached my Humminbird lit up with baitfish, cisco and whitefish that musky are targeting late in the fall. Three casts later Mike put a monster 50” plus fish in the boat. He basically called his shot when we approached the spot and he saw all the bait around. Over the years in all of the bass tournaments that I’ve fished, there have been many days when the wind or current had baitfish set up in predictable locations and the bass were fired up, in eating mode and we were able to take advantage of the situation.
Always keep your eyes peeled on your sonar unit and on the water, looking for the presence of baitfish because there are likely bigger fish nearby.
Water temperature is another important element in fishing because it can increase or decrease the activity levels of the fish that we are hunting. Knowing which direction the temperature changes have on each specific species will help you determine where to look for these fish and what type of presentation to show them based on their attitude.
I love bass fishing in the summer when we get an extended run of hot weather. Bass like warm water and in those dog days of summer more and more smallmouths move shallower as the day gets hotter. Knowing this, in tournament situations, I’ll often save my best spots to fish after lunch when things have heated up and fish are most active. On waters like Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake which have a lot of crayfish I think part of the deal is that the crayfish actually get a lot more active crawling around on the rocks and they get the smallmouths excited.
As well, the metabolism of fish increases as the water warms so theoretically they should have an increased appetite. All I know is that these days are the best for catching bass on topwater baits or around pieces of cover like weed clumps or logs where they will hide in the shade waiting for food to move by.
There have been many times over the years where, during these hot spells I have stumbled into schools of big walleyes in shallow weed beds or gigantic muskies sunning themselves on shallow reefs. When things heat up, don’t be afraid to look shallow.
Keeping Up The Equipment
As another season approaches we should all take the time to make sure our equipment is in the best possible condition before we actually go fishing. On my boat, it’s very important to me that my transducers are mounting properly where I can get a good depth reading while I’m running at high speeds and that they work properly when I’m fishing. I want to be able to mark fish as well as my jigs if I’m fishing under the boat. I go so far as to mount an extra transducer on the back of my boat for a back up in case my main one is damaged or quits working.
With my rods and reels I like to make sure that there are no damaged guides on the rods and that the reel seats are working properly. I re-spool my reels with fresh line and make sure that they are all running smoothly. If there are any catches in the reels or the bail springs are not working properly on your spinning reels, take them to a reel repair person for a tune up. You’ll get your reel back and it will be just like new.
Finally, go through your tackle boxes and get rid of the junk. The rusted hooks, the bent or kinked soft plastics and the stuff that you have been carrying around for years but never use. Having all your gear ready when you hit the water makes it much easier to take advantage of every fishing situation that you’re faced with so all you have to do is find the fish and catch them.