It doesn’t matter if you’re a tournament angler or someone who only fishes a handful of times throughout the year, the goal is always the same—to catch fish.
Sounds pretty easy, but having spent countless hours fishing throughout all seasons I can assure you, not every day is a walk in the park. The biggest challenge out there isn’t the fish, it’s the choices you make using the knowledge you have. The more knowledge and experience, the better prepared you will be to know when and where to make adjustments required to take your success to the next level. One of my favourite things about fishing is that no matter how much you learn you will never know everything.
Each day is a learning experience, all lakes are unique, and the species within them behave differently depending on the structure, food supply, water temperatures, and weather conditions.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
That’s right—time to study. To become a better angler you need to understand the seasonal movements, spawning time frames, and overall behaviour of the species you’re targeting. Take the time to read books and articles, or research by reading content on the internet.
Keep in mind some species can, like largemouth and smallmouth bass, can be found across the United States and Canada. Be mindful of where the source of the information originated from and if it was geared towards a certain time of the year. In my travels for bass I’ve personally fished on Lake Mead in Nevada, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, and on many lakes in Canada where each outing required a completely different approach although the target species was the same.
One of the biggest factors in decision-making should be water temperature. Take note of what temperatures are considered the pre-spawn, spawning, and post spawn periods for each species you’re targeting. Next, learn how fish behave throughout each period and the remainder of the season, keeping note of how their level of aggressiveness fluctuates. This combined with your base knowledge of their behaviour and movement will help you locate more groups of fish.
In clear water conditions try using the lightest line you can get away with. Braided line with a fluorocarbon leader has always been successful for me. I’ll often use 8-10 pound braid with 10-15 pound leaders depending on my presentation and target species. I know other anglers that spool entirely with fluorocarbon, the choice is completely up to you and there is no right or wrong answer. Experiment until you find the combination that you have the most confidence in. In clear water keep in mind how well fish can see and try to use presentations that look as realistic as possible.
A fast retrieve can be key and will often trigger fish to bite. With a slow retrieve you allow them more time to analyze your bait which can sometimes work against you. In stained water any lures that create a vibration, flash, glow, or are a bright colour will help to attract more fish in from a distance. Bright colours also have their place in clear water; don’t be afraid to change it up.
FISH HIGH PERCENTAGE AREAS
When you are out on the water, put the odds in your favour as much as possible. Many species on a body of water will have similar habits at the same time. Maybe some are up shallow in the weeds, or suspended off points, but if its summer and the majority are living on mid-lake humps then focus on those areas, not on catching the odd one off of a point. Spend time on areas that hold the biggest groups of fish. Pretend as if every day is a tournament and set goals for yourself.
In bass tournaments if we are fishing in a large weed bed, we stick to the sections that had the best action in practice and leave the rest. If we’re casting down a shoreline where there’s an extended point and a few docks that produced for us in pre–fish, that’s all we will focus on. We won’t work the shoreline in between, instead we strictly focus on our high percentage spots.
PRACTICE FROM HOME
Many years ago I had a very humbling experience while competing in my first big bass tournament. Saying I was excited would be an understatement, but little did I know how unprepared I actually was. At that point I was confident at catching fish but never realized how much work went in to re–tying, launching the boat, navigating, balance-beaming and weighing fish all while maintaining boat control, making judgement calls, and all other aspects of tournament fishing.
While we finished okay in the event we struggled to make it happen. Part of me felt like I didn’t contribute enough to the team. Sunday night when we got home, I asked my Dad to show me how he ties his leader knots so I could practice. Each night before bed I would tie 5-10 jig and leader knots with two old spools of line. Now we’ll be running at full speed and I’ll be retying all of our rods during our commute from spot to spot.
FUN FISHING-IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS
The following weekend we went out fun fishing and I asked if I could learn about boat control and how to drive the boat back onto the trailer at the end of the day…and the rest is history. This was just the beginning; from that day on I’ve constantly challenged myself and always try my best to become a better angler every day.
BUILD YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE
By building a good knowledge base and continuously improving your skills, anything you set your mind to is achievable. In fishing, having confidence and experience is everything. You will gain great confidence when you figure things out yourself as well, remember to keep a good balance between studying and actually spending time out on the water experimenting.