THE FOUR STEPS TO SUCCESSFULLY FINDING & CATCHING FISH - INTRO
If you’re an angler with limited time under your belt, you've probably only gone fishing during optimal times, generally when the weather is under ideal conditions, though you've likely extended your stay a bit longer a few times and found yourself fishing in less-than-perfect conditions. As a result, I'm sure you've noticed that when the weather begins to change, so too does the activity below the surface. Sometimes the bite heats up briefly, and sometimes it shuts down quickly, but when the bite shuts down, does it really shut down, or do the fish just move to a new location?
More times than not, as long as the current is still moving the fish are still feeding somewhere. When this happens, many anglers find themselves "fishing their way home" with no rhyme or reason as to the locations they are fishing, other than they are working their way back to the ramp and hoping to get lucky along the way. Meanwhile, the fish are also "feeding their way home," and more times than not, it's not in the direction you are traveling.
Wouldn't it be great if you knew why the fish left your delicious offerings but didn't leave you a note where they were going? Fishing during various weather conditions, and throughout different times of the year gives you the opportunity to experience different fish identifiers, and being able to identify these changes as they occur will greatly increase your understanding of what goes on below the surface as a direct result of the action above the surface. Once you learn these conditions and signs, a note is not required, as you'll have a well detailed map to the next party!
Every angler must fish different conditions in order to be truly successful on the water, and these conditions are not limited to just weather changes above the surface, but include the ever-changing bottom structure. Over many years of fishing inshore waters, I've learned to focus my attention on all things below the surface, as I often do in life as well. Surface conditions that are easily visible are often misleading (though important), and when you start to dig deeper below the surface is when things become a bit more clear.
When I plan a fishing trip my first area of attention is to fish good bottom structure rather than looking at surface conditions. Obviously, I do look at the weather for safety reasons, but also to enable adjustments to my trip as the weather changes, thus allowing me to know where the fish are likely going to migrate. I focus my attention on bottom structure even when I am flats fishing. It may not be big structure like pilings and rocks that first come to mind, but it is structure in the form of potholes, grass patches, bars, wedges and roll off ledges to name but a few. Structure is one of the most important aspects to catching fish, whether it be in a river, pond, or saltwater, you must learn how to read and work these areas if you want to be successful. Not all structure is visible, or shows top water signs, so knowing how to find those that are showing, and those that are not showing will change your success rate greatly.
There’s a big body of water out there and as the old saying goes, 90% of the fish live in 10% of the water; you’ll want to adhere to that. Rather than searching for the 10%, it’s much easier to eliminate the 90% of water and concentrate on the 10%. To beginning anglers this is a bit of a task as most areas look like good areas. This is partly due to the fact that beginners use a method of thinking that goes, “If I were a fish I’d be here, or I’d eat that!” To a degree that method actually works, but further investigation and a bit of preplanning is a requirement.
There are a lot of variables that make for a successful fishing trip. You’ve got to deal with the weather, time of year, time of day, tides, water clarity, water temperatures, and the list goes on. For most saltwater anglers, however, four factors generally separate the successful from the unsuccessful.
1) Ability to read the water. Experienced anglers can tell at a glance whether or not a particular area of water will hold fish by reading the water. This might sound impossible again, but fish are creatures of habit and instinct. The instinct is to survive first and foremost, and this comes only by finding food as effortlessly and safely as possible. The habit is to return to those productive areas in which the fish found most suitable. Figure out these elements and you are sure to follow the fish like a shadow. Now that’s not saying that every place that looks intriguing will hold fish on that particular day, but it most certainly gives you a very good starting point to work from.
2) The ability to understand the weather and tides, and apply that knowledge to your trips is an aspect often overlooked with detail. Sure, most of us check the weather to see if we are going to get caught in a storm, and then further to see how rough the water will be, and lastly, a quick check of the tides is about the extent of detail put into most inshore trips. Florida weather changes at the blink of an eye, and subtle changes can heat up, stall, or shut down a bite completely. Changes as subtle as wind direction can affect the bite in some fashion. To be a truly productive angler you really need to learn the ins and outs of the weather, which means you'll spend a lot of time researching and becoming an armchair weather forecaster. Thankfully, I've done a lot of the leg work for you in this book.
3) Ability to fish the spots effectively. Once a likely spot is found, you need to fish it effectively and thoroughly without spooking the fish. Boat control plays a huge factor in regards to this step, and anchoring in a fast moving current is easier said than done. Anchoring on shallow flats is pretty straight forward, but it’s those times when you are fishing structure such as a bridge piling in deeper water, or a dock and need to position the boat correctly. Spend too much time trying to get into position and you’ve effectively spooked your target. I’ve seen anglers quietly troll up to a great spot and spend 20 minutes trying to get in position, myself being one of those anglers at times. The anchor goes down, then up, then down, followed by some cursing of the tides and winds, then a few more anchor attempts. The noise level increases with every frustrating anchor pull, and soon the motor fires up, the reverse gears clank and prop wash sends turbulence across the surface. What was once a productive spot is now a ghost town. We’ve all been there, done that and cursed the winds and tides. I’d like to say that it doesn’t happen to me, and it’s not too often that it does as my experience has increased over the years, but occasionally it’s going to happen.
4) Presentation. Once you've learned the aforementioned aspects, getting the fish to chew on your offerings is the final step. This is normally the easiest part, as now it’s you against the fish. This is where you need your angler skills to kick in. Paying very close attention to the above mentioned aspects will certainly increase your success rate. If you want to be one of those guys that your friends brag about fishing with, then do your due diligence and put in the time to learn these aspects, which will be discussed in-depth throughout this book.