I chose this topic out of a request I received via email. If any readers have any specific requests, I’ll be happy to address them each Tuesday. Tech Tuesday is not limited to tackle. It can cover an wide variety of specific fishing topics, so thanks for the request. I’ll do my best to answer it.
This sounds like a very complex question but the answer (in my opinion) is very simple: know what you are looking for. To know what you are looking for, you most importantly have to be observant. Ask yourself what are the conditions around you? Is the water dirty? Is it clear? Am I seeing signs of baitfish? Am I not seeing signs of baitfish and life? Is there a little bit of current flow? Is the water not moving at all? These are the types of questions you can ask yourself on the fly as you fish. Here is just a short list of factors you can usually observe and figure out relatively easily in any area you are fishing:
Baitfish activity level, baitfish type, baitfish abundance, water clarity, water color, current, wind direction and its affect on your position (i.e. leeward, windward, parallel, etc), depth, bottom substrate, structure present, etc.
To know what conditions produce good fishing, you don’t necessarily have to have had some minimal level of success on the water. That helps because if you’ve caught fish, you can assess the conditions and try to find similar conditions the next time you are out or even the next area you fish that same day. That’s fishing 101……figure out a pattern that works and try to repeat it again somewhere else. However, you may have had very little success on the water, so you’re asking yourself how to find productive conditions if you’ve never caught very many fish. Well, take a close look at the areas you have been fishing and not producing fish and avoid those types of areas. They may be unproductive for a number of reasons. Having the ability to recognize unproductive water and avoiding it or escaping from it is just as important as being able to recognize productive areas and taking advantage of them.
The nature of our estuary is that we have ALOT of water. People are always intimidated by the sheer size of our water, and they often don’t know how to narrow it down. The truth is that about 80-90% of our water is relatively unproductive at any given time. About 10-20% of the area is where all the fish and life are. That’s not because we have an unhealthy system or there’s some sort of environmental factor that is making lots of water unproductive. The reason is that the fish follow the food and the food is not everywhere. If you find the food, you’ll find the fish. It’s that simple.
When I leave the dock each morning, I start with a mental blank slate for each day. Yes of course I know where I caught them the day before and the day before that; however, conditions change fast and those areas that were productive yesterday may not be at all productive today. Often following yesterday’s fish leads to lots of time spent searching. Instead of dwelling on the past and trying to hit all my good spots from the day before, I actively search for productive areas by trying to find baitfish in abundance. Use your sense of observation to do this. When it’s warm and sunny, you can usually just see it with a little bit of idling around. When it’s cold and cloudy and the bait is not up on top, you might have to rely more on electronics or other secondary indicators such as gull and tern activity or maybe just something as simple as a blue heron standing on the bank looking into the water. I often begin my day by just simply searching for lots and lots of bait. I might pull into a creek and look around for 20-30 minutes and not see what I’m looking for, never put a line in the water at all, and pull out of there headed for the next creek over. The next creek over might look completely different than the first creek, which was dead. The second creek might be full of bait and life. Then I’m really interested in spending some time with lines in the water. At that point, it’s just a matter of fine tuning your baits, presentation, and specific location within your area to find the fish.
So……..to narrow this big area down and find productive fishing, the most important thing is to be observant and ask yourself questions. Maybe you are having a really really slow day, so you need to ask yourself why am I not catching fish in this area? Maybe you are having a very productive day, so you need to ask yourself what about this area is making it good? These are important questions that will help to develop your sense of confidence on the water and ultimately help you to know what your are looking for.