Have you ever found yourself casting where you know there are fish, but you cannot help but wonder what in the heck is really going on below the surface?
If you’re like me, the answer is, “All the time!”
For that reason, I have spent a lot of time over the past few years scuba diving with different fish species like bass, pike, trout, walleye and others. I wrote about what I saw in a series called “Going Deep” for Field & Stream magazine, and you can check out some of the writeups here and here.
Here are a few highlight lessons that apply to all the fish I have observed. If you keep these lessons in mind, you’ll be a more effective angler, wherever you go, and whatever you chase. I promise.
1.) I was amazed by how close I could get to the fish in the water. Why? Because they didn’t know what to make of that big bubble-blowing blob next to them. I didn’t register a “fear reaction .” But you know what did? Shadows, and any motion overhead. A bird would fly over a trout run, and the fish would scatter. A human shadow on the bass flat sent the fish looking for shelter. The number one factor in spooking fish is shadows and motion overhead, especially in clear water.
2.) The number two fear factor? Noise and vibrations in the water. Crashing along as you wade a trout river is a no-no. The clunky noises from an aluminum boat are deal-killers. Be mindful of the noises you make.
3.) There are two types of bites: “Feeding” bites, when you’re giving fish baits, flies, etc. that mimic what they’re really eating, and “Reaction” bites, when you’re aggravating or attracting a strike. As a rule of thumb, when the feeding bite is on, you want baits and flies to be as natural and subtle as possible. Conversely, for the reaction bite you want to be gaudy.
4.) Fish like changes: Changes in depth, changes in currents (where fast meets slow); changes in structure, and so forth. If you see a place in a river or lake where there are two obvious changes (e.g. a ledge and structure, or current moving around a point), make some casts there, because that’s where you’ll find them.
5.) Rushing never helps the angler. If fish get spooked, they will go back to the routine in a matter of minutes if you allow them to. Slow it down. Take time to watch and wait. The more you “mesh” into the fishing environment, rather than “attack” it, the more fish you will catch.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.