June 28, 2022
I’ve had the good fortune to fish in Mexico approximately 20 times, and as you might imagine it never gets old. I write that not to brag, but rather to tell you how much it has improved my fishing overall. Not only does swinging on a bunch of big fish help you dial in your tackle and your presentations, but the intensity of the bite also gives you the best type of souvenir: Fishing lessons that you can apply at home.
Here are four that I now carry with me everywhere I go:
1. Timing is Everything
A good spot is a good spot, right? Well, what if I told you that the best spot I’ve ever fished for bass between 4 and 6 pounds was only good for a limited window of time each day? Two hours too soon or two hours too late and you might as well have been fishing a parking lot mud puddle. It as a channel point that first dropped into 10 feet of water, then stairstepped into 50. We crushed them there on swimbaits once day at 11 am. Went back the next day at 9 and caught nothing, and then again in the afternoon and had one little dink. On Days 3, 4 and 5, though, we returned at the magical hour and lit ‘em up again. I don’t know why—there wasn’t anything special about that time, but that’s either when they were passing through or feeding. I’ve seen it again and again down there. There are morning spots and afternoon spots and some but not all that overlap.
Lesson Learned: Whether you’re fishing on the current-driven waters of the TVA, or the tidal waters of the Mid-Atlantic, seek out not just areas, but windows of opportunity.
2. Angles Matter
Despite being prolific fisheries with bass that can grow up to 2 pounds a year, lakes like El Salto and Picachos are small by American tournament standards and community holes get developed and pounded. Nevertheless, it’s possible to follow another boat and rack up catches—either because of the timing issue, described above, or simply because you hit it from a different angle. It could be a matter of turning 90 degrees and coming across a point, instead of down it, or you might go from throwing uphill to downhill. Due to current, wind, baitfish movement or other factors, that simple change can light them up.
Lesson Learned: If you’re convinced that fish are holding somewhere, don’t assume that just because you dropped a lure on their head that they’ll bite. I’ve learned patience and the need to adjust from seeing a simple change of direction change my fortunes time and time again.
3. Same Conditions, Different Results
When we went to Lake El Salto in May of 2013, the 6- to 9-pound bass acted like they’d never seen a vibrating jig before. Unfortunately, we’d only brought four of them, and by midweek we’d lost one and irrevocably damaged another. We MacGyvered the other two into shape, but worried the whole time that they’d give out on the fish of a lifetime. It was particularly critical because they wouldn’t eat anything else nearly as well. Now wise, we headed back the next year with over 20 Chatterbaits. Same water level, same air temps, same everything—except we didn’t get a bite on one all week. That was eye-opening to me. While in most cases that’s not true, it opened my mind to the need to keep on experimenting with presentations.
Lesson Learned: Be more flexible. Don’t get stuck on “this is what they’ve always done.” I know an area on my home waters that always holds fish in April and May, and usually they’ll chow down on a swim jig. One year it required cycling through multiple color jigs to get them to eat. The next year they wouldn’t eat a jig at all, but went crazy for a steadily-retrieved Speed Worm.
4. Keep Biting Fish Biting
What’s the first thing you do when you or your partner catches a big fish? Pose for pictures, right? Bad call. Once that fish is in the net, the livewell, or quickly released (or before, if you can) fire out another cast. Bass, and particularly bass in schools, activate one another. We see it with our eyes South of the Border all of the time. One moment it will be dead calm, and the next fish will be exploding not just to our left, but also 50 yards to our right. Or one of us will bow up on a fish after a long period of inaction, and the other will get a bite at the same time. The hardest part is often getting that first one to bite.
Lesson Learned: As stated above, windows of opportunity, even on the best fisheries, can be short. Sometimes they require you to jumpstart them. That might be using a finesse presentation to eke out that first bite, or at the other extreme it could require triggering a strike with an in-your-face power tactic. That first bite is the most important one.
You don’t have to go to Mexico to implement these lessons. Granted, it’s a lot more fun in the balmy weather, with your guide cracking open a Pacifico, and your personal best somewhere close, but these tactics apply everywhere. Carry them with you in your front pocket and turn every day on the lake into a bucket list adventure.