Looking back at a year of fishing, memories abound of great fish and great places. Next issue, I'll talk about some of the fine fish we caught for the 2006 In-Fisherman Television Specials, which begin airing the first week of January. One highpoint was catching and releasing a 220-pound alligator gar. It's one thing to finally get a chance to catch a fish I've been intrigued by since I was a youngster, quite another to go and catch a fish of a lifetime to boot. Luck plays a role in some successes. Still, the better we plan, the harder we work, the luckier we get.
Even the best-laid plans don't always go smoothly, though. We traveled across parts of the South last winter and spring, from Alabama and Florida through Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas, targeting redfish, crappies, smallmouths, largemouths, trout, stripers, and hybrid stripers. Three days of 15-foot seas kept us from fishing for coastal stripers at Nags Head, North Carolina. Tough weather made fishing difficult at Pickwick and Dale Hollow. We blew a truck engine as we arrived to fish for bass at Lake Fork, Texas. That's life on the road, which can be glorious, but also tedious and trying to the max.
I spend every day just about all year long working on fishing -- either television or the magazines. When catching big fish and getting footage and photos is the final measure of success, life centers on the details that finally determine that success. Agreed, that getting in on good fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time. But final success -- that which separates great fishermen from the larger crowd of decent anglers out there today -- always rests on fine-tuning the presentation process, especially getting the lure-thing just right.
Speed and depth control remain paramount in catching fish in every situation, but it also takes fine-tuning beyond that. Lure profile and size are important; so too color and vibration patterns; and certainly the working (or retrieve) method. No one lure works everywhere, all the time, particularly when so many different species and environments are involved.
The way it usually goes is something like this: We are fishing Picton Bay on the Bay of Quinte in eastern Ontario, last August, expecting, because walleyes are holding in weeds, that jigging with plastics will be the best way to catch fish. Each day we catch some walleyes on one of my favorite plastics, the 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Swim Shad, fished on a half-ounce Owner or Matzuo jighead; but the weeds prove too soft and stringy to get this bait through cleanly enough to allow the bait to be a percentage choice.
Working through a lineup of crankbaits, it becomes apparent that the #9 Rapala Tail Dancer is terrific over, around, and through these weeds. It casts well and works at the right depth (5 to 6 feet on 14-pound FireLine) and can be fished quickly or slowly, although quicker is better than slower in the warm water. Most importantly, the wider vibration pattern apparently calls walleyes out of heavy cover. Just as importantly, the wide, distinct wobble diminishes weed hang-ups upon contact; and when fouling does occur a rod snap and resulting rip-wobble from the lure usually clears weeds.
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Color plays a role, too. Two patterns work consistently well, Hot Chub and Emerald Shiner. We also catch some fish on the Perch pattern, seemingly the best representation of the prey the fish are feeding on, along with the occasional goby. We can't catch a fish on Silver, Blue, or Shad. Over three days of fishing, Hot Chub is easily the best color pattern, although we have one period on a cloudy morning in which Emerald Shiner produces many fish, while Hot Chub can't scratch a one.
The lesson there for those of us who often try to match the baitfish hatch is that matching isn't just an in-hand visual thing based only on our perspective. The experiment has to go beyond that to include the fish, which often tell us, as was the case here, that they think something else looks a lot better than what we think they should be eating. But you have to work through the puzzle to find out. Often as not, color is one of the key final factors in making a great catch.
That's the sort of account of how we work through the ongoing puzzle that is a day or two of fishing for a given species at a given time that strikes many uninitiated anglers as lunatic raving from someone looking way too hard for something to write about. Yet this is the sort of in-the-field fine-tuning that's always at the heart of finally getting in on great fishing -- even when fishing's easy. It might be easy, but there's always a way to catch more and bigger fish. That's just as true when fishing's tough.
For me and for most of you, this is the essence of what's challenging and fun about fishing. It's all about the puzzle and working through the variables to find an answer.
In another series of memorable situations last season, to offer just one more quick example, I learned that one should never go for pike in Canada without a contingency of 1-ounce Bill Lewis Rattle Traps. It wasn't just one of the most productive baits of all in one situation, but on three different overall trips over the course of a month -- this after the water had warmed sufficiently to move pike out of the shallows into deeper weedbeds. I often fished the lure for bass, but never carried it for pike. Big mistake.
This is why we spend so much time in the field; and it's why this staff of seasoned editors and field editors, plus so many of the other folks who write for us, can offer such detailed advice about so many specific situations in fishing. In this issue, each article illustrates that fishing success is all about fine-tuning -- that the difference is in the details. It took me 40 years of fishing to arrive at the conclusions I offer about fishing spoons for walleyes. It's way too much for most anglers, which is fine, because the relatively small group of total anglers that are In-Fishermen much prefer catching most of the fish, most of the time.