As a fishing guide, keeping up with the daily, weekly, and seasonal movements of fish populations is of great importance. Knowing where fish are going to be and when they will be feeding figure strongly into which lake I choose to fish, where I will meet my clients, what species we will target, and what presentations we will plan to make. Weekend anglers and tournament anglers alike can benefit from quality scouting efforts. Here are some tips.
LOW LIGHT TIMES ARE KEY
On a typical day, one not impacted by a drastic weather change, most of the fish-feeding activity is going to occur within two hours following sunrise and within two hours of sunset. The rapidly changing light level is a triggering mechanism that gets the entire food chain on the move. Successful scouting begins with being on the water during these critical times and making the most of this window of opportunity.
SCREEN WITH SONAR
Modern sonar provides us with a powerful tool to search the water column for fish. While down-looking sonar has been around for decades, new side-looking and forward-looking sonar is now available. Using these various views, an angler can quickly cover a lot of water and determine if cover, baitfish, and even the gamefish being sought after are present.
Learning to interpret sonar is a sound investment of time, and many quality instructional videos are now available to help beginners learn to use the units they have purchased. Some guides, myself included, offer on-the-water instruction on either your boat or on theirs to help get the sonar tuned and help interpret what is being displayed.
TAG 'EM, BUT DON'T BAG 'EM
Once you find fish, avoid the temptation to sit there and catch all you can. Rather, catch a fish or two, then “tag” them with a GPS waypoint (a feat easily accomplished on most modern sonar units) and leave them alone. Remember, you are working within a limited window of time (two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset), so you want to find and confirm as many actively feeding populations of fish as you can during this time. Then, when it counts (when taking a friend or family members, fishing with a paying client or fishing for the win in a tournament), you can make a milk-run of the areas you’ve identified and fish any combination of them as thoroughly as you wish.
Just this past week, I applied these principles to make two of my clients successful. I had not fished on Belton Lake for a while, nor had I used live shad as bait in a while. These clients, Dr. Ryan Sparkman of Scott & White Hospital in Bryan, and Belton’s Dr. David Clark of Scott & White Hospital in Temple, wanted to include a mix of artificial lure and live shad fishing for hybrid in their trip with me.
Although the trip was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m, I got on the water a 6:45 a.m. to net shad and then to probe various areas for responsive fish. I scouted exactly 11 areas and found active fish at three of them. I tried fishing all three of these areas with both artificial baits (slabs and bladebaits) and with live shad.
By the time my clients arrived, I had confidence of where I should take them and what presentation we should use when we arrived. On that day, 72 fish were boated, including two legal hybrid (exceeding 18 inches) and a mix of 70 white bass, short hybrid striped bass, and blue catfish.
Had I simply shown up at 4 p.m, there was no way I could have taken these two anglers right to the fish as I was able to do. Scouting definitely helped.