When it comes right down to it, fish are really not all that difficult to catch. The average freshwater fish’s brain is smaller than a pea, and despite what many may think, they are not capable of plotting against the angler.
No, fish are not all that difficult to catch. But they can be extremely difficult to find.
The angler’s need to find fish is what has given rise to the burgeoning popularity of modern sonar equipment which uses echo-location to find fish in the water column just as bats do to find their prey in the air.
Such modern sonar is now also typically coupled with internal GPS antennae. Combined with accurate mapping software, such GPS features greatly enhance safe navigation, and in the hands of informed anglers, also allow for an “electronic reconnaissance” to be performed on a new body of water before ever arriving lakeside.
Another GPS feature is that of being able to place a waypoint on an electronic map on the sonar unit’s screen. So, for example, if an angler fishes a 200-yard stretch of bank that all looks the same and happens to hook a fish at a particular spot on that bank, he or she can “drop a waypoint” on their sonar unit’s map and later return to that exact location, be it day, night, foggy or clear.
This ability to mark spots has a downside, however. Many anglers will simply ignore natural signs of fish activity, lake topography, and local weather conditions and simply go out and fish “spots,” making a milk run of places where they have caught fish in the past, hoping to find them there again.
A much more effective approach, and one that can be transferred from lake to lake, is to pay more attention to natural signs of fish activity, such as the presence of bait on the surface or at depth on sonar, and the presence of fish-eating birds, such as herons, egrets, loons, cormorants, gulls or terns nearby.
Paying attention to local weather, in particular the wind, is also helpful to locating fish. When the wind blows from the same direction for several days in a row, as it has blown from the south-southwest for the past week, the banks and points that receive the brunt of the wind will typically be more productive than sheltered areas that the wind bypasses.
Fishing major topographic features like points, humps and drop-offs at depths above the thermocline will also help solve the fish location puzzle.
Putting all of these factors together is a solid recipe for success. For example, if the wind is blowing from the south, I will first look at the north banks which the wind is blowing into, and points that the south wind is blowing onto or across. When I arrive at such areas, I will have my eyes bouncing between the surface of the water (looking for fish feeding or bait jumping) and sonar (to see if there is bait congregated below the surface). I’ll also look at the shoreline to see if any herons or egrets (the birds most commonly sighted in the summer on Belton and Stillhouse) are present.
As I continue searching with sonar, I’ll isolate my search to 40 feet or shallower, above the developing thermocline. Once I find fish, I’ll drop a waypoint only if they are relating to some apparent underwater feature like a depression, breakline, hump or the like.
Then, in the future, when the wind conditions are similar, I can use that waypoint as a reference point to begin my search, but would certainly not rule out water immediately adjacent to that waypoint. Pelagic fish, like white bass, hybrid striped bass and stripers, can and do roam back and forth on such features whereas ambush feeders, like largemouth, smallmouth and crappie, will typically hunker down on such features.
Taking a holistic approach to where you fish and why you fish there instead of simply hammering a few “spots” that just so happened to produce in the past will help you become a more productive and more consistent angler.