It happens every year around the end of November and into December — our water temperatures begin to drop and fish go on a feeding spree as temperatures fall into their preferred temperature range.
The gorging continues until the water temperatures fall to around 56F, then the activity moderates.
Since the Monday before Thanksgiving, my clients and I had boated a total of 1,149 fish in 11 trips. That averages out to over 104 fish per trip.
A few of these outstanding catches were made by Steve Niemeier’s party of three (115 fish), Barry Erskine’s party of two (118 fish), Jim Deuser’s party of three (143 fish), Mike McLaughlin’s party of three (151 fish), Dave Hanlin’s party of four (186 fish), and Will Almond’s party of three (179 fish).
There are a number of keys to this success, including timing the weather correctly, locating fish efficiently and maximizing my clients’ catch once fish are located. It is this last key I want to focus on.
Once fish are found this time of year, regardless of species, they will likely be congregated in large groups more consistently than at any other time of the year. The successful angler truly needs to “make hay while the sun shines” and catch those fish before the school loses interest or moves away.
Finding fish this time of year is certainly made easier by the presence of fish-eating birds, namely gulls and terns, but the bird action is not yet consistent enough to plan a full day around it. At some point sonar will need to be used to locate fish as well.
Once fish are found, there are two things that will enhance your catch. The first was the topic of last week’s article — using tandem rigs like the Hazy Eye Shad tandem rig to catch multiple fish at the same time. The second is simply staying still.
By “staying still” I mean keeping your boat positioned accurately atop active fish and not allowing wind or waves to move you more than a boat’s length away from those actively feeding fish.
Here is why staying still is so important: Fish locate prey and one another both by sight and by detecting vibrations using their lateral line organ. When the first fish is hooked at an area you have just arrived at, it flashes and struggles and puts off sights and vibrations that excite other nearby fish.
Hooked fish also often regurgitate what they have recently eaten, and will often defecate as a stress response. When regurgitated food and feces fall toward the bottom, a third component — scent — is introduced into the water, thus further triggering a feeding response in nearby fish.
If an angler is constantly moving about with the trolling motor, or, worse, drifting, he or she will never get to capitalize on this triggering of other schoolmates to feed.
On the other hand, if you realize what is happening and proactively attempt to remain atop the area that first fish came from, others will often follow.
The challenge of staying still has never been easier than it is today with the introduction of self-positioning trolling motors. I recently installed the newest 2017 model Minn Kota 36-volt, 112-pound thrust Ulterra trolling motor on the boat I guide out of. Once the “Spot Lock” button is pushed on the hand-held remote, the motor works to steer and power itself to stay exactly atop the location where it was when that button was depressed. The first generation of such motors was accurate to within a 5-foot radius.
This newest generation has even tighter tolerances, rarely allowing one’s line to hang any way but plumb vertical beneath the boat.
This motor also has the capability of “jogging” to the left, right, forward, or rearward in 5-foot increments, just in case you were a bit off when you pressed the Spot Lock button originally.
If your boat is not equipped with such a trolling motor, simply tossing out a marker buoy and holding your boat steadily near it by manually controlling the trolling motor is a perfectly suitable alternative.
The bottom line is that you will catch more fish if you capitalize on taking more fish from the schools you have worked to locate by fishing from a fixed position over top of these fish in order to take advantage of the domino effect first begun by the frantic activity of the first fish you connect with in a given area.