When it comes to freshwater gamefish found in our local reservoirs, we can break them down into two general categories: ambush feeders and pelagics.
Ambush feeders, as the name implies, hide in some form of cover, be it large diameter wood, thin diameter brush, aquatic vegetation like hydrilla, rocks or some form of man-made cover, like a dock, where they will often quickly dart out, grab preyfish, and retreat to that same cover.
Such cover also serves as protection for ambush feeders, keeping them from being preyed upon themselves.
Ambush feeders found in our Central Texas reservoirs include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie and the various species of sunfish.
Pelagic fish, on the other hand, care nothing about hiding in or around objects. Rather, they constantly roam more open water, always in the company of their own kind, in search of the baitfish they prefer — threadfin and gizzard shad.
When these fish patrol successfully and find such bait, they work together to herd, drive, and corral this bait to envelop them or force them against an edge, such as a bank, a feature of the bottom or the surface.
Although there are major topographic features which will keep these fish consolidated in an area, such as humps or long, slowly-tapering points, these fish do not bury themselves in cover and stay put.
Pelagics found in our Central Texas reservoirs include white bass, striped bass and hybrid striped bass.
Further north and east in Texas we have yellow bass, and in our northern states we have white perch, both of which are also freshwater pelagics.
Understanding the nature of the fish you pursue is critical to consistently finding and catching them. If you are simply out for fun and no matter what ‘stretches your string’ makes you happy, there may be no need to consider all of this, but,if you want to get better at fishing for a specific species, read on.
TARGETING AMBUSH FEEDERS
Because ambush feeders hold in and around some form of cover, successful anglers will focus on finding and fishing such cover.
Modern sonar makes finding, marking and returning to off-shore, submerged cover which is not visible to the naked eye, simpler than it has ever been.
Many anglers focused on ambush feeders make the mistake of insisting that they see the fish they are hoping to catch on sonar before they will fish a given piece of cover. This is a great mistake, as fish are often so well concealed in (or under) the cover they have chosen, that sonar will simply not reveal their presence.
Sonar, then, in the pursuit of ambush feeders, should be thought of as a cover-finding tool, not a fish-finding tool.
Once some form of potential fish-holding cover is found, it should be marked, the boat positioned in such a way (with great consideration given to wind direction) that casts can be made to that cover, then the cover should be probed for the presence of fish by rod and reel.
If the cover produces fish, notes should be made, either manually in a log, or as part of the editing feature connected to each waypoint in the sonar unit’s memory, as to the time of year the catch was made.
Over time, a reliable “milk-run” of season-specific waypoints will be developed giving the angler multiple options to fish in which he or she has much confidence.
Because pelagic fish do not hunker down in cover, even when an angler suspects fish will be located in a given area, he or she will need to cover a much greater amount of territory to find pelagic fish by sweeping the area with sonar.
Unlike ambush feeders buried in cover, pelagic fish will actually show up on sonar (typically in great numbers) because they are exposed directly to the sonar’s beam of sound given that they are not hiding in or under anything.
The mistake I see many anglers make is that of setting a waypoint on their sonar at a given location where they happen to catch a pelagic fish, then returning to, and only to, that exact spot, checking it out briefly, finding nothing there and then moving on.
That approach is simply ineffective for pelagic fish. When it comes to pelagic fish, a waypoint on a chart must be thought of as the starting point of an areal search, not the one and only point to be found and viewed.
So, doing this correctly, the angler would head to a given waypoint and begin a search for pelagic fish at that point. Let us say the topographic feature on which the waypoint was located was a long, slow tapering point. From the waypoint being used as a starting point, the angler would make long sweeps while driving the boat from one side of the finger-like underwater point to the other side, either working from shallow water to deep or vice versa.
These sweeps will be like walking back and forth behind a lawnmower as you attempt to neatly and completely mow all of the grass in a yard.
The amount of spacing between sweeps will depend on the range of your side-imaging sonar. I tend to fish 35- to 55-foot water at this time of year. When fishing these depths, I will typically set the range on my side-imaging sonar to 150 feet to the left and 150 feet to the right.
When I get to the end of one pass and make a U-turn to come back for another pass over this underwater point, I want to make sure that the coverage of my sonar beam partially overlaps that of my previous pass so that no part of the bottom goes undetected. Again, this is much like mowing a yard in neat, long strips.
As with finding ambush feeders, when I am successful in locating pelagics, I will make notes about the time of year I found them in a certainly location so I can check that same area (not spot) out in years to come under similar conditions.
To summarize, there is nothing wrong with having a “spot-fishing” mentality when it comes to fishing for ambush feeders. In fact, as you gain experience on a given body of water and add to your repertoire of spots which you have made notes on, you will see your success increase.
On the other hand, to have a “spot-fishing” mentality when it comes to fishing for pelagics is definitely misguided. Pelagics-focused anglers must commit to thoroughly searching greater spans of the lake bottom to find these ever-roaming, open water fish.