Where anglers are concerned, fish either get caught or get educated. If your tried-and-true fishing approaches don’t seem to have the same magic they once did, perhaps it’s time to razzle-dazzle fish with something new. We’ve sorted through some of the best fishing techniques from around the country to glean the following gems of advice. Give them a try when you’re out on the water this spring.
BY JERRY GIBBS
1 Hit the Eddies Eddies are among the best spots to fish in early spring. These back currents, which become fairly stagnant and unproductive later in the year, collect foodstuff on or near the bottom around this time. Trout can grub for it without expending much energy during the high flows of spring.
2 Stick Around Klutzy, sloshy wading will frighten trout before they even see you. Should fish dart away from your cloddish stride, don’t assume that all is lost. If you’re willing to make like a heron and stand quietly for a while at a prime lie, chances are the fish will return. Trout memories are short, and the fish hate to leave good holding spots for long so stand your ground.
3 Pass the Salt Salted plastic baits are favorites among bass fishermen, but many anglers seem to have forgotten the effectiveness of salted natural minnows for trout. Salting was originally intended to help preserve bait, but there’s another advantage. Trout seem to be as fond of salt as bass are–perhaps more so. This is especially true of browns.
4 Add Attraction One of the more effective tandem rigs for flyfishing consists of a bushy, high-floating dry fly with a dropper (tippet) of several inches to about a foot long tied to its hook bend. A nymph or wet fly is tied to the end of the dropper. Instead of regular nylon monofilament, try using fluorocarbon material for the dropper. It will sink the nymph faster, which is especially important in swift current. Also, it’s wise to coat the main leader and tippet ahead of the dry fly with leader sink. This will cause the leader to submerge just below the surface film, where it won’t cast an off-putting shadow.
5 Mark Your Spots When the run you’re flyfishing lacks distinct rocks, logs and other points to gauge distance, repeating the cast that raised a fish can be tough. Try marking your fly line with a felt-tip pen (in a contrasting permanent color, of course). Mark the line at 30 feet with a single inch-long line, at 40 feet with a double line and at 50 feet with a triple line. The moment a fish swirls and misses, check those marks to see the amount of line that brought the action.
6 Cast This Cold-Water Killer If you’re heading north this year to a really cold lake, here’s how to make one of the more effective rigs for all kinds of trout. Remove the treble hooks from a fairly large spoon, tie two circle-type bait hooks (to avoid gut-hooking) in tandem to a 12-inch piece of monofilament, and then tie that mono to the split ring where you removed the treble. String the hooks with a healthy night crawler and start slow-trolling. Use this method right after ice-out to snatch lakers that are near the surface soon after the spring melt.
7 Hold a Hopper Keep grasshopper baits alive longer on the hook with a harness. First, space out two short (about 3/4-inch) lengths of thin, ultrasoft wire crossways on your hook shank and glue them down using fast-drying waterproof glue. Then, rather than impaling the insect, wrap each wire around the hopper’s body.
8 Tie Knots That Last To tie stronger, more durable knots in fly leaders or tippets, try this: Keep a small bottle of a 50-50 mix of glycerin (available from druggists) and water with you. Use it to coat the material you’re tying just before you cinch the knots. Loon Outdoors’ Knot Sense (www.loonoutdoors.com) protects and strengthens knots, too. Coat the knots with the formula, which quickly cures in the sun. If you make leaders indoors, Loon can provide a tiny UV light that’ll do the curing job.
9 Fish Down and Across, Please Whether you’re working a streamer or a light spinner, it pays to make your presentation across prime holding spots in a broadside manner rather than coming head or tail downriver first. Cast across and slightly upstream, then begin the retrieve. Let the current swing the streamer or spinner so it crosses in profile across the lie. With the fly, you’ll need to flip (mend) any line belly upstream, then give a moment of slack before beginning to strip again. When using spinners, try opening your spinning reel bail to spill line, giving slack so the lure wobbles downstream to the next trout lie. Just as it approaches the sweet spot, close the bail and tighten up; the bladed bait will swim in front of the trout.
10 Go for a Walk “Walking” slip sinkers, typically used on walleye rigs, are deadly for presenting worms and minnows to trout. Cast well above likely lies and pools, then spill line to allow the bait to slip through the sinker eye and down to where trout are holding. To work a large area, cast above and to the far side and let out the bait. If no strikes occur, reel in the leader and move the sinker rig closer, then let the bait drift down again. Use a non-offset circle hook to avoid injuring fish that will be released.
BASS PRO SECRETS
BY TIM TUCKER
11 Spin the Color Wheel
Considering the hundreds of lure shades and color combinations they have to pick from, it’s no wonder bass fishermen have trouble choosing the right one. Texas pro Alton Jones simply selects a bait color to match the color of the bottom or weed cover he’s fishing.
“I realized that crayfish, like almost every other creature that lives on the bottom, tend to blend in with the bottom,” he explains. “If it’s a sandy, limestone lake, crayfish are going to be more brownish or light in color. In moss, they’re going to be a dark green. It makes sense that baits designed to imitate natural prey blend in, too. It doesn’t look right to bass if they stand out.”
12 Crank Up Those Backlashes
Nothing is more aggravating than a backlash in a bait-caster. But Florida pro Shaw Grigsby has a neat trick for quickly resolving a bird’s nest. Grigsby doesn’t attempt to pick it out. Instead, he tightens the reel drag to the maximum setting to lock the spool. Then, while applying firm pressure with his thumb on the tangled mess, he turns the reel handle several times. “This tightens the loops formed by the spool overrun and pulls the loose line in the right direction to reverse the backlash itself,” Grigsby says.
“Usually this frees up the line and removes enough loops on the spool so you can find the one or two key loops that are creating the whole problem. Then you can quickly pick out the backlash and resume fishing.”
13 Rely on the Drop Shot Born in Japan, the drop-shot rig is deadly for vertical presentations against bass. It resembles an old-fashioned catfish setup, designed to keep a piece of cut bait floating enticingly a little off the bottom. The drop-shot rig positions a small soft-plastic lure in its prime location–a foot or more above the lake or river bottom. The hook is tied to the line with a Palomar knot; the end of the line is then looped back through the hook eye to peg it in place on the main line. A small bank sinker or one of the new specially designed weights goes on the bottom.
14 Keep Fluorocarbon Line Handy More anglers are learning a trick flyfishermen have known for years: When it comes to detecting the faint strikes of light-biting bass, fluorocarbon line is the way to go. Keep at least one rod and reel rigged with fluorocarbon just in case bass don’t take your lure or soft-plastic aggressively. “You can immediately feel the difference between regular monofilament and fluorocarbon,” says California pro Aaron Martens. “Fluorocarbon has very low stretch and good sensitivity. It sinks faster than monofilament and braid, which is a good feature at times.”
15 Tune a Spinnerbait
No doubt you’ve heard that tuning crankbaits makes them run better. But spinnerbaits need tuning, too, especially after you’ve bounced them off logs or rocks a few times.
South Carolina pro Ray Sedgwick says it’s important to make sure the blade wire runs directly above the bait’s head; otherwise, the lure might spin or track off.
16 Supercharge a Buzzbait Most people wouldn’t abuse a brand-new buzzbait the way O.T. Fears does. To improve the bait’s performance, the Oklahoma pro routinely uses pliers to cut the buzzbait wire in half about a half inch above the leadhead. Then, after twisting small loops in the ends of each wire, he reattaches the two pieces with a split ring. This lets the hook ride lower in the water and enhances its hooking ability.
17 Read Each Strike
Florida guide Sam Aversa analyzes each strike in an attempt to figure out the disposition of bass. For instance, if a fish hits the lure and moves quickly from cover or down the bank, Aversa knows it’s likely there are more bass in that spot. The fish that took the lure is trying to get the “food” away from hungry rivals.
Another scenario: If a bass inhales a lure but doesn’t move much, Aversa says it’s a sign that a big bass, or an inactive fish, took the bait. In either case, he responds by being more precise and more methodical in his fishing approaches.
18 Peg It in Place
When you’re using soft plastics in heavy weed cover, you’ll get more strikes by pegging your weight in place. If you don’t peg a soft plastic, the sinker falls below the mat while the bait stays on or near the top of the weeds, where bass can’t see it.
Lake Fork guide Kelly Jordan uses a simple but effective method to peg a weight. He ties an overhand knot with a medium-sized rubber band, cinches it into position above the sinker and then clips the end. When he’s ready to remove the weight, Jordan clips the rubber band from his line.
19 Make Fish See Red Red is the hottest color lately in bass lures. Two-time BASS Masters Classic champion George Cochran takes the trend a few steps further: He paints spinnerbait heads red and uses a marker to add a red slash on the end section of the hooks on bladed baits. His crankbaits also sport a red front treble and painted red eyes.
20 Hone Your Hooks
Fishermen should never underestimate the importance of using the right hook, keeping it in top-notch shape and knowing when to change it.
“I check my hooks’ sharpness about every five minutes and am constantly sharpening them,” says three-time BASS Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam. “I see people who are still using the factory hooks, rusty hooks, bent hooks or hooks that just aren’t as sharp as they should be. Then they wonder why they keep missing fish.”
By KEITH SUTTON
21 Suspend the Bait Small streams often bristle with small- to medium catfish. Here, a bobber/drift presentation works well. Position a bobber so the bait hangs just above, but not on, the stream’s bottom. Add enough weight to hold the bait down, then allow the rig to drift naturally as you guide it along potential catfish hideouts. If possible, use natural baits taken from the stream you’re fishing.
22 Cast No Shadows Catfish spook when a shadow crosses the water. Keep the sun in your face or at your side to avoid casting a shadow on the water you’re fishing.
23 Set the Table
If it’s legal in your state to use chum to attract and concentrate catfish, give it a try. Pour a gallon of wheat and/or milo into a 5-gallon bucket and cover the grain with water. Place the uncovered mix in a sunny location outdoors, and allow several days for it to sour. The worse the mixture smells, the better catfish will like it.
Use a plastic scoop to scatter the chum around areas you intend to fish. Don’t overdo it; you want catfish to pick up the feed kernel by kernel so they don’t get full. Lower a bait, such as a minnow or night crawler, to the bottom and you’ll soon hook a catfish attracted by the chum.
24 Double Dip
The double-hook tightline rig is excellent for suspended channel cats. Begin with a 1-ounce bank sinker at your line’s end. Tie a loop knot 18 inches above it, and another 18 inches above that. Tie 3/0 hooks on 2-foot leaders, then tie the leaders to the loops and bait each hook.
Bounce the sinker on bottom as you drift. You’ll soon learn the “feel” of the sinker striking cover such as a rock or log. When the rig bumps something, hold it there momentarily. If a catfish is waiting in ambush, your bait won’t last long. Set the hook at the first sensation of a pull on the line.
25 Work Wonders With Worms
Worms can entice big flatheads almost as well as live-fish baits do. For the most attractive rig, run an 8/0 Kahle hook through one end of a worm, then run it back through the worm’s collar, leaving the end of the worm hanging. Continue loading worms until you fill up the hook. You want as many loose ends as possible and enough worms to create a tennis-ball-sized wad.
Small fish, such as sunfish or suckers, will nibble the worms when they’re fished on the bottom. A big cat nearby will watch the little fish and will eventually approach in an attempt to either devour a smaller fish or steal what it’s eating. When you notice the nibbling is over, prepare for a strike: The small fish are fleeing and the lunker catfish is on his way.
26 Make a Sandwich for Catfish Big blue cats love sandwiches. Make one by sandwiching the innards of a big herring or shad between two fillets from the same baitfish. Thread the sandwich on a 5/0 wide-gap circle hook tied on a drop leader above a 2-ounce bank sinker. Bottom-bounce the rig while drifting and hold tight.
27 Fish the Morning Shift Don’t disregard dawn; it’s one of the best times to fish. On many waters, catfish activity peaks just as the sun rises. Cast at daybreak, and your catch rate might soar.
28 Serve Up Some Groceries Bait store closed? Don’t fret. Head for the nearest supermarket. To snag trophy blue cats, try Hormel Spam. A chunk of this spicy canned meat caught the current 116-pound world-record cat. Many record-book white cats have fallen for strips of hickory-smoked bacon. Jumbo channel cats? They love cheap hot dogs. And don’t forget to try plugs of Ivory soap on your hook.
29 Keep Bait Close on a Dark Night On moonless nights, catfish hunt the shallows. Cast your bait near shore, not toward deeper water. On moonlit nights, start deep and work progressively into shallower water until you find fish. Tighten your line, keeping a finger on it to detect bites. Set the hook hard when you get a taker.
30 Hit the Bull’s-eye Rock wing dikes in rivers often attract catfish. When you’re fishing these structures watch for little whirlpools forming and moving across the water at each dike’s end. Time your cast so your baited rig drops in the “eye” of a whirlpool. Do this and the bait will fall directly to the bottom and hold, rather than being swept downstream in the current. Your chances of hooking a nice cat increase substantially.
By DICK STERNBERG
31 Lighten Up When walleyes move into the shallows in the evening, experts often troll with side planers deployed to avoid spooking the fish with their boat. But it’s hard to see the boards after dark, and consequently it’s difficult to detect when the lines get fouled in weed lines or other cover along the bank. Here’s a solution: Attach a pair of metal clips to the top of the planer and clip on a Cyalume light stick. The stick should be bright enough to show where the trolling planer is relative to hazards like branches or plants.
32 Think Small A tiny weight can make a huge difference when you’re jig-fishing for walleyes. If a jig is a little too light, you’ll have trouble getting it to the bottom, especially in windy weather or a swift current. A heavy jig will sink too fast and walleyes will ignore it. Problem is, most manufacturers only produce jigs in increments of 1/8 ounce. Tailor your presentation to conditions much more precisely by molding your own jigheads. Look for a mold that lets you craft a variety of head weights, including the in-between sizes of 3/16-, 5/16- and 7/16-ounce.
33 Watch the Birds The next time you’re seeking shallow-water walleyes, look for herons, egrets and other wading birds in the area. Such birds feed on minnows in the shallows, and where there are minnows, there are apt to be walleyes, too.
34 Avoid the Snags A bottom-bouncer rig can be pulled over a snaggy structure with little chance of hanging up. With only the tip of the wire touching bottom it’s unlikely that the sinker will catch on rocks or logs. But if you pull the rig slowly, as is sometimes necessary to entice a strike, the hook may drag bottom and hang up. To prevent that, look for a bottom-bouncer with an extra-long wire.
35 Keep Leeches Kicking Dick “the Griz” Grzywinski, a legend in Minnesota walleye-fishing circles, has discovered a unique way to “activate” his leeches. To keep the critters alive in hot weather, he puts them in a Styrofoam bucket filled with ice water. But when leeches are this cold, they don’t swim much if you put them on the hook immediately. Instead of dropping an ice-cold leech directly into the water, Grzywinski puts it on a sun-warmed boat seat. When the leech starts to squirm violently, it’s time to bait up. The intense wiggle will trigger far more walleye strikes than a slow-swimming action bait.
36 Check the Map In walleye fishing, precision is the name of the game, so it’s important to have an accurate lake map. But the majority of the maps you’ll find at a local tackle shop were made without the benefit of modern mapping technology and their accuracy is questionable at best. If you can find a map of your favorite lake made within the last few years using computer-aided GPS technology, spend a few extra bucks and buy it. Consult the map for likely looking structure, write down the GPS coordinates and transfer them into a GPS unit. Then you can easily navigate to each spot.
37 Save Those Bobbers Fishing with a slip bobber works well on rocky structure; because your bait stays off the bottom, snags aren’t much of a problem. If you do get snagged and have to break the line, however, the bobber may slide off the line and drift away. To prevent losing that expensive float, add a second bobber stop just above the sinker. Then, if your line breaks at the sinker, as it often will, the extra stop will keep the float from sliding off the line.
38 Give It to Them Tail-First If walleyes ignore the minnow you’re using for bait, try this: Hook the minnow through the tail rather than the lips and pull it backward. The minnow will struggle violently and try to swim against the pull. This technique works best with large, hardy minnows such as redtail chubs at least 3 inches long. It’s not effective with delicate minnows, such as shiners; the extra stress will kill them quickly.
39 Leave the Wobble Alone A balsa minnowbait has a lifelike wobble that walleyes find hard to resist. But many anglers make the mistake of attaching the lure to their line with a heavy snap-swivel. Not only does the weight of the snap slightly mute the lure’s wobble, but the snap slides to the upper portion of the lure’s eye during the retrieve, further reducing the action. Instead of snapping on the lure, tie it directly to your line. This will greatly increase the wobble and draw more strikes.
40 Downsize Your Hook To maximize the action of a live bait and make it more visible to walleyes, use a smaller, lighter hook. A heavy hook not only restricts a bait’s movement, but also causes it to drag on the bottom, where it will pick up debris and be difficult for the fish to see. If you’re fishing a leech on a size 4 hook with a standard-length shank, for example, try a size 6 or 8 short-shank, fine-wire hook instead.