Some people seem to have a knack for catching more fish than others, and while there are those who attribute fishing success to good luck, most anglers who win tournaments or consistently fill live wells are relying on a lot more than just good fortune.
Successful anglers understand fish behavior and the habitat they prefer, and put themselves in a position to be where the fish are and present the baits that trigger strikes.
Different times of year and weather conditions call for different approaches. Knowing when, where and how to fish brings more luck than just hoping for the best. Like people, and most other creatures, fish prefer being in a comfortable environment. Smart anglers know how to get inside the peanut-sized brains of fish to understand where to find them.
The bright, hot days of summer make me want to stay in an air-conditioned building or in the shade, and fish have pretty much the same ideas. When the sun’s rays are high, fish tend to head into shady areas like the underside of boat docks and beneath an umbrella of trees. More often than not they’ll head to deeper, cooler water where the sun’s eyeball-blasting light is diffused by the water above.
Fishing around culverts, drainage pipes and creeks that feed into rivers or lakes is a good strategy for catching fish not only in the summertime, but year-round. These structures not only provide shade, but they’re also sources of incoming water, attracting predators to meet and greet new fish, insects and other things that flow into the larger bodies of water.
These areas of newly-infused water will often have higher oxygen levels, too, which is a big deal in streams or sloughs that have become stagnated during summer months when water flow ebbs.
These and other aquatic structures also give predators cover for ambushing schools of bait fish that frequent the areas. Sometimes structure is visible from the surface, like flooded timber flats, grass beds or rocky shorelines. So it’s evident where some of the prime spots are. Other times submerged structure like old roadways, humps and creek channels are pinpointed using graphs that show the contour of the bottom.
Another factor to consider is how deep to fish. While water temps are cooler at greater depths, there’s a certain point at which the water’s oxygen content is too low for fish to survive. So if you’re fishing below that line, you’re not going to catch anything that’s alive.
To improve your odds of catching fish (or at least getting bites), it’s important to know what’s going on down below. You don’t see too many people walking into a room and sitting down in the middle of the floor. We head for a piece of furniture, the fridge, the shower or other structure that provides some comfort. And it’s the same with fish – so look for structure and present your bait at the places it seems most comfy or advantageous for a fish.
Share your fishing pictures
When I started writing this column in 2001, cell phone technology hadn’t yet reached the point of equipping phones with cameras – or much else besides the 10-number keypad and the star and pound symbols.
Plus, digital cameras were still bulky and expensive. So most people who took pictures of their catch did so using film cameras after they got home from their trips, and I’d usually get pictures in the mail that were more than a week removed from the actual trip.
But today, not only can anglers instantaneously catch, photograph and release their fish, they can provide a live video feed of their trip to rub a little salt in the wounds of their friends who are stuck at work or mowing their lawns.
Another improvement through the years has been the quality of photos I receive. In the early days, a lot of the photos were either out of focus, poorly lit or framed up so that half the fish (or sometimes half the fisherman) was cut out of the shot.
I’m always looking for pictures to publish, and if you catch something news-worthy, here are some tips to help your photo make its way into the paper:
1. Make sure the fish is the focal point – if the focus is on the person, the fish (which is probably being pushed as close to the camera as possible to make it look bigger) will be blurry.
2. Make sure the lighting and background don’t interfere with your shot. Avoid backlighting and shadows, and find an uncluttered background so there’s nothing competing for attention with you and your fish.
3. Frame your shot so it’s close enough to show details but far enough away to get the entire fish. Dead space above and on the sides is useless, and unless your fish’s tail nearly touches the ground, there’s no need to show anything from the waist down.
4. Keep it simple. The more filters and enhancements you use, the less likely your picture will get published.
5. Remember that you’re gonna be in the picture, too. Straighten your cap, wipe the tobacco juice off your chin, and maybe smile. Also, take a few shots so you can pick the best one for posterity.
Send your photos and descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org.