When people ask what my favorite fish is to catch, they expect me to say billfish, bonefish, tarpon, striped bass, redfish or another popular species. They are often surprised by my answer.
I tell them that the ultimate challenge to me lies in catching a free-swimming fish that I can see. It doesn’t matter whether I am using live bait, dead bait or artificials. And, I don’t care if I am trolling, drifting, anchored or standing on shore. The task centers on hooking and landing a fish on or near the surface that I can see.
I have never had much interest in any type of tournament or contest. If I find a fish swimming at or near the surface, it lights my competitive fires. Since the fish is on the move, it won’t be in casting range very long. I may only get one shot or possibly two. It’s a disappointment when my casts are on target but the fish I am trying to catch has lockjaw or I just can’t find the trigger mechanism to make it strike.
Those of us who have fished a long time have learned that fishing is a game of minor variations. The difference between a blitz and a bust may be extremely simple. One minor change in tackle or technique can turn defeat into victory. You might have to use lighter line, a shorter leader, or modify the speed of retrieve if you are using artificials. Perhaps it is a momentary pause shortly after you start the retrieve. Try vibrating your wrist on the rod hand to make the lure flash underwater. Above all, it’s vital to be observant. And that also means checking other boats and anglers to see what they are doing.
There is no better time to study fish behavior than when you can see your quarry and can watch its reactions to your attempt to elicit a strike. If you analyze what you have witnessed, it will help you use the knowledge to catch fish when they are not visible. You also need to understand that maintaining the cutting edge as you would when you see your quarry is not easy. When action is slow, it takes determination to fish with the same excitement as you do when your target is right in front of you.
When you are presenting a bait or lure to a fish on the surface, your offering must look like it is trying to escape from the predator. If the fish thinks its prey is charging it, you can bet your quarry will spook. Let me stress again that it must look to the predator (and not to you) that its prey is trying to escape. And, if you are presenting an offering to a school of fish, you want it to move in the same basic direction as the school rather than toward it.
Everybody has good days and bad days on the water, but to achieve success on the tough days, you have to work even harder. Newcomers to fishing often believe that the experts harbor secret lures and techniques that are closely guarded. The truth is that they work harder at catching fish than most people, and they keep changing their approach until they are successful. Try it!
by Mark Sosin