By Mark Sosin
Many of us overlook the obvious. Our focus tends to lock on to the task of choosing the right bait or lure rather than positioning the boat as quietly and effectively as possible so an offering can be put in front of the fish without spooking them. In many situations, how you handle the boat plays a major role in whether you will catch fish or send them diving for cover.
The most basic rule starts with an understanding of where the fish are going to be. Ease the boat into a position where you can get a bait in front of the fish or reach the area with an artificial. Fish are going to face into the flow of water or swim on an angle across the flow. They expect the moving water to carry their food to them. That means you have to put the boat where your offering approaches the fish naturally.
If you are fishing shallow flats, know that the fish will move up the flat with incoming water and start dropping back as the tide turns. Recognize that during periods of the new and full moon, they will go higher on the flat because the water is deeper. If you can see sharks cruising on a flat, use them as the perfect reference point. They are in the area where the fish will be and that’s where you want to start fishing.
Careless boat handling can eliminate good fishing in a hurry. The primary example occurs with schools of breaking fish. Frequently, wheeling and diving birds signal the event and can be seen from a distance. Boats race for the scene at full throttle, and not many skippers exhibit enough sense to slow down before they reach the school.
A better approach is to hang on the outside fringes of the school and position the boat so that you can present baits or lures to the forward end of the school. Usually, a fish in a school will not chase an offering if it is retrieved counter to the direction of the school. Instead, you want your presentation to land in the school and move forward out of the school at a 45-degree angle.
If you are bottom fishing or bouncing a jig, it is usually better to drift rather than anchor in one spot. The key lies in having the boat drift from shallow to deep so that you have a better chance of landing a fish if the bottom has obstructions. Keep in mind that feeding fish are usually on the front side of a reef, wreck or other obstacle.
It is equally important to be aware of engine noise, the splashing of a wake, and sounds in the boat that transmit through the hull. Whenever possible, approach the area you want to fish at relatively slow speed. If you can avoid it, don’t run the boat over where you want to fish. When you’re drifting and want to get back up current, make a wide sweep instead of running back over the area you just fished. And, if you are trolling, work from shallow to deep or deep to shallow at a 45-degree angle until you find which direction produces fish.
Every move you make with your boat should be carefully calculated. Handle the boat professionally, and you will catch more fish.