Msg 1 Posted: 03:33 PM 06/30/06 (CST)
Structure Fishing - A Game Plan For Success |
BY TED TAKASAKI WITH SCOTT RICHARDSON
Fishing success comes when you apply a few simple concepts of structure fishing the right way at the right time. No more fumbling around guessing what your next move should be. Structure fishing offers a systematic approach that takes critical factors into account to locate active fish fast. Every winning team needs a strategy, a game plan. You do, too.
Certainly, the ideas behind structure fishing are not new. Fishing educators like Buck Perry and the late Bill Binkelman have taught anglers these ideas within the pages of Fishing Facts for years. Still, even today, too few anglers take the time to put them to work. They have to be at the foremost in your mind every time you pick up a rod.
Spence Petros changed the way I think about fishing forever when he first introduced the principles of structure fishing to me several years ago. With them, I have a method to analyze the challenges I face every time I'm on the water. Believe me, they work. I have applied these principles and use them in my everyday fishing.
Here's a few of the keys of structure fishing that Spence has shared with me and additional tips that I've gleaned from over a decade of professional walleye fishing:
MOST WATER CONTAINS NO FISH
This simple truth is the starting point of real fishing wisdom. Whether you are fishing a lake, river or reservoir90 percent of the fish live in 10 percent of the water. The reason most anglers go home muttering, "The fish aren't biting," is simply that they are not putting their bait where the fish are. So, the question you should always be asking yourself is, "Where are they and what do they want?"
ALL FISH ARE EITHER LOCATED IN THE SHALLOWS, IN DEEP WATER
OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN
Sounds like some wise guy made this one up, doesn't it? But, apply this idea to the way you approach every fishing trip and success will come more often than not. Even the greats like Al Lindner and Petros have ignored this one at their peril. Petros tells of a time he and Lindner were paired as a team in a muskie tournament. They boated eight fish during pre-fishing the day before the competition and thought they were in an excellent position to win. But when it counted, they only caught enough muskie to end up in fifth place. At weigh-in, they learned the greater numbers had moved in shallow overnight where the top teams found them under docks. Lindner and Petros never checked there. "That taught me a very good lesson," Petros said.
On another occasion, Petros was in Florida, where huge bass live. He caught one that weighed about 8 1/2 pounds along a deep weed line. A good fish, but he knew bigger largemouth had to be close by. But, where? Most of the morning, his rod tip had not been vibrating and he knew it should have been if the large shiners he was using as bait were trying frantically to escape big fish as they came into view.
But, the shiners were calmly swimming along with the boat, a sure sign the big predators he sought were somewhere else. Petros decided to make a move and check closer to shore. His second bass topped 11 pounds. "We've all heard it, but how many people really check the shallows, the deep and somewhere in between every time they go fishing? I keep that as one of my guidelines all the time."
FISH LOVE EDGES
Fish collect on edges no matter what the species. It could be a classic edge in the form of a drop off resulting from a natural change in bottom contour as a shoreline flat falls off into deep water. It could be the edge of submerged creek channel. It could be a weed line. Maybe it's a man-made edge created by riprap from bridge construction or a submerged road bed.
An edge can also be a river eddy where current breaks create areas where the fast water meets slow. Or, an edge can be a mud line created by the wind pounding the shore and pushing plankton into the shallows, triggering the food chain. First come baitfish work like magnets on predators that use their advantages of sight or developed lateral lines to feed in dingy water. "Edges give fish a place a follow," Petros said. "They give them a place to ambush. They give them a shaded area that helps to conceal them from prey," Petros said.
BUT WHICH EDGES WILL PRODUCE ON ANY GIVEN DAY?
The answer to that depends on the seasonal habits of the species you're after, water color and the weather. Petros uses the example of searching for bass in the summer. Expecting to find largemouth relating to weeds at that time of year, he starts by looking at his topographical map, noting the points and flats marked "m" for mud and "mk" for muck. The softer bottoms will support vegetation. Naturally, weed lines in clear lakes will reach to deeper edges than in lakes where water clarity is poor. He may try casting top-water baits right over the weed beds early in the morning and later move to the weed edge, focusing on corners and points. If a lake holds northern pike, too, the bass may be forced to secondary spots like pockets in the weeds. "Structure is my starting point, then I do other things. I don't stay there if nothing is happening, I may go shallower if fish are scattered, deeper if they are suspended farther out. I start out with the structure and let that be my guide."
FOCUS ON THE THREE FsFLATS, FUNNELS AND FORAGE
Forage is what it's all about. With the exception of spawning time, predators live to eat. Follow their food.
Flats are holding grounds for forage and, therefore, game fish. Yet, not all flats are created equal. As Petros says, "Some have more "character" than others. The more stuff you put on a flat the better it is. If it's a sand flat, it's pretty sterile and it might hold only a few small minnows. But, now you put sand grass (short little grass that's six to 12 inches in length) on it, and all of a sudden it's home to crayfish, smaller minnows and perch. Put some boulders on it and now more living creatures can use it. Put some cabbage weeds on it and some fallen trees on the shore. The more stuff it has, the more cover it has, the more things that flat can attract, forage, suckers, crayfish, bluegill, minnows. The more character it has, the more appealing it will be to bigger fish for longer periods of time."
Funnels are areas that pinch down. For example, this would be a spot that goes from 200 yards wide to 50 yards before opening back up again. This concentrates fish and makes for a great ambush spot.
Funnels usually feature some current and are home to a higher level of microorganisms that fuel the food chain, too.
THE WAY FISH ARE POSITIONED ON STRUCTURE DICTATES WHAT TACTIC TO USE
This one seems like it should be common sense, but how many of you know people who use the same tactic no matter what time of year it is or what their sonar reveals? The key is to use the technique that will keep your bait in front of the most fish for the longest time.
For example, if your electronics show walleye schooled on points, the logical choice depending on depth might be to cast crankbaits or jig below the boat. But, if fish are scattered over large flats, those methods would be inefficient. Better to troll crankbaits or bottom bouncers and a spinner.
EXPERIMENT WITH SPEED
Speed and depth are the two factors of presentation that you can control. Trying different depths will pay off and that's the same with speed. Don't be pigeon-holed into thinking that cold water means only a snail's pace will do or that warm water means you should race along like Jeff Gordon. Let the fish tell you what they want on any given day.
DON'T SPEND TOO MUCH TIME IN ONE SPOT
If fish aren't active in one place, don't die there. Stay mobile. Travel from one high-percentage spot to another and fish each one quickly and efficiently. You will eventually connect with active fish.
LOOK FOR THAT "SOMETHING DIFFERENT"
Fish will most likely relate to the "something different" on the structure or weed bed or shoreline. Some classic examples include a long stretch of points that all look the same. The best one might be the only point with weeds on it. Or, a coontail weed bed with one section that has cabbage weed in it. Always try the "something different" first.
"Structure fishing. Once you understand how to fish it, you can go anywhere," Petros said. "You can go for peacock bass in the jungles or you can go to Canada because it's all the same. Once you understand what the fish want and like, it's a matter of changing a few variables and you can catch fish anywhere and anytime. You understand how to fish in a fast and effective manner.
Fishing success comes when you apply a few simple concepts of structure fishing the right way at the right time.
IF IT'S WET...IT'S CATCH'N FISH