Bank Fishing 101: Part 3 – The stealth factor

The way I see it, there a few types of fisherman out there. On one end the spectrum, we have guys like me try to be as silent and stealthy as possible. On the other you’ve got guys who slam shit off the bottom of the canoe, talk loudly, get slime off their bait by slapping it at the water repeatedly…and then there is guys in between those 2 extremes. Does it matter? Oh hell yeah it matters, but if that’s how some guys are, that’s fine, they’re just spooking the bigger and smarter of the fish they happen to be around. More for those of us in the know.

Big bass don’t become top tier predators by making mistakes. I believe that they associate stressful situations with certain stimuli. Let me explain. A recent study indicated that some fish can recognize human faces. Let that sink in a second. Now also, in that study it was found that they don’t use the same part of the human brain that allows facial recognition. They don’t even have that part of the brain! Amazing. Now, could it also be inferred that if they can recognize a unique face, could they also recognize unique sounds? Possibly they could, I believe that resident bass learn as they age. Maybe they don’t learn like you and I do, but a big bass is not a stupid bass. More than likely, a big smallie has been hooked at some point in its life and might associate that stress with a certain bait or sound. Let me go deeper. Its no secret that bass in clear water are easy to spook. Have you ever fished live bait and seen it ignored? If a bass wont touch a native baitfish on a plain hook there is something going on.

I’ve seen it myself. Up on a clear Adirondack lake (20′ visibility), I caught a bunch of native shiners and went to an underwater hump that usually has fish around it during summer and fall. On this occasion I tossed a live shiner out on a plain hook and let it swim around the drop off near the edge of the hump. Black torpedoes came from the depths within minutes, but my minnow kept on swimming around, right on the nose of these fish. I could see them, and they were angling themselves in a way that I know they could see me or my raft. They wouldn’t touch it for anything. I packed up and drove off to another spot on that side of the lake, same situation. Now here is the interesting part. I came back to that hump, this time in my canoe. Doesn’t apply to bank fishing directly, but there is something to learn here.

Silent. Stealthy.

Stayed way off the hump, made a long cast to the top of it with a Megabass Trick Darter 80 (GP pro green) and worked it back, this time when my bait approached the drop it got slapped and the katsuge trebles sunk into a nice smallie…

Now why did those fish scoff at the livebait and took my artificial an hour later? Because they didn’t know I was there the second time around.

When you can approach a spot in silence and keep a low profile, you will spook less fish and they will more readily take your offering. Seen it dozens of times since then. I love fishing on my raft, but its big, slow, and the 9.9 makes a lot of (unique) noise that I believe these resident fish understand as a threat or associate with a stressful situation. I hesitate to use the word think, bass obviously don’t think like we do. They don’t interpret the world as we do, but I believe they know what could be life threatening and naturally they flee and become way harder to catch.

Like humans, experience is quite possibly the best teacher. Ever had a river smallie use the current against you? Why do you think some of them do that, and some of them don’t? Is it because at one time they were hooked and fighting for their life by going downstream and likely breaking some poor angler off? Could be, there’s a lot of things we still don’t understand about bass.

I can’t tell you why they do what they do always, but I can tell you what keeps me from freaking them out:

-I wear camo. Not mossy oak camo, but colors and shades that are natural. Green shirt, brown shorts, greys and blues. I don’t recommend you head to the river with a safety orange shirt on. Smallies love to eat flashy colors, but a bright yellow or orange man waving a stick and wading through the shallows WILL get noticed. Stay away from yellow, red, orange.

-I make sure I stay the maximum distance from where I believe fish may be holding. I make the longest casts I can possibly make.

-I wade slowly in an upstream direction. Fish almost always face into the current or flow, does it make more sense to walk towards their view or sneak up behind them and out of their view? Common sense.

-If I spook fish I immediately back off the spot and give it half an hour or so. The fish come back if the bait is there.

-I don’t slap weeds and slime off my baits onto the surface of the water.

-I don’t yell and make commotion with my partner, I make hand gestures that we both understand when we still need to be quiet .

-I don’t play music while I fish, I pay attention to natures soundtrack.

Big bass are smart bass. In my opinion its just as important you use the right approach to the spot as the right approach to what you will present to them. The right approach is the one they don’t see coming.


Bank Fishing 101: Part 2 – story time

Last week I gave you the best advice I can give outside of technical stuff. Keep your lips from flappin’ if you want to keep catching fish. Common sense.

This week, we will dive a bit deeper into the basics of fishing from shore and wading.  The 2 are not the same, wading can get you to spots that are not accessible by shore (or boat), even with making longest casts.

This weekend was a bit hectic, lots going on but I was able to get a couple hours of fishing in. Here’s the story:

Greg and I decided to hit a spot we affectionately know as “The Vee.” It’s a section of a well known Adirondack River which shall remain unnamed. We discovered the Vee on accident earlier this summer while driving around the mountain roads enjoying the day. What looked like a community hole turned out to be exactly that, a well worn trail lead to the main set of rapids and the pool below. The funny thing is, our first time out there we had but one rod between the 2 of us, a gander mtn guide series rod and a Mitchell 300 reel. This was a setup I gave to Greg when I saw how rough his ugly stick was, broken eyelets, bent guides, reel hardly worked due to many years of use, but I believe it was riding around in the back of Gregs truck that took its toll on the ‘ol 300.  Our bait? None other than a 3″ rebel floating minnow in chrome. Line was trash, omniflex (walmart) that I hadn’t seen on the shelves in around 10 years. You could say we were roughing it, but didn’t matter, we took turns and caught smallmouth out of every hole as we moved slowly downstream. A nice 16-17″ smallmouth was the best of the day caught right before we left, I tossed the rebel into a hole we had passed by not an hour earlier and hooked up. By the end of the day, the ol rebel minnow was torn up, chrome missing, many tiny bass teeth marks etched down its sides.

Our 2nd trip to the vee is what solidified it as one of our new spots, we returned with better gear and far more tackle. I brought the Dobyns 703sf/sustain and Greg brought his gander guide series / 300x. This time we allowed ourselves a whole afternoon to really pick all the holes apart. I started at the main set of rapids again, this time I started with a tube jig. Dry Creek makes what I believe to be the best tubes on the market. They are the perfect size for creek/little river smallmouths. At 3.5″ they are still a good size, yet they are a more gitzit style in that they are skinny and not too thick in construction. D.C. makes some of the best colors around and provided the classics too. This day I was throwing mostly plain old green pumpkin and also smoke/holographic. I tore the smallies up on them, in the first hole I landed 2 nice ones, and lost another pair. By nice I mean 13″+. This hole gave up 2 dozen smaller fish from 5″-12″.  All from a hole the size of your average living room. Greg started farther downstream and was also catching a number of bass. He was using Berkley Pogy shad swimbaits. 3″ white pearl, shad, and firetiger colors. Greg loves his swimbaits. After an hour we both decided to move downstream to explore, in doing so we came upon a number of smaller sets of rapids and pool.

Each pool gave up 5-10 bass a piece, not the size we wanted however, so we kept it moving. About half a mile of stone stepping later we found what we were looking for….”the vee.” We decided to call it this because of its strange shape and orientation. The river drained to one final set up rapids that emptied into a massive pool spotted with boulders and downed wood. The flow of the water after the pool is what I believe makes this place special. Imagine the water flowing into the pool, then making a sharp right turn nearly flowing back the same direction it came from. To imagine what I mean, look at this V and imagine the right arm is where the water comes from towards the tip of the V, then takes an abrupt >90 degree turn flowing nearly the opposite direction. That’s the spot, and we tore up not only the smallies, but the walleye too. This river isn’t really known for its “eyes”, but we found a very healthy population. I switched up as tubes are not really a go to bait for walleyes. Greg was still catching them on his swimbaits, I threw on a 3/16oz football jighead with a ragetail baby craw in green pumpkin. Think of it like a twin tail grub that flaps vertically instead of pulsates like a curly tail. I caught 3 keepers in 5 consecutive casts. All fish released.

Certainly a spot worth trying, but this is clearly just another community hole, or at least it used to be one, we found old glass bottles and graffiti, signs that this used to be a local hangout. Tell tale blue worm containers told us this spot still gets some pressure, but not much. We’ve seen vehicles parked there only one time this summer and fall.

This gets me to this weekend. Greg and I decided to check “The Vee.” Our previous trip there was less than stellar, no walleyes and the same small bass that we weren’t in search of. We decided to stop since it was a few weeks after that trip and give it another whirl. We hit the big pool and Greg went quickly downstream to try another, a few small bass is all that took our offerings. I should note that again we went up to the mountains again to do some work and were mostly unprepared to fish.

I had my beater setup, a Berkley bionix 6’ rod with a abu Garcia cardinal 100 reel spooled with 6lb sunline super natural mono. Greg had my other beater setup since he didn’t bring any gear. A 6’6″ quantum tournament series rod with a mitchll 300x reel spooler with 8lb maxima monofilament. Needless to say, the Vee did not produce and Greg suggested we explore to find a new spot that would be down river based on our research using google maps.

This brings me to our first tip today. GOOGLE MAPS and GOOGLE EARTH are an incredible source of information for fisherman. I cant tell you how many spots I’ve discovered on google, but it is a good #. Back to the story, we spent an evening going over the maps and found a set of rapids and a large pool in an area that was quite remote. To get there we would need to guess where to park the truck and walk directly into the woods nearly 3/4  to ~1  mile to find the river again. I want to reiterate that a lot of guys wont do this…most guys will only take the beaten trail to the community holes. These are the spots you catch a trophy at…

So we pull over and size up the situation. We have about 1.5 hours of daylight remaining to make it in and out before we could not see. No problem, we head in and start moving downhill and into thick pines and damp peat moss. In some spots the mud is deep and almost sucks Greg in with his sandals. As we move through the thick woods we start to hear the rumbling of moving water getting closer. We soon could see the waters edge and it becomes obvious that this isn’t going to be a community hole. There is no trail, no opening to cast from, and no blue worm containers. We notice that from where we are you cannot begin to cast to the moving water we hoped would hold fish, so I decided to move upstream some to get a look at what we needed to do. This section of river had a eye shaped island smack dab in the middle of it, one side shallow and slow, the other the main channel, deeper and moving quickly, boulders strewn throughout. Really a picturesque landscape, could not have asked for better scenery. To get to the channel I knew I was going to end up wet, but since it was the end of the day I went with it. There was thousands of rocks and boulders, so I started hopping across the shallow section to the island. We made it to the island no problem, but when we got to the other side, we again realized it would be tough to fish, so downstream we went until we came upon the big pool we were searching for. This is where I fucked up, got excited and started hopping rocks/boulders too fast and lost footing on an angled one, went crashing into the water and on top of more rocks, shredded my forearm on one side, and gouged my hand on the other. Ahh, the price of good fishing. A few minutes later we reached the rapids and the pool. I hopped out to the middle, greg took the water route and went further across to hit a different spot. Immediately, Greg is hooked up with smallmouth and catching them no problem with his swimbait of choice : Berkley Pogy Shad in firetiger. I on the other hand was struggling to get bit. My swimbait (LC grubster) was not getting bit, and so I switched to a rapala husky jerk in silver/black. All this netted me was the brown snot on the bottom, no strikes, so I switch up again.

This time I think a little bit, I do a lot of research on fishing and when I do, I try to notice commonalities between sources. Let me break that down: If I read articles about fall bass and it says hard suspending jerkbaits in more than one source I make a note of it. In this case the jerkbait was striking out, so I dug deeper. I recalled a number of stories and reports that topwater walkers could be the ticket for fall bass. Looking into my limited tackle I was happy to see a small walking bait, Lucky Craft Sammy 65 in ghost sunfish. Bingo. First cast to figure out how to work it, 2nd cast to the boulder far in front of me in the pool. So there I am, walking the dog as I see a large brown body come out of water and slap my Sammy. I got a little jumpy and set the hook when I thought I felt weight, I was wrong, it missed. I’ve always been one to say that when a smallie misses your topwater, do not slow down, but speed up! I started ripping it back erratically, big momma slams the Sammy again, this time she’s got it, I wait a moment and set the hooks. I could feel her weight, a strong and hefty fish, rod jumping from head shakes. My elation is short lived as the old shitty Abu Cardinal fails and the drag does not slip a bit, the #8 treble hooks come undone. Maybe the flimsy Berkley Bionix rod did not set the hooks good enough, but alas, that’s fishing. I lost a trophy sized mountain fish, but I’m not mad, Greg saw her too, and confirmed what I knew already. Multiple casts to the same area net another decent 14″ bass, but not the big one that I had just hooked, she’s not coming back for 3rds. At this time we are running out of light and decide to pack it in for the night.

Here’s the takeaway:

Remote spots will hold better overall fish (size and numbers.)

Remote spots can be treacherous to get to, be prepared to get wet every time!

Beater tackle gets the nod when you’re bushwhacking: Using high end gear is great, but snapping off a 300 dollar rod on a pine tree, or dunking a precision Japanese spinning reel into turbid water is bad news and gets expensive quick. So, make sure your beater gear operates as it should. (drag functions, line is fresh, hooks are sharp, rod guides in place, eyelets not damaged.) Ignoring this cost me a trophy. You can bet the Abu is done for the season, or at least til I can tear it apart and clean it out.

-If you’re go to bait is not producing in fall, change it up ’til you get a response, otherwise keep moving, when you find one smallmouth bass you usually find a few more in hot pursuit.

Do NOT try to force feed them a bait they don’t want, regardless of what the talking head on TV said would work.  I’m guilty of this, anyone who knows me understands that in spring and fall, I always try and catch them on a jerkbait, Every. Damn. Time. As of recent, I’ve come to realize how much time I burn trying to force them to eat something they’re just not interested in.

-Finally, do your research. What worked in summer wont always work in fall, and vice versa. Find commonalities in articles and reports, note them, and come up with a  basic game plan for the day based on conditions and season.

Bank fishing 101: part 1

Shore bound anglers know all about limitations.

The banks are my roots. I’d wager more than 60% of my angling is done from terra firma, or wading up to my nuts. You don’t need a boat to catch quality fish. You will need some motivation though, and some forethought.

Good bank fishing is like a good steak. Lots of meat out there, lots of river and lakes out there too. Not all of it is good.

What separates a good spot from a shitty one? A few things do. Firstly, the best spots are usually not community holes. Too much pressure, too many bucket boys keeping anything that comes to shore. Community holes can be good, if you hit them at the right time, or you show them something they’ve never seen. Doing so is becoming extremely difficult in the age of youtube and hundreds of forums spouting off everything that used to be secrets to guys who put the time in to FIND OUT what worked. Now, in the age of fingertip wisdom, lazy people want  5lb bass spoon fed to them. “What rock were you standing on?” “What baits did you use tonight?” “Where did you cast to?” “What colors are working today?” That last question is always telling. When I can tell someone’s just a meat hunter, I lie my pants off. You should too, if you value catching fish with consistency.

It’s unfortunate, I’ve seen some great spots turn to shit because someone ran their mouth, or someone watched me kill it there one night. Its the nature of the beast, most people are followers.

Keep your mouth shut. Practice extreme prejudice in regards to who you tell about your spots, and also be wary of those who are watching you fish. Private property does not protect your fish.

If you find a spot that produces quality or numbers, keep it close to your chest. Don’t post pics to facebook, people will identify your spot from one specific feature if its visible in the pic, had it happen to me before. Don’t make that mistake, keep your ego in check and smash the urge to e-brag, your fish will thank you for that. Data stored on your pictures can also betray you, get a handle on tracking data your phone collects before you start sending and posting photos.

Next post in this series will explore some fundmental tips you can put into action next time you go exploring. For now, take todays lesson and keep it in mind when you stumble upon a hot spot in your travels. Now get out there and find one of your own, it wont always be easy, but it will be worth it.