On my last fishing trip I encountered some tough bites and it brought to mind the changes in approach that I’ve gone through the past few years. It began when I started guiding, which catapulted the amount of time I spent on the water, and I started to notice trends and other factors I had never considered.
I used to fish for 10 hours at most, on an early or late bite, then do it again in a few days or the next week. But I found that being on the water for 12 hours straight (or more) for up to three consecutive days while guiding forced me to stay tight. I needed to make sure I was keeping on top of the bite and what was going on under the water. This wasn’t for fun anymore: I had to put fish in the boat and try to stay a step ahead of the game! It was like entering the world of the fish at a deeper level, working to anticipate their reactions to factors we encounter every time we go fishing.
While I used to just like to catch fish, now I looked at many things each time we hooked up — or didn’t! I had to develop fallback tactics that worked and a better understanding of what factors I had to watch. For example, I started seeing that sometimes all the fish were hooked on the outside of their mouth, then suddenly all of them had swallowed the plug. Something changed, but what was it? Maybe they were biting one plug real good, but I saw this as a great opportunity to experiment with other colors, types of lures and techniques. What could I learn that might help me develop new strategies?
Sitting in front of my graph for hours also caused me to evaluate the marks on my screen in a new light, especially during real good or bad bites. I never had really looked closely at how the fish were positioned, such as right on, just above or several feet or more above the bottom. Are they alone, bunched in small to medium schools, or in tight or loose schools? It became important to know if they were suspended, moving a little or actively feeding. After two years of guiding, I began to recognize the telltale signs indicating an active fish or school, hanging right where they should normally be and just looking for a meal!
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Watching stripers go from “hanging out like teenagers at a mall” to suddenly actively feeding and knowing the difference on your screen were the kinds of key factors that were brought to light. I found that fish — especially the big ones — can be very specific on their feeding times and what they eat. Like all big animals, they are not random but highly selective and sensitive feeders 95% of the time!
Having more time to try new techniques and lures gave me more confidence to follow my intuition and make sudden changes. I was learning to pivot more quickly to successful strategies that I had only dreamed of before. A guy can get stuck on believing that a particular lure is magic because he’s catching fish regularly, but I could no longer afford that luxury.
It became obvious that fish hear, see and feel far more of the subtle changes in conditions than I had imagined. I could now see them reacting to a range of weather factors — from passing cloud cover to wind speed and fronts. Boat traffic, too. Could they be this sensitive, a guy once asked. “Well, remember this is their home,” I said, “and just like us if you move the furniture around they will try to get comfortable again. Small changes where you live are very big deals!”
The pro’s call it “time on the water,” where your instincts get honed. And yes, it’s also humbling because I’m now more aware of all that I still don’t know. Never give up!
Eastman lake bass on a tear, Mark Inman said. Don Pedro kokanee and trout bites on, Monte Smith reported. Kaweah bass action solid, Scott Thompson said. Success bass fishing good, Chuck Stokke reported. Delta bass and striper action on, Randy Pringle said.
Opening day is Saturday. with many streams fishable and most roads open. That includes Beasore Road over Cold Springs Summit and the road to Wishon. Early-season hatches at the 4,000- to 6,000-foot elevation include Little Yellow Sallies (#14-16) and Black Carpenter Ants (#12-14). Some weather is possible midweek, but it should clear up by the weekend. At the Fly Shop, there is the fifth annual open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Free casting lessons, tying demos and a barbecue will be offered.
Call: Sierra Fly Fisher Guide Service (559) 683-7664; Yosemite Rivers Fly Shop (559) 641-7788