I spent a very long afternoon on the water with another angler once, one that I’ll never forget, an experience that I’ve since learned to benefit from. It was in the Summer of 1985 that I had my first opportunity to share a day of fishing with an experienced tournament angler, to hopefully catch plenty of fish and learn a little along the way – well, I didn’t catch a single fish that day, but in retrospect I did learn a valuable lesson.
The bass had lockjaw that afternoon on Hawg Lake near LaPorte, Indiana, but Bill was still getting some nice hookups while I beat the water frantically, trying just to get my first fish. I wasn’t experienced enough to realize that paying attention and doing exactly what he was doing differently than I was would result in catching fish, but now I know, given the same circumstances today, things would be a little more favorable.
The fish had all the answers really, and Bill had listened to what they were telling, while I just continued to mindlessly cast, and the longer I fished the more frustration began to set in. I should have asked right away “Bill, what color and size bait do you have on?” and tied one on . . . if I still wasn’t catching fish or at least getting hits, I then should have quickly asked “are you doing something special when you retrieve the bait, that I should know about?” …and then done my best to follow suit. I still may not have caught as many fish Bill that day, but if I’d a paid attention to the bait he was using and the specific retrieve he employed and even the areas he cast to most frequently, I might have been on more of an even keel with his catch/land ratio.
Armed with this information, and this respect for what’s working vs. what’s not, I remembered this experience with Bill on a more recent trip with another fishing companion. My partner was throwing a buzz bait and getting a lot of blowups, but was not connecting with any of the fish – I was fishing a plastic worm and not getting really strong hits, a lot of short strikes. So, while watching the fish blow up on the buzz bait, it occurred to me that the fish were in a positive feeding mood, but still a little tentative . . . I opened my tackle bag and studied the available baits I had to work with and chose to tie on a Wallie, a small surface plug akin to the Pop-r but with less cupping in the front so that it created splashes on the surface, but not a lot of noise – this would allow the fish to get a better look at the bait because I could work it slower. I was confident that this would be the ticket, or would it?
I cast the bait to a likely location and started working it back . . . a twitch, twitch, twitch, plop, plop, plop, pause, twitch, twitch . . . all the way back to the boat. Several casts later and no blow ups I decided that this was still the bait to use, but perhaps a change in retrieve was necessary. I cast the bait out, waited for all the ripples to dissipate and gave it a good rip and then waited again . . . when all the ripples had died down, twitch, twitch and WHAM! The water exploded with a nice bass on the end of my line . . . OK, angler one, fish zero . . . was this a fluke, or could I find a “fish-catching” pattern in this delayed retrieve? A few minutes later my questions were answered as another bass jumped on the bait . . . and while I was now catching bass, what was my partner doing? Why still casting a buzz bait and trying to slow it down enough to get a strike. As an angler I was asking the question “why are the bass attacking the buzz bait, but not actually taking the buzz bait?” And, the bass were answering “we want to see it a bit longer, slow down your retrieve even more.” Well, you couldn’t get a buzz bait to go any slower, so a surface bait was still what they wanted, but another type of bait was in order, something that they could be attracted to, but had time to decide whether or not they wanted to actually attack it . . . the plug was the answer.
Eventually, I realized that the bass were only hitting the surface bait in the shallow water, so when we decided to fish some deeper water, more decisions had to be made . . . in other words, once again we had to figure out what was going to trigger aggressive strikes. I had plenty of minnow type baits that I could have started casting, but for some reason, I went back to my worm – this time, working it more like an injured minnow bait than a worm . . . not too fast, but fast enough to make a swim bait out of it, so that the fish could still get a very good look at it, and possibly trigger strikes with its erratic movement in the water column. It didn’t take long for the fish to respond this time, I was getting a hit on almost every cast and connecting on approximately one out of every 10 casts . . . Again, the fish told me what they wanted and I paid attention.
On yet another occasion, while fishing a ditch covered in duckweed I was trying to explain to the person I was fishing with exactly how to retrieve a Texas-rigged weightless worm on top of the floating vegetation to get strikes, and no matter how many times I explained the retrieve, and no matter how many times I showed them the retrieve (on an area where I knew there were no fish), they just didn’t seem to get how important it was to do it exactly that way. They cast almost every square inch of the vegetation without so much as a rise and stated “there’s no fish here, that’s why they’re not hitting my worm” . . . when I responded by casting my worm across the duckweed and algae saying “you have to retrieve it exactly this way” and I no sooner finished my statement when a nice little bass blew up on my worm and as I set the hook said “see what I mean? They’re in here, but you have to give them what they want.”
Of course, the key phrase was “you have to give them what they want” but maintaining a high level of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) doesn’t hurt either . . .
It’s really quite simple, if you’re fishing with someone else and they’re catching fish while you’re not, then it’s time to do exactly what they’re doing . . . don’t let pride become an issue, when the real reason you’re there is to catch fish. If you’re catching fish and they aren’t, don’t be selfish tell them exactly what you’re doing that they’re not, and you’ll both end up having an enjoyable day . . . and, if neither of you are catching fish, keep your head about you and try to listen to what the bass are saying . . . sometimes it’s hard to hear what they’re saying, but if you listen real closely, well then . . .
Mark Toth, The Ditch Fishing Chronicles