The Power of Observation

Growing up, I fished every chance I could. I can’t recall, or even begin to guess how many hot dogs or bacon strips we went through, or how many crickets learned to swim from the end of an old Eagle Claw hook. No matter what happened during the week, a portion of Saturday and Sunday was always spent on the bank of a small creek that ran behind my old neighborhood.

As the world of high school sports began to confiscate my weekend time, the world of fishing slowly ebbed away into childhood memories. High School came and went, college followed suit shortly thereafter, and family life began. As happens, life took it’s general course, stepping off of old trails and onto new ones as it normally does. Every now and then though, life stumbles back onto an old familiar trail and the comfort of familiarity surrounds us. While recently (early spring of this year) walking through the woods, I noticed a fairly secluded, beautiful pond that was hard to walk away from. Gazing across the water’s surface and into the beautiful surroundings quickly brought back vibrant memories of sitting along the creek edge while fishing for perch, brim, or anything that would bite. Right then and there I knew I would start fishing again, and soon.

The first chance I got, I booked it down to the local sports store and bought a Zebco 33 rod and reel package, a $2.59 Rebel Minnow, some cheap hooks, and a few weights. There was no thought put into this, I simply mimicked what I remembered using as an adolescent, added a neat looking little minnow to the list, and hoped for the best. Though a complete lack of skill and knowledge dominated my fishing experience, I managed to stumble into catching my first LMB on a different body of water close to home. The bass was small, but twice as big as anything I caught in the past that resembled anything other than a catfish, and fought with a fierce tenacity. The bug was back, and it’s bite was hard!

In my urgency to learn more, I read every informative article or tidbit I could find in hopes of gathering secret information, the secret lure, or some secret tackle combination that would allow me to further expand my bass catching abilities. I, like many other fisherman, asked a few of requisite questions that are inevitably going to appear on any fishing board: “what type and brand lure should I use?” or “what color lure should I use”, or “how do I use this lure?”. I love these questions because the answers provided by seasoned bass anglers give all of us good insight as to what works for them, which in turn allows us to update our tackle boxes, fine tune our abilities/skills, or change them all together. In hindsight though, my greatest downfall when trying to get back into the swing of things was listening to the advice given by all the professional, competitive, and tournament fishermen, without putting that advice into perspective.

I first started reading numerous stories about crank baits, how great they were, and how bass would attack them with such ferocity that hooks would bend and break from the forces applied by the monsters fighting from the end of the line. At the thought of seeing my dream of becoming the world’s greatest bass fisherman come to fruition over night, I ran to the sports store and loaded up on a multitude of various crank bait models that I thought would be bass catching machines. I just knew that with all of these fantastic lures with brilliant graphics adhered to them, those fish would literally be jumping into my boat. After getting back from the store and looking through my tackle box at all the “fish magnet” lures, it was obviously clear that my tackle box was now my pride and joy, and why shouldn’t it be, those lures were almost guaranteed to catch me a state record, or at the bare minimum a county record. Unfortunately, after numerous fishing attempts with zero success, I realized that the only thing I accomplished was setting up a tackle box with a lot of flashy lures that sure looked good. It just so happened that they were also lures that I couldn’t catch a cold with.

So the bass weren’t into crank baits, that’s ok though, I heard Senko’s were the golden ticket to the B.A.S.S elite series anyways, and the seasoned anglers were swearing by them. Everybody says they are numero-uno for landing limits, so I’d just go pick up a few of them in all of the best colors that the established anglers were suggesting, problem solved.

I walked down the old trail that lead to the hidden pond, anticipating the photographs of my lunker that I would soon be sending to B.A.S.S. magazine for front page use. I got to the pond, hopped in my john boat, and began paddling my smug self to where I knew my guaranteed 10 lb. instant stardom awaited. Apparently, my stardom wasn’t there that day, or the next, or even the next. Well, I knew the problem wasn’t me because I had all of the stuff the seasoned fisherman said to use, and in the suggested colors to boot, it just simply wasn’t my fault. I thought “this pond probably just had no fish, plain and simple”, but I’d give it one more try. I’d hit the boards and see what my last resorts were.

At this point, I didn’t want to seem as though I knew nothing about fishing, so instead of asking for more help and being specific about my body of water, I just started reading other peoples fishing reports to figure out what they were catching things with. I made no delineation between regions, borders, or geographic boundaries when it came to figuring out what worked. I noticed that many people were using spinner baits to catch bass chasing baitfish, so I bought a few knowing that since the other two things didn’t produce, then these certainly would otherwise there were simply no fish in this pond. I bought some whites, grays, black and blues, with an array of different blades in numerous shapes and sizes. They all looked pretty enough to put in a display so I knew the fish would surely swallow them up if given a chance. After an evening of casting with no luck, I resigned myself to the conclusion that I had done everything I could and that there were simply no fish in this pond.

I began rowing my john boat back to the bank with the piece of mind that the reason I didn’t catch anything was because there was nothing to be caught. As I got closer to the bank, my john boat veered slightly off to the side of my intended path and brushed against an over hanging bush, identical to the bushes that surrounded the entire bank of the pond. A small white frog fell out of the bush and into the water where he quickly began to swim back into the bush and towards the bank. Before he reached the bank, the water boiled and I was proven wrong about the pond not holding any fish. Somewhat astonished, I started intentionally bumping into the water bushes and trees along the bank, and frogs were popping out left and right.

I high tailed it to the local sporting goods store (for the fourth time $$$) and proceeded to search for a white frog soft bait. I couldn’t find a white frog lure anywhere so I purchased a couple various types and colors of frogs. I went back to that pond as soon as I could with a frog hooked up and played my newly dealt hand. I couldn’t believe it, the bass wouldn’t stop hitting the frogs. It didn’t matter what color, or what style of retrieval, they would hit it repeatedly. Some colors and styles worked better than others over the next few trips, but the story remained the same, they just wanted a frog.

What it came down to was simple: like a beginner who is just finding the joy in fishing, I was so eager to learn what worked for others, that I didn’t take the time to learn what would work for me. Countless hours were spent searching the internet, reading various books, lure reviews, and fishing reports. All of that information was great, and beneficial to a point, but the importance of that knowledge paled in comparison to the knowledge I gained from five minutes of observation on the body of water that I was fishing. Looking back at this, I learned a few extremely valuable lessons, ones that I possibly would have learned sooner had I taken the time to learn the pond instead of learning lures. First, never assume that something has to work just because it looks like it should work. Secondly, never assume that because professionals or seasoned anglers recommend a lure and color, it is going to automatically work for you on your body of water because it caught fish for them on theirs. No lure works everywhere and no lure works every time, regardless of who says it will. For any bait ever made, you will be able to find somebody that swears by it regardless of its ability. Thirdly, no body of water is the same, and therefore no body of water shares fish with the same eating habits as fish from a different body of water. They might be similar, but there will be subtleties that differentiate their behavior and so you must adjust accordingly. Last of all, and most valuable to me, is to simply take time to observe the water that you fish to get the best idea of what might work. Nothing will assist you more when trying to determine how to fish a body of water, than simply observing it. Before actually fishing, look around and keep a mental note of what you find. Are there crawfish shells nearby on a bank? Do you hear frogs on the banks? Are there minnows running in the shallows or hiding in the reeds? Information such as that can be immensely valuable when trying to determine what approaches to make and with what lures. Also, though some may disagree with this approach, if you eat what you harvest, then when you clean the fish, look and see what he has been eating. The information you gain by looking into the stomach of a bass can pay rewards beyond belief in terms of figuring out what lures to throw. By learning the water first and the lure second, your five minutes of observation can lead to limitless more time fishing successfully.

Aaron Zeamer

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