The title of this entry is something I as a tournament angler fight with almost every time I’m on the water. Throw fast moving reaction baits or slow it down and go with more of a methodical approach? This is easily my worst fishing demon as I prefer to fish slow and methodical, trying to cover each and every piece of the key structure or cover. I have this problem of leaving a fish behind and in my mind have thought that if I slow down, I’ll catch every catchable fish in that area.
On the other hand, there’s anglers that go with the mentality that the more casts you make, the more fish you’ll catch. Instead of picking apart a key area, they instead fish a lot of key areas and catch the active fish.
The question is which is better? The answer is really simple though and honestly both would be the right answer. I have had a lot of success finding the fish producing areas and picking them apart. In fact, I’ve fished right behind some of Minnesota’s best bass fisherman and watched them catch a fish or two tops before blowing out of there and I catch a quality limit right behind them and go on to cash a nice paycheck. On the other hand, some of the world’s best bass anglers are power fisherman, most notably Kevin Van Dam and Skeet Reese. Rarely do these two ever slow down, in fact it can be exhausting watching guys like this fish. Cast after cast, burning calorie after calorie and the results obviously speak for themselves, they are hands down two of the best bass fisherman in the world and are living a life that all bass fisherman could look up to.
Still though, even the best two bass fishermen have bad days on the water and when they do, you usually see your slower fisherman like Denny Braurer, Kevin Short or Greg Hackney on top the leader board. The fish obviously weren’t all that active on that given day and the slower presentation produced the better results.
My goal is to be in the same conversation as all the anglers mentioned above. The key to this is versatility and even though I pointed out their strong suits, each one of those anglers can do it all and that’s why they’re on top of their sport. What I’m quickly realizing is that you need to be versatile to compete but can’t abandon your strong suites. Every angler has strong points and weak points, though the best have more strong than weak. They’re always practicing new techniques and building confidence in them which is by far the best weapon an angler can have.
There is still a common denominator in either approach, to have success you have to be fishing fishable water. That is by far the best part of a fisherman’s arsenal, the ability to find good concentrations of quality fish. It doesn’t matter if you fish fast or slow, you’re not catching squat if there’s no fish there. After you’ve found these fish holding spots, than the question is, what’s the best method to catch them? I am quickly learning the answer to that question can change at any time, there is just too many factors that one needs to consider. Time of day, weather, forage, time of year, activity level of the bass are all just a small fraction of the potential variables to consider when deciding which way to go.
I made a personal goal that I was going to start forcing myself to fish faster, but to be successful at this I knew I had to change my mentality. I have a habit of fishing slow because I hate the idea that I’m leaving good fish behind. This method of thinking hinders my ability to learn to be more versatile, because it doesn’t allow me to really be open minded when I’m throwing a crankbait on a structure that I would be more comfortable throwing a football jig on. It’s the confidence factor. To combat this, I make sure to line up a half dozen or so rods with my favorite go to baits, usually bottom dwelling baits like jigs and soft plastics. I also make sure to line a half dozen or so rods with reaction baits, like spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and crankbaits. This way I’ll fish each area that I find with both techniques, through trial and error I’m learning what baits are best for what situations. Like anything, added hard work is making me a better angler, I’m building that sixth sense for when, where and why should I be throwing the baits that will produce the best.
For instance, last weekend I was fishing pool 2 of the Mississippi River, practicing for an upcoming tournament. I decided to check some areas that I had previous success on. One of these areas is a very small rock pile that held a good amount of staging smallmouth. In the past, I always approached these fish by pitching a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a pegged ¼ oz. Tru Tungsten Weight and if the bite was tough, I would really slow down and fish a shakey head straight tail worm or a dropshot.
When I pulled up on this spot, I instantly went with good old faithful and started pitching my Beaver to the rocks. I got bit after about five or so casts but didn’t hook up, kind of a picky bite. So instead I picked up my shakey head and dropshot and after about 15 minutes without another bite, discouraged I blew out of there thinking they just weren’t there. As I got about a mile away from that spot, I started getting down on myself that I didn’t do what I promised myself I would do. I never once thought to throw one of the six reaction baits that were littered on the deck of my boat. Instead I let my stubbornness get in the way and went with my “trained” mentality that if fish where there, I would have got bit because I was sticking the bait in their face.
Instead of continuing on I turned the Ranger around and ran all the way back to that rock spot with a whole new open minded attitude. I first picked up a jerkbait and quickly boated two nice smallmouth, then after having to break off the bait because it got hung in the rocks, I picked up a spinnerbait and started catching smallmouth after smallmouth, on cast after cast. Not only was the area full of big smallmouth but I was also catching quality three pound largemouth right with them. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was some of the best fishing I have ever experienced, these bass where all but ripping my rod from my hands! All of a sudden I had a new, more confident attitude. Most important, I learned something that is very valuable. It was an overcast, low pressure day and there was also a strong wind blowing onto these rocks. Another thing I noticed was the abundance of shad that where around these rocks, I knew this because every cast I retrieved with the spinnerbait would cause the shad to jump out of the water, something I didn’t see when I was fishing slow with the Beaver and dropshot. The bass in this area were very active and they were gorging themselves on the shad, they were looking up not down.
Another way to force yourself to be more versatile is to fish with people that excel in other fishing styles than you. They most likely look at water in a different way than you, not any better, just different and you can learn an immense amount of knowledge in a rather short amount of time. You’ll see how they look at an area compared to how you would look at that same spot. Usually you’ll both learn something. Trust me, there’s no better way to open your mind than by getting your hind end handed to you by the guy your fishing with. If they’re throwing a lipless crankbait and you’re slow pulling a texas rigged worm and he’s out catching you 10 to 1, you’ll be throwing a lipless crank in no time. Again, a humbling confidence builder, but it goes both ways, he’ll learn something when you’re whooping him up with the worm.
There’s a time and a place for every lure in your tackle box, the best build a sixth sense for knowing which one will produce in that particular situation. Next time you’re out fishing don’t be afraid to experiment, you just might produce some new found magic.
** This is my most recent article from the Star Tribune’s Outdoor Page, Minnesota’s largest newspaper. Please check out this from time to time as I try to post different material as I have here at Josh Douglas Fishing. Click here to view my Star Tribune page.