Presentation, not the choice of bait, often the key to catching fish

Few things are more frustrating to an angler than putting in a long day on the water only to come home with a limited catch or no catch at all. To guard against such an eventuality, we load up with sundry lures and bait offerings so we have several options to choose from if our go-to baits fail to yield a bite.

But if the fish don’t bite, your bait selection isn’t always the culprit.

A few years ago, I made a trip north to Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods in search of walleye and sauger. Both fish were new to this product of Western parentage, and I soon learned they are two of the best-eating game fish a person ever laid a lip over.

In rod holders located at equal distances across the breadth of our vessel’s stern were a dozen or more fishing rods outfitted with crank baits in various colorations. They were a pretty sight sure to catch the attention of any angler and perhaps a few fish, but our guide didn’t seem to agree. Instead, he handed the six of us clients a spinning rod outfitted with a Lindy Rig and our choice of a minnow or a fat night crawler to put on the hook. I chose the latter.

Our guide positioned the boat so the prevailing breeze would blow the boat over the length of a submerged shelf. From what I could see, it was bare of vegetation or anything else one might describe as cover. We made a couple of unsuccessful drifts across the shelf, and then, before making another, our guide explained that we needed to keep the sinker on the bottom, that we needed to feel the sinker move along the bottom as the boat drifted over the shelf. With renewed focus, I soon felt a gentle tug and set the hook. Minutes later, dinner was in the cooler — the first of several fish that day.

What made the difference that morning was not the bait we used but how that bait was presented to the fish. To catch the walleye on that shelf, the night crawler had to be pulled across the bottom and not floated over it. Of course, it also helps to have the bait where the fish are.

One day I was having what seemed to be a relatively good day at Haymeadow Reservoir on the Kirch Wildlife Management Area southwest of Ely. Then I noticed the gentleman fishing from the next float tube over was catching about three rainbow trout for every one that I landed, and he was using the same fly pattern. When I finally set my pride aside and asked the obvious question, he told me in a direct but friendly manner that I was fishing too deep and moving the fly too much.

So, I put on a strike indicator and let the fly drift with little movement. My catch rate soon matched that of my new mentor. Once again it was not the bait that needed changing but the way in which the bait was presented.

Presentation also can determine which species of fish decides to take your bait. This was brought home to me during a recent outing with my friend Roger. He was fishing from the bow of the boat, and I was at the stern. Both of us were casting the same plastic bait, rigged the same way, in the same area. Though we were separated by mere feet, Roger caught nothing but largemouth bass while I caught only striped bass.

With everything else being the same, the difference that day had to be in our presentations of the bait. Roger was doing something on his end that was more attractive to the largemouth bass than what I was doing. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out what that difference was. It could boil down to something as simple as reeling speed or the frequency of twitching the bait during the retrieve. Either way, it still comes down to presentation.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at

LAKE MEAD — Inclement weather patterns have brought out the striped bass bite. Anglers have had success using Rapala’s Shad Rap and A.C. Plugs. Shore anglers working along the points near deeper water in the Government Wash area have found both good fishing and increased fishing activity. Most of the fish anglers are catching are in the 2- to 4-pound range. The action can be fast when you get into a school.
LAKE MOHAVE — Largemouth and smallmouth bass are still providing anglers with the best action. Most are tipping the scales at about three to four pounds, though the occasional fish pushes the eight-pound mark. Work the shallows using lighter colored crankbaits, jigs or plastic worms until you find what may work best for that day.
URBAN PONDS — Anglers will now have a little elbow room at the Sunset Park pond. Improvements in the pond area have been completed. Spring is a great time to get out and try your luck for the variety of fish available in the local ponds. PowerBait and small spinners have proven successful for the rainbow trout and small jigs and various rigged plastics will catch bass, while corn or bread could get you a good fight with a scrappy bluegill or carp. NDOW will begin monthly catfish plants sometime during the week of April 15.
KIRCH WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA — Cold Springs and Haymeadow are giving up stocked rainbows and the bass have shown signs of life. At Dacey, anglers throwing flies and spinners are catching trout measuring from 12 to 16 inches. Bass and trout are both taking baits at Adams-McGill Reservoir. Currently there is no running water at the campground.
EAGLE VALLEY RESERVOIR – Fishing has been very good and anglers are finding success for trout while fishing from the dock and along the shore.  Anglers are using PowerBait and night crawlers.  Most of the trout taken are in the 12- to 15-inch range.
ECHO CANYON RESERVOIR — Action has been good for trout. Night crawlers, PowerBait and small spinners have all enticed fish measuring as large as 15 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is a great way to extend your day of fishing, but be sure to use single barbless hooks and minimize the time the fish is out of the water to help ensure its survival.