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 firstname.lastname@example.org.