Everyone loves to fish and catch fish, but your success depends on how much you learn about your targeted fishing area.
As an avid and addicted angler, I have learned several keys to catching more and bigger walleyes, bass, crappies, northern pike, musky (muskie), and catfish. The process I have learned has helped me win over 100 tournaments, from small club to big events. Even if you pick up just one tip in this article, I am sure you will catch more fish too.
The first and most important step is to know the movements and behaviors of the fish you are after. Learn their seasonal movements and what triggers this movement, such as water temperatures. Like the pros say, "know the fish, where they are, then offer the right presentation and you will catch fish."
Big fish behave differently than small fish, while all species pursue food and shelter. For example, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass are different and fish different.
A serious angler studies water temperatures, weeds (types, growth and condition), water clarity, weather (current and past few days), wind direction, etc.
The second step is to know where to get the right maps. Google maps (maps.google.com) and Google Earth (www.earth.google.com) offer amazingly detailed aerial photos. The Minnesota DNR Lake Finder (www.mn.dnr.state.com/lakefind) has valuable information on the types of fish found on each lake, the average sizes, water clarity, stockings, etc. Note that not all of the surveys are current, so review the dates, and keep in mind that not all species of fish are easy to survey.
There are many great mapping software programs available to analyze lakes; even programs that help predict where fish should be at this time of year.
The third step is to search multiple search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, for any hints, information, and leads. You should be seeking the advice of expert anglers, when possible, to ensure the most reliable information possible. Search for the water and fishing reports for the month prior, during, and after the month of your fishing trip or tournament. Look for the varying seasonal conditions and how the fish move in the lake (water temperatures, location and baits). Check out Creel Surveys and YouTube videos.
The fourth step is to ask around for any leads. Check your fishing log from previous trips and if you don't have one, start one. Check with other anglers and bait shops.
The best anglers to ask are those fishing for other species as they aren’t competing with you and don’t care if they tell you everything. Local tackle shops and marinas should be able to tell you the current patterns. Keep that in mind when you have a good bite you don't want everyone burning up. Every good angler is above all, secretive.
The fifth step is to know what to look for when you get to the lake. Start your day fishing the spots you found in your research. This is where you start to put the puzzle together and start forming a pre-fishing plan. Check all the areas that look right based on your research and stick to them. Keep notes on what you see, feel with your lures, and catch. Once you pattern the fish and have caught a few, you will start to get an idea of the size of the fish in that area, then move on to your next spot. Be careful not to hurt the mouth of any more fish than you have to, as they aren't likely to bite again.
Search for the best spot and more spots in general. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Birds, such as Blue Herons and Loons, relate to minnows, shad, and food. What are other anglers catching and are they catching bigger fish than you? Are they positioned over deep or shallow water, pitching in or out, on a weed-edge, hovering over a boulder, trolling, or pulling a minnow bucket? Use what you have observed and caught to narrow down your fishing area.
The sixth step is to have backup plans because you can never count on a bite lasting. You should be prepared to change plans for adverse weather and seasonal movement changes. Where is the first deep water? Where will they spawn? Have some of the fish already moved there and started clearing the beds or are the beds clear and empty? How thick and tall are the weeds? Are the fish related to the weeds, water temperatures, current breaks, and shade?
The seventh step is to keep records of what works and keep building on that knowledge. Every time you go fishing, record the water fished, the date, and weather for the previous three days, water temperatures, water clarity and level, and weeds. Anything you think made a difference should be recorded. Keep track of the presentations and techniques that worked, including lures, colors, sizes, retrieve speed, and action. Remember these can change over time and as fish get used to them. As you become a better angler, you will have more options. Note if the fish were chasing and hitting hard, taking the hook deep, as positive. If you had to drag the bait or wait a minute, that is negative.
The eighth step is to make a plan based on what you learned pre-fishing. Consider everything you just learned and plan how to hit your best spots. Minimize the time you spend boating around, so you can keep your presentation in the right spots as much as possible. Anticipate the fish's movements, and where they might be going. Follow these simple steps and you will improve your chances of catching more and bigger fish.
Doug Pirila is the North Region Director of Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation and the Tournament Director of the Duluth Bass Club