Fishing seen as a pop quiz

Making the right decisions before going fishing usually will be the keys to a successful day on the water.

Fishing is dependant on correctly answering a single question, starting with the commonly used adverb why.

Why are the fish holding in 15 to 20 feet of water; why didn’t they bite today; why are the fish not here?

Knowing why a fishing trip was successful will bring anglers closer to perfection and a higher catch ratio in the future. Besides, half the challenge is finding where the fish are holding, even though located fish won’t always cooperate with an angler’s chosen technique.

The other 50 percent lies in tactics, lures and presentations used to have a successful day on the water. This could not be more apparent while fishing in clear water with a school of speckled trout in clear sight just below the surface or chunking lures into a frothy pod of stripers feeding ferociously at the surface.

Lures or bait choices are sometimes the $1 million questions. Live baits caught near targeted species and previously known to be on their preferred menu usually are the best choices. However, the availability of live baits and the ability of the angler to catch them might be another story.

Many factors affect the lure choices for the day, depending upon feeding patterns, time of year and presentation of baits or lures to fish.

At times fish tend to be finicky — even if they’re apparently feeding on live bait — similar to a toddler refusing to eat his greens. Speckled trout during the fall sometimes only eat active live shrimps, only dragging the hook and cork back and forth throughout the water column. A recently-deceased shrimp, hooked and presented to trout, will only result in a negative returns.

Maybe when speckled trout don’t want freshly dead shrimp and only strike at livlier baits because of their instinct to prowl and attack their meals.

Either way, a successful angler soon learns to keep fresh wriggling shrimp attached to his hooks to ensure the chances of a strike when paraded past a lurking trout.

During other times, fish such as king mackerels are fooled more easily than other saltwater species and will take frozen cigar minnows just as readily as freshly-caught menhadens. Kings, in fact, are quite accommodating when it comes to fresh and live bait selections.

As with many varieties of fish, king mackerels have a propensity to feed heavily early in the morning, just before the sun rises too far from the horizon. The feeding window can be short, especially during a hot summer.

Many successful Southern Kingfish Association touring professionals would rather have lines baited with frozen cigar minnows in the water at dawn than freshly caught menhaden pulled later in the morning. The tradeoff to spending time catching bait in the morning possibly could present the angler with a missed opportunity.

By either choice or absence of live baits, artificial lures often end up attached to the end of fishing lines. Artificial lure choices are growing everyday to further coax an awaiting fish to strike. But the problem for anglers is finding — out of the thousands of classes, shapes, sizes and color offerings of artificial lures — the perfect combination.

Unfortunately, many new baits and colors were developed more to increase the profitability of lure-manufacturing companies rather than provide a more attractive lure for fish. Every knows the truth of the old bromide that lures are made to catch anglers more than fish.

Many lures with similar colors will catch fish equally well. That said, some of the innovative products have revolutionized fishing.

For instance, scent-impregnated lures, such as the Berkley Gulp line of lures, have significantly improved cool-weather fishing. Scent-impregnated lures excite fish senses chemically, wheedling a strike with litlte or no lure motion.

Surprisingly, artificial baits tend to be more productive than live baits at times. Live baits, unless in immediate danger, tend to swim unobtrusively, attempting to blend in with their surroundings without gathering the attention of prey fish.

Artificial baits usually wiggle, dive or do something odd in the water, bringing attention to themselves, as well as taking many forms — differing sizes, colors, and shapes. In addition, anglers often have the option to fish them at variable speeds and depths.

Presentation or speed is important and will determine success during different times of year and with different species of fish. Whether using a slow steady retrieve or an erratic fast retrieve, both methods are productive at the right time.

The flash and action of artificial lures will produce reaction bites sometimes and will scatter a school during other times. Flashy and noisy artificial lures attracts the attention of predator fish from afar and sometimes trigger an aggressive feeding mode.

For instance, bluefish, false albacores and Spanish mackerels only frequent warm habitats and routinely strike small, flashy lures pulled at a high rate of speed. The lures resemble a fleeing baitfish giving the predators no choice but to strike.

On the other hand, lures pulled swiftly may spook other fish or leave an angler empty handed. Slower retrieves could not be more important during the cooler months when the cool water temperatures reduce the likeness for fish to feed.

“Dead-sticking” is a highly effective technique for catching redfish during cool weather. Dead sticking means no action or casting scent-impregnated lures and fishing them without motion. The motionless lure apparently resembles a stricken baitfish resting on the bottom.

Artificial lures allow anglers continually to keep them in front of a school of fish, even after an unsuccessful strike, which is another positive for artificial lures. The only time you know the bait is attached and still fishing for you is usually just after tossing the lure overboard.

A mild or heavy strike without a hookup leaves the angler mystified with the presence or absence of the lure still attached to the hook deep into the water. Artificial lures will continue to fish until an anxious taker sets the hook into their jaw.

Artificial lure choices can be difficult but simple at the same time. The bottom line is lures mimic some sort of living creature that’s appetizing to a bigger, hungrier fish and angler wants to catch.

Sunlight and water conditions alter visual perception; therefore, presentations and color combinations that differ from naturally-occurring hues of baitfishes will produce more strikes.

Clear water usually dictates less color and more natural prey colors. Turbid/murky water conditions usually dictates increased color or brighter lure choices. Matching the colors that blend well with the water conditions often produce the best catches.

To improve your chances on the water, choose a smorgasbord of baits, including live, fresh, and an assortment of artificial lures.

Try different levels in the water column and alter retrieval speeds to correctly mimic the natural activity of the intended prey.

In the end, the right combination of speed of retrieval, lure choices and casting in the right locations dictate the destiny of your fishing trips.

About Jeff Burleson 1312 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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