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Elevate Your Game

20 Steps to Better Angling Results

by Craig Gottwals, Outdoor Heritage, Inc.

Success in any endeavor requires the humility and dedication to perpetually educate oneself.  If you show me a man who has “mastered” any craft and begins to rest on his laurels, I’ll show you a man who is on the decline.  In tournament bass fishing you need not look any further than how rare it is for one competitor to win an angler of the year title in consecutive years.  More often that not, an angler achieves one of his lifetime goals when he hits that mark.  And no matter how dedicated he is to remaining on top, it is human nature to allow for a small sigh of relief and to rely a little too heavily on last year’s techniques, locations and patterns.

If your goal is to genuinely become a better angler and to compete at the highest levels you need to be strategic about honing your proficiencies.  I will start by reiterating that there is one, and only one primary thing we all need in order to become better anglers – time on the water.  Nothing in our sport can replace time on the water and I do not think you will find any quality fisherman disagree with that.

This article, however, looks at how you spend that time.  Do you run the same milk run every time?  Are you just happy to catch the same fish in the same locations each time out?  The 20 principals set forth below will help you to dig from a rut (if you are in one), help you keep your fishing experiences fresh and allow you to maximize your learning opportunities every time you fish.

Fish different bodies of water.  In order to break down different lakes at different times of year, you need to experience those places or similar places as often as you can.  To be a well-rounded angler you must compete, learn and succeed on more than one lake.  Any professional circuit you fish (other than team events) will require that.  And it is very hard to get in a “rut” or to feel stagnant in your approach if you are constantly sampling different geographies, landscapes, structures and lake-types.

Fish with new partners.  One of the very best ways to learn something new is to force yourself to fish with a variety of people.  You might only pick up on something very subtle.  But that subtlety may give you what you need on a day when the bite is tough.  As smart as you are, you are limited to the confines of your mind.  Put different people on your boat and evaluate how they do things.  I think I’ve been able to learn at least one new thing from every person I have ever had on my boat.  Whether it is how to organize terminal tackle, a new way to rig a Senko, a new hook style, a different rigging for a trailer hook on a Huddleston or a better way to spool your McCoy line, fresh thoughts are essential to angling growth.

Keep trying different techniques (8 rods up).  One thing I find to be very helpful is to force myself to be a junk fisherman whenever I’m fun fishing or pre-fishing (until I hone in on the necessary pattern for the upcoming event).  I refer to this as “8 Rods Up”.  I will almost always have 8 rods on the deck and each of them will be rigged with a different bait for a different application.  I will fish all of them during the day.  And if the fishing really stinks … I might go to 12 or 16 different rods and techniques.  Why not?  If I can’t get bit on a crank bait or a rip bait then why not throw a tube, worm or jig?  It is hard to get bored or stagnant if you are constantly changing.  And, more importantly, you’ll become comfortable fishing many different techniques.

Force yourself to fish different depths when you can.  Almost all bass fisherman are comfortable fishing down to 20 feet deep.  There are times during the year, however, (at least in the Western U.S.) when you will probably need to catch your fish deeper than 30 feet in order to finish at or near the top.  So take the opportunity in the winter and summer months to force yourself to catch a fish out at 30, 40, 50 and maybe even 60+ feet deep.  Do it so that you know you can and you understand how it feels and what it takes.

That way if you hit a lake like Shasta in January and you realize that you are going to have to drag a 1-ounce jig in 45 feet of water to get bit, you will have confidence and some know-how in that technique.

Don’t run the same milk-run, try fishing NONE of the same spots.  If you have limited time on the water and your favorite go-to honey-holes this can be a very challenging principal to follow.  But I can assure you that you will be better served, especially in the early part of your angling career if you purposefully hit lakes and fish none of the same spots you fished last time.  This technique will compel you to learn new areas and try different approaches.  It is a healthy way to learn to dissect unknown waters.

Read all of the quality magazines and books that you can.  If you want to master your craft, you must become a student of the game.  When you begin, I suggest you buy any and all magazines and books (at least books written in the last 20 years or so) that you can.  Soon into your submergence you will learn which books and magazines put forth the kind of quality you need to continually elevate.

Visit the message boards & chat rooms on-line.  Develop a system for surfing them for new data.  An amazing array of bass-related message boards and chat rooms adorn the internet.  If you put in a little time with your favorite web-browser you will find them.  I recommend that you actually bookmark your favorite 6 to 12 of them and set aside a regular time that you will allow yourself to surf from one to the next to read the new data, ask questions and respond to others’ posts.  At first I was online for at least an hour or two a day.  Now I find that if I do about two or three hours a week it is probably enough depending on my mood.

Attend seminars.  I cannot stress this point enough.  The International Sportsmen’s Expos (ISEs) (for example) provide a phenomenal bass education experience.  Every seminar speaker is different and you’ll find that you can learn much more from one than another but I suggest you attend every seminar that your schedule permits, bring a note pad, bring any questions you may have, and be prepared to absorb like a sponge.

I think I probably learned more from these seminars than any other single learning tool I’ve employed.  Even now that I speak at some of these seminars, as soon as I’m done I sit in the crowd and become a student.  We can all learn from everyone.  Look to your local tackle store, boat dealership and for the touring sport/boat shows for these seminars.  They are like a college education on bass angling.

Watch your Am/Pro partner and learn from them.  If you have not fished a pro/am event you should.  As an amateur angler it is an opportunity to see exactly how a pro does it with a pay check on the line.  You are guaranteed there will be no exaggeration or hyperbole in his approach.  It is a relatively inexpensive way to fish with a “personal coach” for a day.  As a pro, do not be too proud to learn from your amateur.  Whether that am is young, seasoned or just new to the sport, there is something for you to learn.  For one thing, newness to the sport means that he or she has not been “poisoned” by nearly as much dock talk or thoughts about the way things “ought” to be.  Fresh ideas never hurt.

Talk to different anglers every chance you get – and learn to sift through the garbage.  In the vein of exposing yourself to new thoughts, ideas and concepts I think it is a good idea to “talk shop” with as many anglers as you can at all times except in the days leading up to a tournament.  Before and during a tournament there is too much incentive for destructive “dock talk.”  I steer very clear of that.

At all other times, however, it is important to learn who you can trust and who you can’t in this sport.  Develop a network of trusted folks that you can share ideas with and gain insight from.  Steer clear of the sand-baggers and the story-tellers and you will have your own consortium of bass-minded professors.

Experiment with different line sizes and types.  There is no one line style and type that fits all needs and applications.  If you ask me, my biased approach would likely say that McCoy line is all you need because if its superior lack of memory, strength and ease of use, but even I must admit that I’m probably going to prefer 15-pound Sunline fluorocarbon for dragging one-ton jigs because of its lower stretch properties.

The bottom line is that nowadays you almost certainly need to use braided line for some applications and probably should use fluorocarbon for at least some others.  I think that if you try and use only monofilament for everything you are handicapping yourself these days.

Develop your confidence lures and techniques for when you just need that ONE more fish. Yes, I think it is important to fish many things in practice and for fun.  But, during that process, I also think it is paramount to find one to three “go to” techniques that you know you can catch fish with when times get tough.  More often that not, if you think you will catch them you will.  So it is important to have that special technique that gives you the confidence you need when the bite is tough.  If you’ve been on my boat you know you will see a tube rigged on a Dobyns Rod 365 days a year.

Force development of a weakness by removing all else from your boat.  I had very little confidence in my ability to catch fish on a crankbait until I spent more than a few days on my boat with nothing but four different crankbait rods all rigged up with different depth-diving and colored baits.  Cranking is now one of my strengths.  You can do this with whatever bait you need to learn.  It is tough at first but immensely empowering once you see results.

Admit that you are not as good as you can be and ACCEPT that you can learn from anyone at anytime.  If you’ve read any of my other articles you’ve seen me hit upon this topic before.  The bottom line is that we are all afflicted with egos.  The better we become at minimizing the impact of pride and ego, the faster we’ll learn and the better we’ll become.  Yes, even 20-year veterans can learn from college kids.  Just accept that and move ahead.

Study topography and landscape.  John Gray guides on Trinity Lake.  He has taught me more about bass fishing than any other single person.  He was a pro and guide on the east coast for 20 years before he moved to California and began guiding on Trinity Lake.  As a 16 year old boy John began to learn how to survey land in timber-country.  Throughout his 20s and 30s he worked as a surveyor.  I did not understand the gravity of this until one day when he and I were on Lake Oroville and he started telling me about where the cuts in the land (below the water) were and the angles of the sub-surface structure.

He can tell by taking a “big picture” look at the hills and landscape what the subsurface topography will likely look like.  Now to some people, this may be intuitive.  But, I’m 34-year old Gen Xer who grew up on video games so I can certainly say it was eye-opening for me when he began to just share some of the basics about topography and surveying with me in reading on the water situations.

Learn to read maps.  Similarly, there are great maps out there today that will show you where the lake has gradual slopes, steep slopes, under water brush, rock pile and roadbeds.  These maps can be invaluable in getting you a head start on a new lake.  Many of our sonar and GPS units also now have these maps available to us.

Take a class on how to use your electronics.  Keep your eyes open as periodically you will see opportunities to take a class on how to use your GPS and sonar units.  This is invaluable and can shave many years off of your self-taught, trial and error methods.  At the very least you have to be comfortable with what your settings should be for sensitivity and speed in different water clarities.

Watch fish in tanks or on camera.  I’m a huge proponent for learning as much about your object of pursuit as possible.  If you want to impress a date you had better take the time to learn what they like, when, where and how.  The same is true if you want to entice a bass to bite your lure.  Take the time to watch how bass behave in the huge tanks at places like the Bass Pro Shops or watch how they behave on TV or underwater cameras.  It will help you in conceptualizing what you are attempting to entice.

Tune into nature.  Watch the birds. What do those birds eat?  Is nature on or off?  Professional angler Chad Martin taught me a great deal on this topic.  It is worth taking the time to learn some basics about different types of birds and what those birds eat.  Do they eat the same baitfish that the bass eat?  If so, you want to know what those particular birds look like and where they are located.

Similarly, if you are quiet and observant, you will notice that all of nature seems to be in tune with itself.  When the birds are singing, the geese are honking and the eagles are flying around the bass also tend to be more active.  This can clue you into the type of approach (aggressive or subtle) that will be more successful.  Conversely, when everything sounds and appears to be “dead” the bite is normally also tough.

Pay attention to current and wind, where is the bite?  As a general rule bass are lazy, opportunistic feeders who want the food to be delivered to them.  As a secondary rule, bass are like old men.  On hot summer days, old men like to sit on the porch near the breeze to stay cool but on cold winter days old men like to snuggle in their homes near the warmth.  With these two basic concepts in mind you will have a greater understanding of how, why, and where bass orient with respect to current and wind.  Remember that current delivers food and current may be refreshingly cool or too cold depending on time of year and temperature.

 

 

 

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