You know, a few years back I started to think how fishing is really more hunting than anything else. Think about it, fish have to eat to live, right? So we have a certainty in that fact. So, it now just comes down to hunting them because no matter what you are casting to them, it will never do any good if you can’t find them and put your lure where they are. How can a hunter shoot that 12 point buck if they aren’t where it likes to hang out? Can’t be done. Obviously my friend Swampthang was able to learn about big bucks and where they like to chill out at because he got this 12 point last year. The key in both sports is first and foremost the hunting aspect. Anglers must find where the fish live and hunters must learn where their game lives. Once you understand where they will be and learn how to get there, then that is where fishing becomes a little different because we also have to find something that is appealing to the fish to eat and present it correctly without flaws. The key in both sports is to find the the best food source for what animal you are after and that is where you will find your prey! If it were the other way around and bass caught us, I am sure they would be hiding in the refrigerator because that is one place we like to go to several times a day. It is our food source. Where is their refrigerator or grocery store? That is what you have to find out!
Its really all about what the bass eat
Like a hunter must learn what the game they are hunting eats, we too must learn about what the bass eat in order to find them. The difference is that plants, for instance, that deer eat, don’t move anywhere and a deer hunter must find what he feels is the most prime food area and wait. Sometimes the things that bass eat can move. However, if you can find the best food source for bass, it is very very likely that you will find the bass too. So, next time you are in an area ask yourself why bream, crawfish, hellgramites, frogs, shad or other small fish should be here? If you don’t know enough about those species to answer that question then you need to stop reading this article now and, beep beep beep, back up and go study those creatures! Until you feel good about your knowledge of the bass prey then you will not feel good about your knowledge of where the most and biggest bass will be. When you learn about their prey, you will then know where to look for bass and will waste less time in unproductive areas.
Its all about using maps like hunters do
Once you know more about the creatures that bass feed on you can begin to use maps to anticipate their whereabouts. When hunting you use maps to study the land that the game you’re seeking lives on. You do this to find the areas where you think the vegetation and habitat is right for the plants or animals that the game prefers to eat. In river fishing, it isn’t much different in how we use maps. Even though we can’t physically see everything under the water, satelite maps, topographical maps and our eyes can show us what is above the water. And, from that you must use your imagination and understand that what you see on the bank in that area, bend, shoal etc., is what is also under the water. Even boils and riffles in the current can tell you that there is something down there causing that turbulence. That something could be a big boulder or place where bait can hide. It can also be a place where bass can be hiding waiting to ambush their prey. Without polarized glasses you are almost lost on a river and they are very important so that you can see as far dwon as possible to see those clues where the prey and bass may be. Hunt that structure and those unique river features down and that will be a good start to finding fish each day. Bait has to hide and feel safe somewhere so remember that.
If you see a bunch of lines close together on a topo map that can tell you about a severe elevation change. Elevation changes are direct results, in most cases, of rock underneath the earth’s surface being pushed up. Well, if a river runs straight into a spot like this then it will naturally be turning to the left or right around that rock because it cannot go through it. This creates depth on the outside river bend and is where you are more likely to find rock as well. And, guess what? Rocks provide habitat for some bass prey, especially crawfish, hellgramites and other small fish. I think you get the idea that maps of all kinds can give you some important clues to finding the bass. And, I didn’t even touch on how maps can show you things like dams, creeks, bridges and oxbows, which all have important implications in finding the bait and bass at certain times of the year.
Hunting doesn’t end once you’re on the water!
The hunting doesn’t end on the pre-trip research side of things either. A different style of hunting is applied when actually getting on the river. This style of hunting is like rabbit hunting where you are moving constantly. You are trying to hunt down these areas on the map that you’ve pinpointed. Also, once out there you’ll need to move towards those areas where you think the bass prey will be. Remember, you should have learned about them before you finished reading this! Keep your head on a swivel when on the river so that you can notice small overlooked things that may turn out to be very big clues on where bass may be. Likewise if you see rock on the bank or even certain trees on a bank that can tell you which side of the river is more likely to be deeper or have rock. Typically hardwood trees can tolerate rocky areas better and softwoods like pine prefer the flatter, sandy or acidic lowland areas. Obviously there are a ton of pine species that can grow on mountainsides etc., but for most of our practical piedmont fishing purposes this holds true that hardwoods are better in rocky areas.
Also think about other animals besides fish that may also feed on bass or the same prey as bass. You can visibly see these animals, like birds, otters, snakes etc. If you see these animals around that should give you a clue to hunt for bass wherever they are. Likewise you can visibly see animals that feed on the same things as bass prey. A muskrat is a good example of this because it feeds mostly on aquatic grass with algea on it and that is exactly where hellgramites and other small fish live and feed. The algea formed on this is crucial for a lot of small creatures that bass may eat so when you see a muskrat aroun then chalk it up on the good sign board. I think you get the idea that everything in the river environment can tell you something about where the bass are. It is the putting it all together and then getting them to bite your presenation that can be tough.
When I fish a stretch of river my gameplan is not to float with the current and fish every area approximately the same amount of time. You can do it that way and just take it easy, but for the most and biggest bass results you’ll want to use the knowledge of the prey first, then maps to try and pinpoint those prey locations, and finally once on the river, use your senses. Combine those three hunting skills and I think you’ll find the prime spots more often than not. I like to paddle through the areas I feel certain are not prime and spend 90% of my day casting in the 10 to 20% of the best water where I know the fish should be.
Just like you’ll be certain to find people at the grocery store, you need to find the grocery stores underwater to find the bass. It is just that simple. So, next time you are on a river and things aren’t going your way, don’t just be content to float with the current and accept it (unless you want to). Go hunt the fish down with the knowledge that you have learned. You know this stuff! Have confidence and stay persistent and I think you’ll eventually get on the right pattern!