The five important truths listed and discussed below are neither new nor revolutionary concepts. They do, however, establish a foundation for consistently successful inshore lure fishing. I've mentioned and elaborated on each of these tenets many times, while on the water with friends and clients and more importantly in publications including this magazine and the books and DVDs I produce.
In fact, my recent production, a book/DVD set titled Inshore Angler's Blueprint for Success, gives significantly more detail related to all these principles. Here, I've made a fresh attempt to specify each truth separately and to explain how all are connected to each other.
I place tenet number one at the top because it's most important. The ability to consistently locate fish is the most important skill shared by expert anglers. Actually, the ability to locate fish is not a skill; it's a complex skill set, at least most of the time. Finding fish can be simple some of the time, when the water is clear and sufficient sunlight penetrates the depths, so fish can be verified by sight.
Seeing fish in the water eliminates all uncertainty and takes away the need for the other fish-finding skills which normally come into play. If fish can not be seen directly, their presence may be indirectly verified by sight and through the other senses.
Indirect sensory evidence of fish includes: 1.) Wakes or boils made by singles or schools. 2.) Birds hovering in place, diving and screeching. 3.) Nervous baitfish fleeing from predators. 4.) Slicks and/or mud stirs. 5.) Slurping sounds and other noises associated with feeding activity. 6.) The scent of watermelon wafting over the waves. - Unlike direct visual evidence, which reveals the presence of particular kinds of fish, indirect evidence can be misleading as to what species are present.
When it's dark, most or all visual evidence is lost. Even in daylight, sensory signs indicating the presence of fish can be incredibly subtle, even altogether absent.
If (and when) fish can not be seen or found through the detection of signs, anglers rely on their knowledge of the bays and waterways, and of the fish they are attempting to find. They're then forced to pick a spot to fish without knowing whether fish are in fact present or not. Then, anglers with the most thorough catalogue of spots and the best information related to when those spots tend to be most productive will have an advantage over others.
Once a spot is selected and tried, the skills related to actually catching fish come into play. In the end, the ability to consistently locate fish comes full circle back around to the ability to catch fish. Anglers who can make fish bite quickly at a spot will be ahead of those who struggle to elicit strikes. Using bait makes this aspect of the search simpler, since live or fresh dead bait often produces strikes more consistently than artificial lures.
For lure chunkers, tenet number two becomes hugely important in the search for fish, if those fish can't be seen or verified indirectly through other signs. A more versatile angler is a better angler. This truth indicts the reliance on one or a select few methods, strategies, spots or lures as causing a reduction in consistency.
All aspects of versatility are important. The most consistently productive anglers are proficient with various strategies in many kinds of places. Once a spot has been selected to be tried, and signs aren't strong to indicate the presence of fish, one's ability to properly deploy a productive plug becomes the paramount step in the process of determining whether fish are in fact present in that place or not.
Top-notch producers are able to correctly add up the variables which affect the feeding mood of the fish and consequently dictate what lures, presentations and strategies will work best at a given time. These variables can include the time of year, time of day, weather and water conditions, tidal patterns, and sometimes the seasonal spawning or migration habits of the targeted fish and/or their prey.
People skilled with lures of various kinds, who clearly understand when and how to best use each, will be able to elicit strikes more often than those who are too married to catching fish one way and/or on one type of plug. Regardless of whether an angler is adaptable and versatile or severely limited by tunnel-vision on a darling plug, the third tenet applies to any effort to make fish open their jaws and take a bite.
The fishing rod is the most important tool affecting one's ability to catch fish. Three aspects of a fishing rod have major influence on its functionality: the feel and flex of the blank, the length of its handle and its overall weight.
In my forays as a wade-first trophy trout angler, I require multiple rods to adequately perform all the functions I need throughout the year. Basically, I believe the bass-fishing pros have it right; every lure, presentation and strategy can be ideally matched with a specific rod, reel and line combination. Certainly, some rods work better with large plugs, while others work better with small ones.
At one end of the lure spectrum are tiny flies the size of baby glass minnows; at the other end are floating plugs weighing upwards of an ounce and closely resembling nearly-mature mullet. Generally, longer, softer rods work best with light lures, while shorter, slightly stiffer sticks more effectively control bulky plugs.
For most inshore saltwater applications, rods between about six and seven feet in total length, with butt sections between seven and a half and eight inches work best. Rod builders normally describe these rods as having light, medium-light or medium action. Buyers should beware of these descriptions, though, as they don't have uniform meaning throughout the industry.
Essentially, fishing rods are like cars and boats, they should be "test-driven" before they are bought. The only way to know for certain whether a rod is in fact well-suited to a style of fishing with a particular lure or set of lures is to take the tool out and fish with it.
Regardless of the rod used, the type of fish targeted or the lure and method deployed, the profound truth of the fourth tenet is a factor. Braided line is better than monofilament for inshore coastal lure fishing.
At least three factors dictate the veracity of this statement. Braided lines have little or no stretch, so they allow for better detection of strikes, particularly light and subtle ones. Especially when used with sub-surface plugs or soft plastics, this superior sensitivity leads to more hook-ups and caught fish. In the most extreme situations, when fish-location signs are weak and the feeding mood of the fish is finicky, superior strike-detection sensitivity is vitally important.
The ability to control the movement patterns of the lures is important too. Braided lines enhance control, especially in windy conditions, when lures are cast crossways to the waves. Maintaining light tension on the line gives greater awareness of what a lure is doing and allows one to create more lifelike, enticing presentations, all of which is facilitated better by braided lines as compared to monofilament.
Modern braided lines are also more durable and easier to use than monofilament, so they should be deployed by all anglers who seriously want to maximize the efficiency and productivity of their efforts, regardless of their preferred methods and strategies.
I've always favored wading over fishing from the boat and relied on tenet number five. Wading is generally the most effective way to catch fish. Over the course of my fishing career, I've come to realize the truth behind this statement is strongest in relation to fishing for my favorite target species, the spotted seatrout, especially if trophy fish are sought.
Wading allows one to work through areas more slowly, with greater stealth, in a wider variety of conditions. Because one's feet maintain constant contact with the bottom, wading facilitates better knowledge of the specific features of an area, enhancing one's overall awareness of the bays and potentially helping one figure out the puzzle of how seasonal variations in conditions affect the preference fish show for certain types of areas.
Consistently catching trophy trout normally involves thorough coverage of particular kinds of areas in attempt to catch relatively small numbers of fish; this kind of fishing is usually best done while wading. Other kinds of coastal inshore fishing are not. In fact, some situations cancel out the truth of tenet number five. If the targeted fish are in water too deep for wading, if the fish can be seen easier from the deck of the boat, or if mobility and quicker coverage of more area are necessary, fishing from the boat will be more productive than wading.
Certainly, the vast majority of coastal anglers in the Lone Star State can not actually see the fish they are targeting most of the time. In Upper Coast estuaries in particular, where the water is generally murkier than in the hyper saline lagoons down south, people rarely have the opportunity to sightcast at singles or schools.
When fish cannot be seen, they must be found through other means. Understanding how to "read" indirect signs can make the search relatively easy. Without such signs, anglers must rely on their knowledge of spots and their ability to execute effective strategies and presentations once they pick a spot. The productivity of those efforts will be affected first and foremost by their choice of lure and presentation, and also by the rods and lines they use to make the presentation.
In the end, these five tenets are separate truths, but they all relate closely to one central concept. In some way, each has a clear and direct connection to the never-ending quest to keep the rod fully bent.