Are You Fishing Smart?

Are You Fishing Smart?
“Rockport Guide’s Wives” fishing Babes on the Bay celebrating yet another win.

Fishing smart is a concept that so many overlook. I see it all the time, and quite often with relatively experienced anglers. Heck, I even find myself fishing stupid at times.

To many, fishing is simply throwing a bait or lure out there and waiting for a fish to pick it up; basically following that old “rather be lucky than good” line of thinking. It works some of the time and if that’s what you enjoy you should continue doing it.

Before my father died many years ago, back when I was still a very young fishing guide, he said to me, “People often say they’d rather be lucky than good, but what happens when their luck runs out? You better plan on becoming good at this if you want to make a career of it.” He was not wild about my decision to become a fishing guide but supported my efforts as long as I attacked the business with genuine desire to be the best I could be. Well Dad, I am still working on that.

Angling skill trumps all other attributes in my book. I see it daily; anglers with a good working knowledge of a bay system but limited skills in the art of getting fish to eat their lures. I personally believe that to become a great angler one must be proficient with every type of lure that he elects to use.

Bass anglers are into this big time. I grew up watching bass shows on Saturday mornings. The Bill Dance Show was one of my favorites and Dance was a teacher. He instructed what lures to use, how to use it, and when it would work the best. He promoted fishing smart. He is still teaching today and I still watch.

I had the recent pleasure of making a trophy bass trip to Lake Comedero, Mexico with Ron Speed Adventures. BASS Hall of Famer and Bass Master Champion, Denny Bauer, along with his son and grandson were also on the trip, along with Shane Moore. My son Ryan and I were amazed at the strategies and the fishing intelligence of this group. At 70-years-young Denny Bauer is still an absolute stick and so is the younger Bauer and Shane Moore. I listened intently when they spoke and made mental notes when they suggested what we might do each day. I loved that nobody was handing out gimmes. You want to catch them? Get out there and figure it out. They never used those exact words but in our heart of hearts good fishermen want to do it on their own. Fishermen expect that of other fishermen.

We loved the trip, caught lots of great bass and we’re planning another trip for 2020. I highly recommend Ron Speed Jr. and his crew. Everyone was very professional, good accommodations, good food, especially the caramel sauce, and unbelievable fishing. You work hard each day on the lake and earn each bite; the part that Ryan and I truly enjoyed. Oh, and the scenery is breathtaking.

I have always preached that we should start each day with a clean slate and let the conditions and the fish show us what to do. For many years I was basically (only) a soft plastic guy. I was building a business and back then it was all about numbers of fish. Yes, I used topwaters, spoons, and other lures but my confidence was in soft plastics – Bass Assassins – and they still rank very high on my go-to list.

Truth was, I was not very good with other lures because I did not use them enough to master them, nor was I educated enough to know that I needed different rod actions for different types of lures. Bass anglers are all over this, which is why you see them with a half-dozen rods strapped to the deck. Each has a specific purpose for a specific lure. Smart? You bet they are.

Presentation is an individual thing and many factors are involved in one’s ability to put the proper action on the lure they choose. It takes serious water time to become accomplished in soft plastic presentations versus topwaters, swimbaits, suspending baits, and the like. When we reach the point where we can mentally visualize the action we want to impart and then transfer it to the lure without actually seeing it, we’re there. Just remember that some rods are great for soft plastics but not all that good for topwaters or suspending lures.

In the past ten years my clients have become more interested in targeting upper-end trout. This is what I prefer as well but bear in mind that weather and tide conditions preclude catching numbers of top-end fish much of the year. This reality has forced me to become a better teacher of other types of lures besides soft plastics.

I am not a full-time believer that bigger baits catch bigger trout. When trout are targeting smaller forage, even small crabs and shrimp, you must downsize your offerings or be satisfied with very few bites. When I determine the fish want smaller baits, I like the Lil John from MirrOlure. It’s tough and holds up to “tail nipping” that is so common on summertime grass flats, and even more of a nuisance when game fish are not very active. Remember that when you lose part of the tail you also lose much of the action. It irritates the heck out of me to pull up on my guys and see them throwing lures with the tails bitten off. That’s not fishing smart.  

High atmospheric pressure, low tides, and calm water requires downsizing, in my opinion. With clear water conditions most of the year, I see firsthand how larger trout can react negatively to larger baits, which reinforces my beliefs in downsizing. I have also seen days when big, loud topwaters drew strikes when nothing else worked. If fishing smart is your mindset, you’ll need at least one such lure in your box.

Another thing I’ve been noticing this year is that when I locate large rafts of mullet along a shallow shoreline, a Floating Custom Corky or Texas Customs Double D sometimes works better than my soft plastic presentations. Jay Ray is huge fan of staying shallow over large pods of mullet and working the Floating Custom Corky and the Double Ds. His tourney teammates, Adam Nesloney and Jeff Steckler, are also big fans and their consistency in the Texas Saltwater Legends and Texas Trout Master tournaments bear this out.

So what I’m saying is that all of us must strive to up our game if we want to be successful. To do this you must fish smarter today than yesterday. Success is different to each of us. Personally, I am not ready to be second even though it appears I’m probably farther down the line numerically than that nowadays. I live to compete with whomever, wherever and whenever but, more importantly, I compete against myself.

Try to work outside your comfort zone with lure selections. Say you’re great with topwaters and not so good with soft plastics, maybe you need to work on that. I personally need work in the shallow Floating Corky and Soft-Dine areas during the summer months. I wish I could hire John Gill to teach me!

I know this article bounces around a little. In summation I believe bass anglers fish super smart most of the time and I have learned tons by watching, talking, and fishing with them. I think saltwater anglers wanting to up their game should take some lessons on how bass anglers look at fishing. I believe that in both categories, bass and saltwater, those that are more openminded and work harder reach a higher level of angling skill, and therefore achieve greater levels of success.

May your fishing always be catching!  -Guide Jay Watkins