How To Catch Fish (When Nothing Else Works)

Fishing Techniques That Work, Even In Over-Fished Water

I love fishing, but I don't like to drive far to do it, nor spend piles of money. One time last summer I caught a few dozen fish, using just about the simplest possible tackle and methods. Only a stick, line and bent pin would be cheaper.

A few Christmases ago I bought my daughters cheap poles. 15 bucks at Farm & Fleet, with cheap spinning reels made by Zebco. This is almost exactly the gear my grandfather started me on 40-some years ago. It worked then, and it still does.

So, last summer I left my pole at home and grabbed my daughter's cheap pole and drove 20 minutes to a nearby pond. This is a very popular spot, a public park just outside a medium-sized city, and there are people fishing there every time I go. I see people I recognize from last year. We say "hi" and "how's the fishing, did you catch anything." Very friendly. The kids remember me and talk about the last time we fished, or what they have caught today, without the weird tenseness kids these days are trained to feel around adult males. Usually Blacks, Whites and Asians all fishing together in peace. I love the Mid-West!

But how do I catch fish in a tiny lake where there is intense fishing pressure? Easy. I get rid of everything I don't need. No lures, no fancy bait, not even bobbers or lead weights. I have my pole and reel, line and a hook. That is it. I dig earthworms from the compost pile in the back yard. That is the only bait I use, except for occasionally buying meal worms, which the bluegills love. Meal worms are almost cheating!

I thread the worm onto the hook, leaving one end waggling free. Then I just toss it out into a likely spot and leave it sit for a bit. If nothing hits in the first 30 seconds to a minute I reel it slowly in and throw it out again.

The fish, crappies, bluegills or bass, usually hit right after the bait hits the water, they are drawn by the splash. If they don't hit right away, I figure there aren't any close by and bring the bait back in. Often a fish will hit as I bring the bait back. Try throwing it in the same spot several times. The repeated splashes seem to attract fish.

The water is usually fairly clear in this pond, and not terribly deep, so I can watch the bait as it sinks. I can often see the fish as they approach the bait. Sometimes they just look at it and then swim away. Sometimes they hit the bait hard, like a shark punching a seal.

As I reel the bait back in, the fish often follow it, I guess deciding whether they want to bite. That is fun to watch, but also frustrating. I try different speeds, jerks of the line, anything to try to attract the fish's attention. At different times of the day the fish want different things. Sometimes they only hit moving bait, at other times they ignore moving bait and only hit bait sitting still. I vary my technique depending on whether the fish are biting or not. Of course, some days they just don't want anything!

That day was fun. Even friendly fishing is a little competitive, and I was catching more fish than anyone around me. They were mostly trying for bass, and I was fishing for bluegills and crappies, But I caught more and bigger bass than they did anyway. Well, I caught one big bass and several little ones, all released immediately. And I also caught lots and lots of bluegills, including a few really big ones. They are in my fridge now.

The important thing is simplicity. I take no tackle box, just a pack of spare hooks and a hook-remover, in case the fish swallows the hook. I take a bucket with a block of ice in it to keep the fish fresh, and a coffee can filled with dirt and worms. If I decide to go fishing, prep time is under 5 minutes.

This is what makes it both fun and cheap. Gear is expensive. Even if you make it yourself, it is expensive in time. On the rare occasions I use something besides bait, it is usually just a colored bead threaded onto the hook, or a bit of aluminum can cut out and squeezed onto the eye of the hook with pliers. Just something to add a bit of flash to attract the fish's attention. I deliberately avoid more complex refinements.

I have two reasons for this, or perhaps three. First is the expense, I don't like wasting money. Second is that I like to actually catch fish when I go fishing, and very few of the refinements will catch more fish except on rare occasions. And three, which is I suppose the real reason, I like doing things low tech and on the cheap. Less stress, less hassle, more fishing time and more fish.

There is one bit of technology I like to use when the fish are not biting. It is nothing more than a book. Bring a good paperback novel with you when you fish. If the fish aren't biting, sit down and read for a while. Fish like to bite at different times of the day, and sometimes you just have to wait them out. This is called patience. I'm not a patient guy, so I like to have something with me to do.

The novel can help you catch more fish too. Fish will cruise slowly through the water, looking for food. If you are working a likely spot, keeping you bait in one place can give them the chance to find it, sniff at it, and decide to try a bite. So try movement first, and if that doesn't work, try being still. I find the novel technique works particularly well when fishing slow-moving rivers, backwaters and ponds or lakes. If the water is moving, this method doesn't work so well because you have to constantly be fiddling with the line to keep it where you want it.

I fish to have fun, and maybe get something to eat. This works for me. It is great for my kids too. No worries about losing expensive gear, and they catch fish. My girls will even clean a fish once in a while. Then, we eat them.

Chapter One: Playing Hooky


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