Observation integral to catching fish

Every now and then I have a yearning to drive out to the lake, different lakes at different times, to just sit there and look out

James Murray

James Murray

Every now and then I have a yearning to drive out to the lake, different lakes at different times, to just sit there and look out the window of my vehicle.

Sometimes it’s with a need to be alone with my thoughts, but more often than not it is with a desire to simply look out at the lake, observe and appreciate all the wonders and beauty of nature.

Over the years and the course of the changing seasons, spring into summer and summer into autumn, I have witnessed the intricate balance of life in and around a lake. Even winter – which in large part is but a long, cold, miserable prelude to spring, ice-off and the beginning of fishing season – has its own sort of quiet beauty.

If nothing else, over the years I have learned to be a relatively keen observer, and it is the ability and commitment to make certain observations that can make all the difference when it comes to fishing.

Before heading onto the water to cast your line, take a little bit of time to look around.

Look among the reeds and foliage along the shoreline. See what insects are moving around in the riparian zone. Look for insect shucks or cases floating on the water’s surface. This will give you an indication of what insects are in the process of emerging.

Look for areas where birds are feeding on the surface of the water. If birds are feeding above, fish are likely feeding right below.

Always remember that just because you had luck catching fish in a specific area on one trip, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be able to motor right over there and catch fish again.

Fish move throughout a lake in search of food. And, while they tend to feed in certain ‘productive’ areas with regularity, more often than not they will only move into these areas at certain times of the day. Fish tend to feed along the drop-off during the day, and come into the shallows in the evening.

Observing and knowing the feeding habits of the fish will put you in the right area at the right time.

The spent cases of insects can give you some indication of what insects have recently been emerging. Even when there may be no hatch coming off at the moment, there will, in all likelihood, still be activity below the surface.

Select the nymphal or pupal stage of the same insect that was most recently emerging and fish it at different depths with retrieval speeds. Again, observations made on the surface will help to catch fish well below the surface.

When fish are rising and actively feeding on the surface, and you know exactly what they are feeding on, and yet you are still not getting any takes, it may be because you have failed to observe and note the precise size and colour of the emergers. Change the size and shade of your fly pattern before changing patterns altogether.

Another oversight on the part of many anglers, due to not taking the time to simply look, is they do not check the points of their hooks or the knots in their leaders often enough. Every snag and every fish on puts wear and tear on your terminal tackle.

Dull hooks, damaged and weakened leaders and strained knots account for too many lost fish. Sharpen your hooks and check your leaders often.

Whether on the lookout for food or keeping a wary eye out for predators and potential danger, fish are constantly making observations too. Both movement or unnatural sounds will send feeding fish running (swimming) for cover.

Nothing scares fish away like the splash from a 20 pound piece of iron being chucked into the lake. Slowly lower an anchor to the bottom, move ahead about 25 to 30 feet and place a second anchor in the water. Move back about 12 to 15 feet and secure both anchors. This way the boat will not drift with changes to the wind.

The movement of your boat, even in the gentlest summer breeze, will often deter fish as much as a bad cast.

Even the best of anglers will experience times when they simply can’t seem to get fish to bite.

That’s why it’s called fishing and not catching. However, a little observation and a few precautionary measures can make a huge difference when it comes to having a good day on the water. Mind you, a day spent out on the water even without catching fish is still a good day.