How to Choose the Right Lures

Today there seems to be an awful lot of confusion, on the part of the fisherman, as to what lures they should buy.  This is easy to understand, because there are literally thousands of lures out there!  In an effort to help narrow down your choices, let’s take a look at the facts. There are really, only 4 different “types” of lures. Any lure ever built falls into one of the following categories:

  •     Topwater
  •     Weedless
  •     Crank baits (free swimming-bottom bumping lures)
  •     Jump-type  (jigs and plastic worms)

Before I begin to examine the relative importance of each type of lure, understand my conclusions are based on successfully catching the “school” of fish over the the entire season! 

Topwater Baits – These lures are fun to fish and can be effective, when the fish are congregated in the shallow water.  This only occurs for a few short weeks during the spawn and late fall, so these lures should not be used very often.  As you look at the entire fishing season, topwater baits will be effective about 1% of the time.

Weedless Baits – Again, there is a time and place as to where these lures should be used.  But, looking at the entire fishing season, the schools of big fish will be located in the weeds about 1% of the time. 

Jump Baits – This type of lure is our second most important group and should be used about 8% of the time.  In my opinion, these lures are used far too often by most fishermen because they don’t understand speed control.  Sure, these lures are weighted and  can be fished at any depth, but they are very limited as to speed control.  They were meant to be fished slowly.  If you try to impart speed to these lures, they will leave the bottom and you will lose your #1 control …depth! 

IMG_0519
My first 10 pound  Largemouth Bass caught with a crank bait (250 Spoonplug) at the beginning of my apprenticeship with Buck Perry.

Crank Baits –  This type of lure is by far the most important, as it gives us our greatest latitude for fishing various depths and various speeds.  (Let me add that the best crank bait ever built is the “Spoonplug”.  With 7 different sizes, we can all fish depths and all speeds from 0-60′ (except dead stop) and there is no other lure able to make that claim!)  Over the course of the entire year, when fishing for all warm and cool water species, crank baits should be used about 90% of the time.

Here’s the bottom line:  You should have some topwater and weedless baits for those infrequent times when the fish are located in the shallows, and then have a good supply of jump baits, for when the fish are extremely deep and extremely dormant.  Also, be sure to load up on the crank baits (preferably Spoonplugs) so you can check all of the depths with a variety of speeds.

 

 

Suspended Fish Are No Mystery

Most fresh water gamefish spend the greater part of their time on, or very near the bottom.  When these fish become active, they migrate along bottom features,as they move toward the shallows.  This would be considered a normal movement or migration of the fish.

There are however, certain species, that will occasionally suspend off of these bottom features.  This group would include Trout, Salmon, Walleye, Northern Pike, Muskie, Striper, White Bass, Hybrid Stripers, Crappies. Even though these fish spend most of their time on the bottom, they will suspend.

There are two types of suspension, horizontal and vertical.  First, let’s look at the horizontal suspension.  The species most likely to be found in this type of position would be Muskie, Northern Pike and Walleye.  When these fish migrate  up to the breakline or structure, at times, they will suspend slightly off the breakline.  It’s important to note that this suspension will always be in direct correlation to the depth of the breakline. In other words, the fish will be horizontally suspended in direct relationship to the breaks and breaklines that exist on that particular structure.  It’s also important to note that when fish are suspended they are very active and easy to catch.IMG_0497

Next, we have fish that suspend vertically, and this group would include White Bass, Stripers, Hybrid Stripers, Trout, Salmon and Crappie.   As these fish become active, they move straight up towards the surface and will vertically suspend.  Many times fishermen have a hard time finding these fish when they’re in this position, because they fail to realize these fish will use structure just the same as any other.  The only difference is that when they migrate shallow, they move straight up. This suspension will always occur directly over a break or a breakline! It’s also important to understand that these fish are more “channel oriented” than some of the other species.  So, when looking for these fish, try to find structure, breaks and breaklines that have immediate access to the deeper channels.

The bottom line is, if we want to consistently catch fish, we must use structure as our guide to where the fish will be.  This basic rule of fishing must also include the species of fish that suspend, because this suspension will always be related, in some manner, to structure, breaks and breaklines.

Many fishermen try to use “fish” as a guide.  They turn on their electronics and run helter-skelter, all over the lake, hoping to see fish on their “fish finder”.  Well, this just doesn’t work!  As I have said many times before, most water has no fish most of the time! We just can’t use fish as a guide to finding fish.  That’s about the same, as finding that needle in a haystack. On the other hand, structure is a reliable guide to where the fish will be found.  Once we arrive at structure, our depth sounders will make us aware of any suspension that might be taking place.

You Can’t Put Words in a Fish’s Mouth!

A few years ago, I went to Sam Rayburn Reservoir in East Texas, to hold a two-day mini-clinic for fellow subscribers.  I planned to hold the class and also spend a few days fishing with my good friend, Danny Carpenter and a few of his pals.

The main reason for the trip was the mini-clinic. But, secretly, I was anxious to do some fishing because Sam Rayburn, in March, can be absolutely unbelievable, mostly because  this is the time of the year that the fish are spawning. Sam Rayburn is one of my personal favorite lakes, and I was planning to spend an additional three or four days just fishing and having some fun.

Let me start at the beginning.  My plan was to get into town Tuesday night and fish with Danny and his buddies on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I was taking the weekend to hold the clinic and then fish Monday and Tuesday.

As I drove into Lufkin on Tuesday it was 78 degrees. It was beautiful fishing weather and I was anxious to start the following day.  But, when I woke up, much to my surprise, the temperature was 39 degrees! A front had rolled through and temperatures on Wednesday only reached a high of 45 degrees.  This is what we call a “severe front”.  My friends and I got together at breakfast and discussed the situation. We realized that we were sitting on one of the finest bass lakes in the country during the middle of the spawning season and we weren’t about to go back to the hotel.  We took off, went out to the lake.

We started fishing in a traditional manner, checking all of the known spawning areas. We fished the flooded, back areas of the side feeder-stream cuts, flipped all the trees and stumps with jigs and soft plastics, and then fished known areas of buck brush with stick baits and spinnerbaits. At the end of the day, our three-boat party had a grand total of ONE FISH!

Needless to say, we were all disappointed and were very quick to blame our lack of success on the weather.  The following day, temperatures remained quite chilly, with a high reaching somewhere around 40 degrees, and the results were about the same.   Then on Friday, we saw the weather start to change a bit and warmer temperatures pushed back into the area, with the highs somewhere in the mid 60’s.  But, even though we hadn’t had much success fishing shallow the first two days, we were convinced that the change in the weather and the warmer temperatures would throw the fish back on their beds.

We fished the morning hours with very little success, but it continued to get warmer. We just knew that at any moment these fish would move back up and we were going to be ready for them. But the fish never came!  At that point, I reminded myself how severe that cold front was, so I wasn’t all that surprised!  I spent the weekend holding the class and the weather and water temperatures continued to warm. The forecast for Monday and Tuesday was in the 70 degree range, and I knew for sure that by then the fish would be back up in the grass.

So, on Monday morning, we arrived at the lake at daybreak.  The weather was warm and humid, and we even had some cloud cover.  We were excited, and anxious to get started, but after flipping every willow tree and throwing baits to every piece of brush, and fishing some of the most fabulous feeder-stream cut areas, by noon time we had a grand total of 3 bass!  The biggest, I might add, was about 3 pounds.  We decided to take a little break and eat some lunch, and while we were eating, one of my friends reminded me of what we had been talking about in the class.  We had, in fact, relentlessly tried to wish or force the fish to be up in the shallows just because it was mid-March in East Texas. Bad weather conditions moved in and threw the fish off the beds. However, normally when this occurs, fish only drop off to the side feeder-stream cut.  Once the weather stabilizes, we would expect the fish to move back into the shallows. The weather had in fact stabilized, but we spent four days proving that the fish weren’t in the shallows.  At that moment it ceased to be fun and became a challenge.  We were determined to find out where those fish had gone.

Because of the position of the fish and what had been going on before I arrived, I knew that the peak of the spawn had not occurred, so normal post-spawn areas needn’t be checked.  I just knew that the fish had to be somewhere in the vicinity. We began to check the feeder-cut breaklines and started working our way out towards the main lake. By three o’clock in the afternoon, we still had not found the fish! We fished two or three secondary bars that were dropping off into the feeder cut at about 17 feet.  We fished them very thoroughly, but still no luck.  At that point I was reminded of a general hand rule that we should all use in our fishing: Regardless of the time of the year, if we’re not catching fish, we’re not fishing deep enough!

Even though it seemed totally unlikely and improbable, I went all the way out to the shoreline bar at the mouth of the creek.  This bar was tied to a large side feeder-stream cut, which was about 60 feet deep, and the end of the bar broke very sharply at 27 feet into 60.  This area would normally be fished post-spawn. It would also be a good summertime structure under good weather conditions. However, this was not a structure, or area that we would normally be working during the “spawning season”.

On the other hand, the fish have to be somewhere in the lake! They are either in the shallows, the deep, or somewhere in between!  We checked all the shallows and in between waters, and they weren’t there. At this point, we decided to check deeper. We established an anchoring position in 18 feet of water and began casting out over a 27′ breakline into a 60′ channel. I was throwing a 5/8 ounce jig and Danny was fishing with  a plastic worm.  We almost instantly started catching fish! The end result was 20 to 25 bass and the largest fish were caught by Danny weighing 5.5 and 6 pounds.

Danny C Bass Sam Rayburn
A great fisherman and good friend, Danny Carpenter.

This week was just another great example of hundreds I could mention, that prove once again, you can’t put words in a fish’s mouth!  Keep in mind, when looking for seasonal fish, the only sure thing we can ever say is that the fish are in the lake. They are in the shallows, the deep, or somewhere in between!

What Size Line is Best?

It’s amazing to me how some of the old wives tales, handed down from generation to generation, are still influencing how modern-day fishermen think.

A good example of this is the importance of line diameter in catching fish.  For years, it has been widely accepted that the smaller the line, the more success you will have.  This type of thinking has been brought about by the mistaken belief that the fish actually see your line, recognize what it is, and consequently refuse to take the bait.  This, of course, is simply not true!

You must remember, that fish are stupid creatures who act out of instinct, and instinct alone. Unlike humans, fish are equipped with a pea size brain and do not have the ability to size up a situation and come up with a thought-out, rational conclusion.  The truth of the matter is, a fish can see your line a billion times and still have absolutely no idea what it is!

Have you ever stopped to consider, that for years, saltwater fishermen have been catching fish on large diameter lines almost large enough to be classified as bull ropes?  Does that mean saltwater fish are dumber than those in fresh water?  Of course not!  Fish just don’t have any idea what a fishing line is.

Stren OriginalThis might be a good time to mention line color.  I like to “see” my line when making a cast. Seeing my line gives me the best control when fishing jump baits like jigs and soft plastics.  With that in mind, I’ve always used Original Golden Stren. I’ve been asked many times if I was concerned that the fish might see my “yellow line”. The answer is no! Even if the fish do see it, they have no idea what is is, nor do they know I’m up top trying to catch them!! Now, back to my original discussion.

How then, should we determine what size line should be used?  The informed fisherman should consider the species being fished for, the size of lures being used and the depths being worked.

During the course of the season, I will normally use lines varying from 8 to 20 lb. test.  This will allow me to control all of the different fishing situations that exist.  For instance, when fishing a shallow bank for spawning smallmouth, it wouldn’t be very smart to try and throw an 1/8 oz. jig with 20 lb. test!  In this case, 8 lb. test would be my choice.  On the other hand, if I were throwing a Suick into a dense weed bed, or casting a 3/4 oz. jig on a deep hump, 8 lb. test just wouldn’t work!  In this case, a heavier line would be called for.

Looking at the bulk of the fishing season, 14 to 17 lb. line should handle most situations.  There could be times when heavier or lighter line is needed.  However, in each case, our choice should be based on the species of fish we are after, the size of the lures being used and the depth of water we are working….NOT on whether or not the fish can see our line!

Crappies

Many of my subscribers have called and expressed an interest in learning all they can about catching this particular specie.  Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to say when it comes to talking about Crappie, but let me try to cover the most important points that you should know.

When God created the waters and then the fish, he stacked them in the following way:  In the shallowest water, crustaceans. Then as you move a little deeper, we find the small varieties of minnows.  As you get a little deeper, you have larger minnows, and then the bigger baitfish. Next will come Panfish, and then as we move even deeper we’ll have Bass and then comes the Walleye. In the deepest sections we find the larger species, namely Northern Pike and Muskie.

When talking about Crappie, understand that even though they can be found in depths of 30-35 feet, most of the time these fish will be found somewhat shallower.

The next thing we need to understand is that these fish will suspend vertically, like White Bass, Hybrid Striper, Stripers, Trout and Salmon.  So, when moving from the sanctuary zone toward the shallows, they will not follow normal migration routes, but rather move vertically towards the surface.

For the bulk of the season, under normal weather, many times this suspension will bring the fish into depths of 8 to 10 feet.  This would be thought of as a rather normal occurrence. However, keep in mind that weather and water conditions will dictate just how far these fish move or how long they stay.  During the early seasons, of course, when the fish move in to spawn, they will be found quite a bit shallower.  In Springtime, it’s not unusual to find these fish consistently in depths of 1 to 6 feet.

Certainly, Crappies are compatible with structure, but most of the time, when talking about Crappie, we’re thinking in terms of breaks.  Stumps, standing timber, brush, lily pads, these types of things are all synonymous with catching Crappie.

Another important thing to consider is that Crappies are an extremely slow fish.  Certainly their metabolism changes with the temperature of the environment, but it doesn’t change to the same degree, let’s say, as a Bass or Northern Pike.  This is really the reason why for years the slower presentations of live bait, or small jigs, has been the accepted way to fish for Crappie.

At times, you can and will catch Crappie when fishing with crank baits.  In fact, on a recent trip to Grenada Reservoir in Mississippi, I caught a 19” three pound Crappie while fishing for Bass with a 250 Spoonplug.  But this is the exception, certainly not the rule.  The slower presentations are the way to go.

Now I know you’ve heard me say this a hundred times, but I need to continue to remind you that most water has no fish most of the time and this would also apply to Crappie. I’m sure most of you know that once these fish are located, it’s a very simple matter to actually catch them.

Just as in all other fishing, the real key is being able to find the fish.  Of course, the quickest way to eliminate the unproductive water is by trolling, but as I mentioned before, trolling in the conventional manner with Spoonplugs in most all cases is just going to be too fast.

A trick that I like to use, is to troll with jigs. I normally like to run four rods when doing this type of work and I will attach four different weights of jigs.  Then I’ll use different line lengths so that I can cover different depths on the same trolling pass.  Keeping in mind that slow is the way to go here, I use my electric trolling motor, on its slowest setting, and to actually make the trolling passes.  Then of course, once fish are located, I go to casting the jigs, or you could also go to fishing with live bait.

Now the next question is, where should we concentrate our efforts?  In the early season, the target areas are pretty cut and dried.  You simply seek out the shallow breaks in the back bays or the upper end of the side feeder stream cuts in reservoirs, and there’s your answer.  But during the bulk of the season, these fish are a little bit more difficult to find.  In natural lakes, during the bulk of the season, we will be looking for our suspended fish adjacent to the breaklines and drop-offs to the deep holes and deeper slots.  In manmade reservoirs we’ll be looking for these same suspended fish along the breaklines to the side feeder stream cuts and at times, of course to the main channel.

When fishing along breaklines to the side cuts or the main channel, be sure to concentrate your efforts any time you find a bend or sudden change in that channel.  These will be the areas where Crappies can be found.

Let me also caution you here, during the summer months, do not limit your fishing to the shallow water.  At times these fish can be found quite deep, so as in all of your fishing, be sure to check all depths.

Don’t Try to Create Structure that Isn’t There

Last season I received a call from a subscriber, who was spending a week fishing a lake in Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis.  After 2 days of not catching fish, he decided to give me a shout and ask for any suggestions I might have.

He told me his biggest problem was that he wasn’t able to find any deep structure anywhere in the lake. He located numerous bars and humps, but each structure broke off at about 10′ straight into deep water.  With the absence of deep, “readable” breaklines, and frustrated by not catching fish, he decided to just start fishing deep water in hopes he might luck into some fish.

Well, as I told him that night, this is a mistake!  As I have said many times, in order to be successful we must have a target to fish, and this is especially true when fishing the deeper areas.

Donbassflorida
10 lb Bass caught on Lake Harris, FL while fishing the deepest feature available… a 10′ breakline to a deep water slot.

In an attempt to locate deep features (structure, breaks and breaklines) many times fishermen will try to create something that just isn’t there.  Sure, there are lakes where deep structure can be found in 35, 45, and even 60′ of water, but there are also lakes where the deepest feature may be only 10′.  This is something I run into every day in the shallow, saucer-type Florida lakes.  When confronted with this situation the best approach is to take what you have and stick with it.  Certainly, we have a better chance of catching fish from the deeper structures, but if it’s not there, it’s not there!

I think, at times, fishermen are misled by the emphasis I put on deep water fishing.  But you must remember, our only reliable guide to where the fish can be found is structure, breaks and breaklines.

The bottom line is, I would much rather spend my time fishing shallow structure, than aimlessly flailing away in some deep water hole where no targets exist.  Fishing deep water without structure, is about the same as finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

So, let this be a lesson you never forget.  If your lake doesn’t have deep structures, take what you have and don’t try to create something that doesn’t exist.  Remember, regardless of the depths being fished, we must use structure as our guide to locating and catching fish!

Live Bait vs. Artificial

IMG_0325I’m sure that most of you are well aware that all gamefish, at certain times, can be caught on live bait.  This will occur during a feeding period and the reaction of the fish in in this situation is referred to as “biting.”  This is nature’s way of providing for the continuation of the species and it cannot be argued that these feeding or biting periods occur each and every fishing day.  The bad news is, these feeding periods don’t last very long.  The truth is, fish spend only a few short minutes a day actively feeding.

On the flip side of that, there is some good news!  Fish are very voracious creatures, and can also be made to strike a lure or bait, as opposed to feeding or biting.  The strike is normally created by something out-of-the ordinary, unusual, or different, and is a result of the disposition of the fish. When you consider nature’s law of the survival of the fittest, it is simply the instinct of fish to strike and thereby eliminate the weak, the hurt, the sick, and the dying (odd-ball, different and/or unusual).  Once we analyze these laws of nature we are able to arrive at the following conclusions.

Fish are cold blooded creatures who spend the majority of their life somewhere in deep water.  When located in the deeper, colder waters, their metabolism slows down and most of the time they are quite dormant and non-chasing.  Consequently the feeding or biting process is of a short duration and at times can be almost non-existent for rather long periods. If you break it down to percentages, it would be fair to say that no more than 5% of any fishing day will the fish be actively feeding.  On the other hand fish can be made to strike 100% of the time.

For the greater part of your fishing day, or season for that matter, you will be fishing when the fish are not feeding, so relying on the fish to strike is the only possible way to have consistent success.  How does all of that apply to our original question of live bait vs. artificials?

First of all, live bait represents the natural, normal, everyday food supply. It offers a way to catch fish, provided you present that live bait at the right spot, at the right depth, at the exact time the feeding or “biting” period occurs. It is true, you can make live bait seem somewhat unusual by hooking it differently or something of that nature.  But, for the most part, when trying to create the oddball or unnatural, artificial lures are by far the best choice.  There are many sizes, actions, and colors that all represent something different to the fish.

Buck Perry’s Spoonplug is the fish catchin’-ist lure ever made and it looks more like a bent-up shoehorn than something good to eat!  Another great example is a plastic worm.  You know worms do not live in water and are not a natural food of the fish, but how many jillion bass do you suppose have been caught on a plastic worm?

So what’s the Bottom Line?

Personally, I never fish with live bait, even though I will readily admit that it can be used in certain situations, with some success.  But, in the overall picture of successful fishing, live bait is so limiting, it can hardly be compared with artificials.  This is particularly true when fishing strange waters.  Live bait cannot be used as a “tool” when it comes to mapping or fishing unfamiliar water.

For those who insist on using live bait, you are far better off finding a few spots on one lake and just sit there and wait for the fish to bite!  On the other hand, if you prefer to consistently catch all species of fish from any water you ever care to fish, artificial lures are by far the best choice!

How Fish Adapt to Change

Recently, I was asked to explain how fish adapt to a changing hostile environment.  As I began to answer my fishing friend, I was reminded that there is a direct correlation between how fish adapt and our overall approach to catching them.  Let me explain what I mean.

A fish can adapt to almost any environmental change, but, he can’t do it quickly.   Therefore, the key word to a fish’s well-being is stability.

Don Walleye TwinsMost of the changes that take place in the world of a fish, occur in the first 8 to 10 feet of water. Subsequently, the deeper you go in any body of water, the more stable all conditions become.  With this in mind, let’s examine the specifics of how fish adapt to changes in weather and water.

First, they adapt by changing depth. When conditions are stable, they can be found quite shallow but as conditions begin to worsen, they will move and continue to drop deeper, until they reach a stable condition.

In addition, they adapt by changing their state of dormancy (speed). Let me define what I mean when I refer to speed.  I’m simply talking about how fast a fish moves from point A to point B. When conditions are stable, fish become quite active, or fast. But, as weather and water conditions begin to change, they become more dormant, or slow.

Now I have been preaching for the last 40 years, the two most important controls in fishing are depth and speed!  In order to catch a fish you must present your lures where the fish are (depth control) and move your bait by him at the proper speed, according to his activity or dormancy.  (Shallow more active-deeper more dormant).

I hope that by now you can begin to see the connection.  If fish, in order to survive, are constantly changing their depth and therefore their activity or speed, then it only makes sense that if we want to consistently catch them, we must do the same!  In fact, in order to overcome any weather or water condition, all we must do is check all of the different depths and speeds, until we arrive at the fish!

 

Seasonal Movements of Walleye

Unlike the Bass, Walleye will move great distances throughout a lake or river during seasonal migrations.  Let’s begin in the winter months and take a look at just how they do it.

Most Walleye water is iced over at this time of year, but the fish will begin their seasonal migration under the ice, as they head toward their spawning areas. In major rivers or man-made reservoirs, the fish will leave the lower end or deeper sections, and begin to move toward the upper end, or headwater areas.  Usually, this would mean the uppermost reaches of the main river channel, or in some cases, could include the headwaters of major feeder-stream cuts and/or secondary rivers. In each case, the Walleye will go just about as far as they can go, and these headwater areas are where they will spawn.

Some natural lakes are stream fed and these particular lakes will have streams entering and leaving and the fish will, in most all cases, migrate to this moving water. On the other hand some natural lakes are land-locked. In this case, the fish will move from the deep water holes into the shallow bays and coves to spawn.  But, since there is no moving water, the fish will choose the shallow bay areas that have the most suitable bottom conditions for the spawning activity, and this would include sand and/or gravel.

don and tommy
A good stringer of early summer Walleye with my best friend and business partner, Tommy Ferencek.

Whether you’re fishing rivers, man-made reservoirs, or natural lakes, you must remember that Walleye will traverse great distances to reach the proper spawning areas.

As I mentioned earlier, the seasonal migration begins under the ice and normally when the ice goes out, the fish are already in position and ready to spawn.  The daily weather conditions and water temperatures will determine just when the eggs ripen and the actual spawn will occur, but generally speaking this will be within 2 or 3 weeks after ice out. Once the spawn is complete, the fish will begin to move back down the river or lake towards the deeper summertime sanctuary areas.

Because the fish move such a great distance to spawn, the return trip to the summer areas can take quite some time.  So again, just like a Bass, the post spawn period can be quite difficult when trying to locate the schools of Walleye.

Let me explain what I mean.  Two weeks after the spawn, the Walleye might be located a mile or two down river, and then a few weeks later, the mass of fish may be 5 miles further downstream, or they might be only 3, or maybe 7 miles downstream. Do you get my point? Because of the great distances these fish move seasonally, it becomes an absolute necessity to locate the general area to begin your fishing. Keep in mind, “we can’t catch a fish where he ain’t,” and when it comes to a Walleye, the seasonal position is just as important as the daily position.

Once this seasonal trek has been completed, the bulk of the summer season would be spent fishing the typical main lake structures adjacent to the deepest holes and channels. Then as we get into the late fall and early winter, the lakes and rivers start to ice up and we begin the process all over again.

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