By Jason Mitchell
I have often wondered how fish get from point A to point B. Do fish just wander at random until a comfortable environment is found? I have often wondered how fish on one side of the lake make their way over to the other side. Do fish follow the contours of the shorelines? Do fish just take the shortest route from point A to point B?
While not every school of fish follows the same program, it often seems that fish like walleye and perch will follow specific routes when moving along a shoreline or when moving across a flat. "Under water highways" is the term I use for these little bumps and depressions that funnel fish through areas. Both perch and walleye often seem to build up and follow the slightest ridges and dips that can be found on any flat.
When walleye and perch are roaming flats and basins, there often seems to be no specific reason as to how fish wander across the open terrain. The fish often seem to never stay in one place too long and constantly move. Both perch and walleye, however often seem to build up and follow the slightest ridges and dips that can be found on almost any flat.
While expansive mud flats like the flats found on Devils Lake can indeed seem flat, there is no such thing as a featureless flat. Fisherman are often programmed, it seems, to look for structure and to look for obvious structure. People set out to find that magical drop off. Some of the best real estate on the bottom of the lake, however, isn't obvious and won't show up on a lake map. Some of the "best" structure on any frozen lake can also be measured in inches. While some of this micro structure might be a mere dip or lip that comes up or down a foot or less, weed beds, submerged vegetation or scattered rocks can also serve the purpose. The old saying that ninety percent of the fish are in ten percent of the lake is usually true. When breaking down that ten percent of the lake, the smallest details make the difference.
Finding these hidden treasures takes work. Use a flasher like a Vexilar FL8 and pay close attention. I often put my fingernail right on the depth reading so I know the exact change from hole to hole. If you are on a flat that is forty feet deep, a six-inch difference across ten feet of the bottom can be big. When you find some kind of a change, drill holes to find out more. Find out if the bottom dipped suddenly or gradually. Find out how big of an area that the bottom is different from the surrounding area. The only way to get this information is to drill holes. As you find out more, drill the holes closer together until you know exactly what the lake looks like underneath you. The more information you have the better decisions you make.
If you pop a hole somewhere and find fish, drill more holes around the area to learn why fish were there in the first place. After you find these magical little spots, save the location with a GPS. There have been many of these small hard to find spots I fished before I started using a GPS that I have never been able to find again.
An option for finding some of these productive spots is to find these spots in the summer with a boat and save the GPS coordinates. Using a boat to cover vast expanses of water is much easier and quicker than looking down an eight-inch hole at a time.
This paying attention to detail on the bottom is often referred to as "finding the spot on the spot," amongst fishermen. Whenever you become immobilized, these spots can save your rear. These spots tend to bring the fish to you. While many other fisherman and I preach the importance of staying on the move and finding fish that bight, there are times and situations when you can't move. Many times while guiding, I might have customers who are too young or old to set up and take down a dozen different times in a day. Blizzards, wind and snow can also limit your ability to effectively move around. You might have a few children who are just a little bit too young to enjoy fishing if fishing means drilling holes until your arms get soar. Whenever you become immobilized, these spots can save your rear because fish will often hold in these areas.
When you are in a position where you can be mobile, knowing where these spots are and hitting them in fast sequence can be an extremely efficient way to find and catch fish.
Jason Mitchell is a Licensed Guide on Devils Lake, North Dakota.
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