By Jason Mitchell
Walk through any tackle store and you will pass rows of tackle. You will find jigs, sinkers and lures painted in a wide spectrum of color. Lures with rattles or without, different lure sizes and shapes, the possibilities are endless. With so much tackle available, it can become very easy to get overwhelmed. New colors are ripped from the shelves, new lures get tested, and everybody is looking for that magic lure that will catch fish when nothing else will. With all of the tackle available today, however, is there really anything that will catch fish like a hook, line and sinker? Is there anything as universally appealing as live bait squirming on a plain hook with just enough lead to sink the offering into the strike zone? The rig that many of us learned how to catch walleyes with will never go out of style.
In today's fast paced world, it seems that many anglers fish on the run. Fishermen want big outboards so they can hit as many spots as possible. Run and gun, cover ground and find active fish. It often seems that many fishermen have got so caught up with trolling and using tactics that eliminate "unproductive water" in a hurry. I have often wondered how many times I have missed fish when trying to eliminate "unproductive water." I believe there are times when we get so caught up on staying on the move that we move right on past fish and don't even realize it.
There is a time and place for covering water quickly but there is also a time and place for sitting on a spot and having something that many anglers have forgotten- patience. There are times when a guy might be better off staying put and milking a spot for what its worth.
Good boat control goes hand in hand with presenting live bait. When the wind is making your rod blanks hum and the waves are slopping up against the side of your boat, boat control becomes a mental and physical battle. I honestly believe, however, that boat control is often very overrated. Remember folks, the fish aren't after your boat. Bait control is a better way of thinking when you are handling your boat. It doesn't really matter where you stick that boat; it is where you can put the business end of your line that counts. People often seem to get so wrapped up in positioning their boat in just the right spot. Meanwhile, their bait is well, somewhere below the boat. Always try to visualize where you are at below the boat. Unless you are fishing vertically, your bait isn't going to take the exact same path that your boat does.
Pinpoint bait control is needed if you want to increase the odds of catching fish you see on your graph.
There are times when you can make live bait rigging much more efficient by visualizing where your bait is below the boat and understanding what your depth finder is telling you. Most people just turn their depth finders on and use the units to look for fish or "structure." You can get more information out of your depth finder, however, by learning to recognize where fish are within your depth finder's cone angle. When you need to put live bait right in front of a fish's face; you need to be able to determine whether fish are right under your boat seat or in the edge of the cone angle.
There are a few tricks to use to try to determine where the fish is located below the boat but there are many variables that can affect how a fish looks on screen. The depth of the water you are fishing, boat speed, bottom contour and wind can all effect your ability to pinpoint fish location. Generally, when fish are right below you and you are hovering in place, it seems that fish will often scroll across the screen as a vertical shape, seldom arching. When fish are drifting away as the boat approaches or if the fish are located on the edge of the cone angle, it often seems like the marks become more horizontal in shape. The marks of fish on the edge often seem to appear as half arches.
Boat speed seems to be the most important variable we have control of that affects how fish appear on the screen. As you drift or troll faster, the fish that scroll across the screen appear more like arches. Generally, however, half arches or arches with a trailing end are usually fish that are located on the edge of your bottom coverage. There are many other uncontrollable variables that can throw a wrench into your ability to tell where fish are located. On windy days when your transducer is riding up and down over waves, the shapes of the fish get distorted.
Every depth finder unit is a little different and every day on the water is different. It takes some time staring at the screen in front of you to effectively judge where fish are located, given the variables that we are dealt with. Vexilar recently introduced a high quality graph that takes the guesswork out of determining where fish are located within your cone angle. The advantages of the Vexilar Edge LC-507 stem from the fact that the unit has two transducers. The Edge 507 is basically two depth finders on a split screen. The right side of the screen has a transducer with a wide 107 kHz cone. The left side of the screen has a narrow 400 kHz cone. The split screen allows for easy comparison. When you only see fish on the right side of the screen, you know that fish are on the edge of the cone angle, slightly away from the boat. No guessing or speculating. When a fish appears on the left side of the screen, you know you're right on top of that fish.
This information might not seem like much but knowing where fish are in relation to your boat can be crucial. When you know for a fact that a fish is indeed straight below you, fish straight below you. When fish are drifting to the side, get your rig further away from your boat and loop your boat around, essentially circling the fish. Fish avoid boats much more than we would like to think. The fish might not shift far, but if the fish shift five feet away from the boat and the rig is right below the boat, we're not putting the bait in front of fish.
On the other hand, if you mark a fish right below the boat and your rig isn't right below the boat, you were not putting the bait in front of the fish. Determine where the fish are below the boat and make adjustments accordingly. If you want to catch more fish with a live bait rig, pay attention to what your depth finder is telling you. Most anglers have boat location and control crammed into their heads, but bait location is really what determines how many walleye your net slides under. Use your depth finder to force feed walleye.
Jason Mitchell is a Licensed Guide on Devils Lake, North Dakota.
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