If you’re like me, you rely on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to see who among your friends and colleagues is catching all the fish. Keep up this intel-gathering activity with any regularity, and you’ll see patterns emerge.
You’ll notice that one or two of your friends are showing off big fish with such consistency that you begin to question your own angling skills.
But why does such a small cross-section of anglers catch such a large chunk of the fish, and what can you do to increase the odds in your favor? To get some answers, I asked a group of anglers who are highly respected in their fields for tips they’d suggest for folks looking to up their game. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Keep it quiet
Even if you’re not stalking an easily spooked species, such as permit or bonefish, keeping the noise level low is something two of our pros recommended as one key to angling success.
Lenny Rudow, a well-known Chesapeake Bay angler and author of “Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Chesapeake,” believes you can never be too quiet when you’re stalking your quarry. “Shhhh! Way too many anglers scare off fish with loud noises without ever realizing it,” Rudow says. “Sound carries even better through water than it does through the air, and those fish can hear and get spooked by sounds such as slamming hatches, dropped tackle boxes and even angler’s voices. Quiet down and you will catch more fish.”
Shawn Kimbro, another top-notch Chesapeake Bay angler and author of “Chesapeake Light Tackle: An Introduction to Light Tackle Fishing on the Chesapeake Bay,” echoes this sentiment. “The biggest mistake I see most fishermen make is being too noisy on the water,” Kimbro says. “If you want to consistently catch bigger, smarter fish, you have to sneak up on them. Kill your engine, land your fish quietly, walk softly and close hatches gently.”
2. Do the opposite of what others are doing
It’s easy to watch and mimic what other anglers are doing or telling you that you should do, but when your success level drops, the pros say thinking different often scores more fish.
A husband-and-wife team, captains Sarah Gardner and Brian Horsley of Outer Banks Fly Fishing, are known for their expertise in fishing the autumn false albacore season off Cape Lookout, N.C., and for guiding anglers to other species around the world. “Hey, why are we moving away from a crowd of boats and feeding fish?” I asked Sarah on a recent trip.
“I don’t do what everyone else is doing all the time,” she said. “Sometimes you strike out, but more often I find better fishing elsewhere by not following the pack.” Once we’d moved a few miles to the east, we had a school of feeding albacore all to ourselves.
Lefty Kreh, a fishing legend who is credited with developing the sport of saltwater fly-fishing, told me, “One characteristic of the 10 percent is that they tend to do things the exact opposite of others. An example is Capt. Lefty Regan and Dr. Webb Robinson, who developed the concept of teasing billfish to the boat. They learned that when the fish were lured near the boat, they were eager to take a fly or lure. Up until that time everyone else chased down the fish, not the other way around.”
3. Watch the birds
Any good saltwater angler knows that birds tip off the locations of feeding fish. Taking a closer look at how they are behaving can mean the difference between catching a few small fish and landing a trophy or two.
“Know your birds,” says Gardner. “When fishing for false albacore, and many other species for that matter, birds are key to finding fish. We prefer terns and gulls because they eat the same baitfish as the albacore do. The higher they fly, the deeper the albacore are working. When the birds drop closer to the water and start squawking, we know the fish are on the verge of pushing the bait to the surface.”
Kreh offers similar advice. “The other prevailing characteristic of the 10 percent is that they are extremely aware of their environment. For example, they not only look for birds but see what they are doing and why. Birds act and fly differently depending on what the fish are doing. A good angler tunes in on this and changes tactics accordingly.”
4. Keep moving
At least two of our pros agree that casting over and over again into the same area expecting to catch fish is an exercise in futility with most species. Your best bet is to pick up and move to somewhere productive when the fish aren’t responding.
“With some species, it’s a good idea to stay put for a while and let conditions settle down, but with striped bass they’re either there or they aren’t,” Kimbro says. “There’s no point to staying on a non-productive spot. Hit the spot, look on the sonar, make a few casts and then move on quickly if you don’t get bites. You’ll not only cover more ground this way, but increase your odds by working different areas until you find fish that are feeding.”
A book author and a keen saltwater fly and light-tackle angler, Joe Bruce has fished around the world for dozens of species. He concurs with Kimbro. “If they were here, they’d be eating our flies,” Bruce once told me while we were fishing for striped bass off Poplar Island in the Chesapeake. “It’s generally pointless to cast to unwilling fish or to areas where there aren’t any, but anglers do it all the time. Pick up and move to better grounds when things aren’t happening.”
5. Change tactics
Doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results is the definition of insanity — in life and in fishing. Bruce and Kimbro echoed the sentiment. “Fish don’t ‘strike short,’ ” Bruce says. “They simply are not as active as the retrieve you might be using. The key is to slow down or try another tactic, such as reducing (or increasing) the size of the lure or fly.”
“Just because a certain lure or technique works one day doesn’t mean it will the next,” Kimbro says. “If you don’t like the results you’re getting, it’s silly to keep doing the same thing. Change your lures, swap up your techniques and try something new. Doing the same thing over and over is a waste of time when you’re not catching fish.”