How to Fish

Making Adjustments While Fishing on the Water

In last week’s column, I talked about the sporadic saltwater bass bite Matt Kotch and I found while pre-fishing for a SWBA tournament in Santa Monica Bay, California, and the need to remain flexible when choosing fishing areas and techniques.

Well, we fished that tournament over the weekend and I was reminded that it’s a lot easier to sit behind a computer and preach about something, like the virtue of remaining flexible, than it is to actually be flexible when the pressure is on.

We had what we felt was a strong game plan. We’d start by fishing for sand bass on deep-water structure for the first couple of hours of the day and based on what we’d seen we figured that best-case scenario, we’d catch a 15- to 17-pound bag there. After that, our plan was to run to Palos Verdes and try to catch one or more big calicos to cull some of the smaller sand bass. We figured if we managed a couple of good kicker fish, we could potentially bump our bag up to the low 20-pound range and have a shot at winning.

Well, the tournament started promptly at 6 a.m. and we blasted north, arriving at our first spot 10 minutes later. Stopping the boat, we both took a cast and I missed a bite on the first cast. We made a few more casts before repositioning the boat and trying again. Those few casts soon became dozens and we knew things had changed from the previous week.

Scrambling to find a new pattern, we tried different baits and presentations for a bite here and a bite there, but we just couldn’t dial it in. Giving up after almost three hours of trying with a measly 5 pounds of bass in the tank, we left the area with our tails between our legs.

During the 20-mile run to our spot along Palos Verdes, we had time to discuss our options. Being somewhat short on time, we decided to go right to our big-fish spot and just throw the big baits the rest of the day in hopes of getting the one big bite that could win us the big fish side pot and also lock up the wild card slot in the season finale. The SWBA gives a wild card spot to the biggest fish caught during the last event of the season by a team that hadn’t qualified for the finale on points (which we did not accomplish this year).

Conditions had changed at Palos Verdes and we found that the water had jumped to 75 degrees, which may be good for dorado fishing, but it sucks for calico bass.

Not having the time to run anywhere else, we commenced throwing the 7- and 9-inch MC Weedless baits that we’d been getting our big bites on during pre-fishing. After two hours of casting we hadn’t even seen a fish, much less gotten a bite.

With time running out, we were fishing near my friend Jimmy Decker, who I watched catch fish after fish on his signature bait, the Gulp! Jerk Shad. He threw me a bone and said the fish were biting deep. This made sense as the fish would likely stay down in the cooler water near the bottom, so we switched up our presentation and to our surprise, we started catching fish.

We managed a couple of more keepers and at the end of the day had scraped together a mediocre 16th place bag. We may not have won the event or secured the wild card in the finale, but we did acquire some valuable insight into what the term “remaining flexible” really means.

Like most fishermen, I’d always considered myself fairly flexible and on any given trip my game plan includes at least a couple of different areas to fish as well as several techniques to try in each of those areas. More often than not I end up catching fish somewhere during the trip and on the days that I don’t, I just chalk it up to the fish not biting.

But, as a tournament fisherman, I’ve found that no matter how bad the fishing seems to be on tournament day, multiple teams always show up at the scales with big bags of bass. So the excuse that, “they’re just not biting” doesn’t hold any water. The truth is, “The fish are biting somewhere and on something, but the things I’ve tried haven’t worked.”

Take responsibility for the slow fishing off of the fish’s shoulders and put it right on your own.

This can be a tough thing to do, but it is one of the most important steps towards growing as a fisherman. When you look at what separates the most successful fishermen from the rest of us, it’s that they see this responsibility as an opportunity. Embracing the need to be flexible, they’ll change this phrasing yet again to, “I haven’t caught anything, but I’m going to figure out what it’ll take to get bit.”

Looking back on our tournament day I see several things that we could have done differently. The first is to have spent less time fishing the deep-water structure. In hindsight, I had a gut feeling that the area wasn’t going to bite, but rather than trusting my instincts, I burned a bunch of time trying to prove myself wrong.

The second thing was that we were too close-minded when it came to selecting our baits at Palos Verdes. Due to time constraints, we were stuck fishing that area. But since the conditions had obviously changed from those we found when pre-fishing, one of us should have immediately started trying new baits and presentations while the other stuck with what had worked before. That way we could have tried our old pattern while simultaneously working to establish a new one just in case.

Whatever species you’re targeting, being flexible is the key to success. So, next time you’re on the water and the fishing sucks, don’t just chalk it up to them not biting. Instead, take some time to analyze the conditions including water temp and clarity, tides, natural forage in the area and boat pressure. Then start trying different baits and presentations until you find one that works.

You may not figure out how to get them to bite during the time you have on the water that day, but you will have taken another step towards becoming a better fisherman.

Photos courtesy of Jimmy Sahagun.

Making Adjustments While Fishing on the Water

Erik Landesfeind
Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California an...