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Find fish to fish to - and catch more fish

My contention is successful fishermen fish where fish are, more often than most fishermen. How do they do it?

It is a truism worth repeating: 80% of fish are caught by 20% of fishermen. What is more to the point, is that this saying is true over the long run. The same 20% of fishermen consistently catch 80% of the fish.

To put this down to the usual excuses of the fishless 80%, such as luck, better gear, etc., etc., ad nausea, is to disguise the truth.

Some put down the success of the 20% to the fact that the 20% tend to be the fishers who fish the most, and by sheer dint of arithmetic are more likely to catch fish. Yes, that is true over the long run, but the 20% catch more fish, more often on each fishing trip. If there are 100 fishing on one day, just 20 of them will catch 80% of all the fish caught.

Successful fishers fish where the fish are most often. It is this ability to more accurately forecast where fish are likely to be holding at any one time, that separates the successful fisher from the fishless.

It was not until I opened Just Fishin', my tackle shop in Auckland, NZ way back in 1986, that a theory that had been bouncing unconvincingly about the dark recesses of my mind began to take shape.

We had a motto in the shop, and that was 'we don't sell fishing tackle, we sell dreams. The dream of more or bigger fish'.

This motto was perhaps not so much a motto as a plea from many of our customers. For many customers catching more or bigger fish was too lofty an aim. They merely wanted to catch some fish.

Many of these 'fishless' customers had all the right gear, so this was not their problem. Their problem was not how to fish, or when, but where to fish.

Too often unsuccessful fishermen use this nice piece of fractured logic:
All fish live in water, thus all water has fish in it. Therefore anywhere you fish in water, there is a chance of catching fish.

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This logic is about as fractured as the logic that says that all humans live on land, therefore all land has humans living on it. Many parts of the land on our planet are not inhabited by man. Deserts are a place where there are not too many humans, and those that do live in deserts concentrate themselves around oasis, where life can be sustained.

Start thinking of the sea as a desert, then start thinking about where an oasis might be, then you are starting to think about where fish might be.

Here is some news, that should not be news. Fish are as thick as two short planks. The average twenty pound fish, any species, has a brain smaller that a plum. This lack of intelligence, means that a fishes life is reduced to very simple basics.

In general, a fish requires three factors to survive, food, shelter and an environment that will sustain their physiology:

Most of the fish we seek in saltwater are pelagic fish. That is fish that follow a specific set of environmental conditions that will sustain their life, and lifestyle. Find the optimum environment, for the target species, and you will find the largest numbers of fish, and the biggest fish.

Reduce these needs to clean uncluttered simplicity, and prime fish holding 'spots' are relatively easy to find.

For inshore species look for reefs, foul ground, weed beds, with good tidal or current flows. The reef, foul ground, weed etc. provides cover from predators, and some relief from the incessant flow of current and tide.

Areas such as these that lie in the path of currents that fish use to move from environment to environment, are prime spots. These currents, these main motorways, carry predator and prey from holding spot to holding spot.

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Within these prime spots are 'prime lies.' Areas that provide the best cover, best source of food, and the best environment. In these prime lies are found the prime fish, big dominant fish.

The ultimate simplicity of a fishes life can be summed up in the old cliché, "little fish get eaten by bigger fish, who get eaten by....."

Find the little fish and there or thereabouts, will be bigger fish.

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All this is stuff that has filled magazine stories and books for many years, and at face value seems very simple. It is simple, but fishermen conspire to make the simple complicated.

'Find the motorways, find the fish', seems a simple premise, but looking at the sea in this way can be difficult.

I have found it useful to think of the sea, in terms of my earliest fishing experiences, which were in rivers.

A river could be described as a body of water flowing in a channel between banks. The width of the river is determined by the height of the banks, and the distance between them. The overall direction of the river is determined by the shape of the banks.

The rate of flow of the water within the river, leaving aside the 'fall', is determined by the obstacles in the waters way, such as channels, boulders, sand bars, tree trunks and the like.

Trout use these river structures to find the optimum place to live. They lie behind, under, and sometimes in the cushion of water in front, of logs, snags, boulders, etc. Another lie is behind the lips of steep drop-offs, where the trout can dart upward to dine.

Like all fish, trout must find a home that provides shelter from predators, and the remorseless push of the current. This home must be close to a good food source, a food source that requires the minimum of effort to gather.

These homes are called 'lies'. Lies as in where the trout lie. Not lies as in what the trout fisher tells when he can not catch the trout in their lies, because he cannot find these lies.

For most trout in a river, food comes near the trout lie courtesy of the currents in the river. The larval form of insects, nymphs, are dislodged from the bottom, or seeking to move to the surface, are carried by the river to the trout. The trout feeds on these by darted out into the current, grabbing the morsel as it passes, and then darting back to its lie.

Lies can be broken down even further.

'Prime Lies' are the lies that provide the very best combination of food, and shelter. Prime lies are inhabited by the biggest, strongest fish. They take over the prime lies by sheer brute force.

The other lies are used by smaller weaker fish, and lies can be tiny pockets of water holding tiny fish, all the way up to prime lies.

Many trout at dawn or dusk may leave their lies to feast in water near the banks, or shallow areas to feed on snails, nymphs, emerging insects, and smaller trout. Like most predators they use the low light levels, and low light angles, to disguise their presence from their prey, and their own predators.

The trick to increasing your catch of inshore salt water fish is to look at the sea as a series of rivers. Find these 'rivers in the sea', and then find the lies and prime lies, within those rivers in the sea.

Every hour spent in reconnaissance is worth ten in the battle

The only major raffle I have ever won was the lottery that determined who would do National Military Service, way back in 1965.

After the initial three weeks basic training I was selected to enter the Officer Cadet Training Unit. OCTU spent a lot of time teaching us military strategy. The one thing that was constantly drummed into us was the value of good, thorough reconnaissance.

Gathering good information upon which to base your action plans, was of critical importance. The best, most successful generals, it seemed, were those who knew most about the particular field of battle, and how best to use the men and equipment at hand to achieve success.

The more time spent in studying the likely area and conditions you are likely to meet on any fishing trip, then making decisions on how and where you will fish in that area, the greater the chances of you achieving your fishing objectives.

Homework is essential.

The kitchen or dining room table is a key piece of fishing equipment. It is the device that is used to spread charts of the area you are going to fish. Close examination of the bottom contours, reefs, channels, and drop-offs should identify prime fish holding spots. Also study tidal directions to identify the best anchoring positions, on both tide directions.

Here is an experiment you can try in any harbour, anywhere, on a nice afternoon, to prove fractured logic about the location of fish.

Find a nice cove or bay, and anchor right in the middle of it. If you want to be pedantic, drive around the spot before you anchor just to make doubly sure there are no fish there. Put a couple of rods out in the rod holders and sit back and relax.

Very soon a passing boat will swing off its course and meander up to park in reasonable proximity to your boat. The attraction of two boats parked up in the middle of a bay will be irresistible, soon more boats will appear and park up. Remember, there are no fish in this spot.

In a short time the activity of boats arriving and departing will attract more boats. The belief in 'the spot' is overwhelming, and all logic will depart.
"The fact that logic cannot satisfy us, awakens an almost insatiable hunger for the irrational."

This article is based on a chapter in 'Fishing Even Smarter' by Tony Bishop

fish illustration by Bish

Article written by Tony Bishop

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