Fish rarely “stop biting,” despite claims to the contrary when we return to the dock with an empty livewell! If you get skunked today where you thumped ‘em yesterday, some factor out of your control — weather, water clarity, current — has re-positioned the fish or prompted them to favor a different forage profile. So the next time a hot bite shuts down, fish a different depth, speed up your retrieve and throw some different baits.
So says James Lindner, director, producer and co-host of Lindner’s Angling Edge television show and a Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Legendary Communicator.
“To be really successful as an angler, you can’t just say ‘I caught ‘em here yesterday, but today the fish weren’t biting,’” Lindner says. “There’s a lot of environmental factors that could have changed overnight. So you’ve got to change your baits and tactics — shapes and sizes, speeds and depths.
“But a lot of people don’t do that,” Lindner continues. “That’s why really successful anglers are so successful — they have a wide variety of baits and they’re not afraid to experiment.”
That being said, the best time to experiment is not when the fish aren’t biting. But rather, when they are biting so well they’re practically jumping in the boat.
“The best way to build confidence in a bait is to catch something on it,” Lindner says. “So the best time to experiment — not just with new products, but also with lures you’ve had a while but never caught fish on — is when you’re really catching ‘em.”
The next time you’re having a great “numbers day” — one of those days you’re catching multiple “cookie cutters” on one or two go-to baits — that’s the time to tie on a new or under-used bait or two. “Not only will you garner confidence that they do indeed catch fish,” Lindner explains, “you’ll also learn the subtleties of how to retrieve them best. Not to mention, you might just catch some bigger fish.”
If you wait to try new lures until you can’t get bit on your favorite baits, chances are you’ll never gain confidence in them. “When the fish ‘won’t bite,’ you’re often just in the wrong location or fishing too fast or slow,” Lindner explains. “But what happens is you tie on a bunch of different baits, throw ‘em six or seven times and then cut ‘em off and try something else — ‘Well, they won’t bite that one!’ And back in the box it goes.”
Often, the best way to determine the “right” bait is cutting off the wrong bait. “What’s the wrong bait?” Lindner asks. “It’s the bait they’re not biting! And the fish are telling you that. If you’ll listen, you’ll start catching ‘em again.”
Because Rapala “has a lure for just about every different imaginable species and every imaginable condition — and is coming out with new baits all the time,” Lindner says, you’ll catch more and bigger fish more often if you gain confidence with more baits.
“You should use all the different baits in your tackle box to their maximum potential,” he says. “The key is the willingness to experiment and then to listen when the fish tell you what they want.”
Need For Speed
When the fish stop biting where you thumped ‘em yesterday, do you tie on smaller baits and fish more slowly?
“That’s absolute reverse thinking!” Lindner exclaims. “For walleyes, smallmouth bass, muskies, what have you, speed is a huge trigger — especially in the warm-water months. Some of the best anglers in the world understand this dynamic and they’re not afraid to radically change their presentation.”
Lindner can recall countless scenarios in which he and a fishing partner have cleaned up with crankbaits and spinnerbaits behind anglers barely getting bites by fishing painfully slow with live bait on small jigs.
“You can go through those exact same fish with those high-speed baits and clobber ‘em, you really can,” he says. “What it does is force the fish to make a split-second decision to strike your bait. Their brains are just wired that way.”
When Lindner tells the following story in seminars, he says, many people nod along and laugh:
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, the fish aren’t biting, let’s move to another spot.’ And then they reel in their baits really fast so they can leave. And then they’ll catch a fish!
“But what happens next? They say ‘Hey, let’s make a few more casts here.’ But then they go back to reeling in their baits slowly — just like they were doing before they caught that fish. That fish just told you what they want! You gotta listen. It can be the difference between catching two or three fish or catching 30.”
Location, Location, Location
When fish seemingly disappear, do one of two things, Lindner says — “Either go shallower on the same structure, or go deeper.”
“Sometimes in tournaments, you’ll smoke ‘em in a certain spot for days and then come back the next day and you cannot catch those fish,” Lindner recalls. “But then you try a spot at a totally different depth — some place you only caught maybe one or two the day before — and you start lighting ‘em up again.”
He’s seen this time and again, he says, while targeting numerous different species. “Fish of all kinds move up and down on structure in relation to environmental conditions,” he explains. “They’re following their food. It’s very easy for them to slide up or down 10 feet.”
Wind, water temps and clarity, and current can all re-position baitfish. When they do, gamefish follow. And you’ve got to follow with them. So when you’re catching fish well, take note of bottom- structure changes on your maps and sonar displays. When a hot bite cools, move deeper and shallower on that same structure until you find the fish again. More time than not, they’ll be nearby.
When you look at an underwater structure, any big point or sunken island, look for where they fish are likely to go if and when conditions change,” Lindner instructs. “If they go shallow, where are they going to go? If they go deep, where are they going to go? Many times, it won’t be too tough to see some obvious spots on your graph.”
After a dramatic weather change, for example, fish will likely “slide out to the first really distinct ledge drop-off,” Lindner explains. An influx of muddy rainwater, on the other hand, will often push fish up into the shallowest water near vegetation, which filters sediment and offers a cleaner-water environment.
Another example? Changing wind direction can re-position fish from a weedline to the nearest offshore humps or reefs. Wind moves the micro-organisms baitfish feed on, causing gamefish to follow.
“The fish stopped biting, you say?” Linder jests. “I bet they didn’t stop biting at all — they just turned around and headed to the next restaurant that’s open!”