As I floated down a stretch of river, watching the submerged vegetation undulate beneath my kayak, I couldn’t help thinking I had seriously overestimated this location.

After fishing for over an hour, with proven lures and tactics, everything was going as planned, except the catching. This beautiful river was a barren desert.

I refuse to admit when I’m whipped. But after a three-hour drive followed by an arduous launch and a fishless morning, I was whipped.

Signs from Above: Using Birds to Find More Fish

The sound of a splash shocked me out of my floating pity party. I looked across the river in time to see an osprey struggling to lift his catch free of the water.

I laughed. This was not the first time I’d been outfished by a bird. The osprey paused midair to shake the water off its feathers as if the raptor was rubbing his catch in my face.

a swooping osprey, one example of a bird that can help anglers find fish
Don’t get outfished by an osprey. | Feature photo: Chris Funk

When I looked back to where the osprey had splashed down, a fishy scene unfolded. Several blue herons were perched on the rocks. A dozen cormorants nearby dived and resurfaced.

My side of the river was beautiful, weedy, and fishy looking but totally devoid of bird life. The other side looked like the cover of an Audubon book.

Success on the Right Side

I paddled to the living side of the river and pitched a Z-Man TRD BugZ rigged on a Finesse BulletZ and let it wash between two boulders.

When the first bass hit, I set the hook out of surprise. I was ready for the next bite. Each time I dredged a patch of rocks, another bass would explode out of the water.

To me, both sides of the river looked the same. To the birds, one side was alive and the other dead.

The more attuned I am to my surroundings, the more successful I am in catching fish. If I had paid attention earlier in the day, I would have caught fish all day.

A Matter of Inches

Earlier this season, I was surrounded by fish blowing up on bait. Usually, catching would be easy. But that day I was frustrated.

Each time the bass would show themselves on the surface, I cast a fluke in their face. Nothing.

Eventually, I snagged a spotted bass. When the little fish came into the boat, it coughed up a small shad. The baitfish was the same color as my lure, but two inches shorter.

I quickly swapped rods, tied on a Zoom Fluke Jr. with a 2/0 Grip-Pin hook and launched it back in the melee. The result was immediate, the fluke was blown completely out of the water and then crushed as soon as it landed. That small change in adjusting the size of the lure was the clinch.

Get Familiar With Nature’s Indicators

Birds and bait are just a few things I observe. Are the frogs croaking? Are sunfish popping on the surface? Are crawfish burrowing along the bank or hiding under rocks?

When all else fails, I look to the animals to find the fish.

Cover of Kayak Angler Magazine Issue 50, Early Summer 2023This article was first published in the Early Summer 2023 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Don’t get outfished by an osprey. | Feature photo: Chris Funk




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