Catching more or bigger fish doesn’t always depend on spending big money for the latest and greatest piece of fishing tackle. Sometimes it’s as simple as paying attention to the clues embedded in your natural surroundings. The list is nearly endless, but we’ve collected the four natural fishing cues that kayak anglers are most likely to ignore. Take heed of the hints that are right in front of your face for a better chance to hook up more consistently.
Pay Attention to These 4 Fishing Cues
1 Insect Life
If you throw lures for bass, you might be confused about why you should be looking at the bugs on or near the water. “This isn’t fly fishing,“ you might even say. You may not be slinging bug patterns with the long stick, but the fish you’re targeting are always on the lookout for easy meals, including bugs. I’ve caught plenty of big fish on tiny little bug imitations.
One fishing trip in Nebraska a few years ago, we pulled up to the lake and noticed the surface of the lake was littered with bright blue dragonflies. The fish weren’t actually eating the dragonflies—we didn’t see a single blow-up—but we figured they might be keyed in on blue. I tied on the only blue thing from my tackle box, an unweighted tube jig, and held my rod tip high enough on the retrieve to keep it on the surface.
That day turned out to be one of my most successful ever, but we never saw a fish eat a dragonfly. The lesson? Even if the fish aren’t eating the bugs you see, they still could provide a clue about what you should tie on.
2 Yesterday’s Weather (and Tomorrow’s)
Many anglers check the weather the second they wake up for a day of fishing. That’s good, I do the same thing. But the weather is not a singular occurrence, and you can get more information from the pattern that will roll out over the course of a few days.
For example, it doesn’t matter if Saturday is going to be blazing hot when the past four days were freezing cold. Those bass are going to be hungry and will start feeding heavily, but not until the sun has a chance to warm up the water. Instead of throwing topwater and power fishing like you would on a hot summer day, start off the cool morning with colder weather techniques and then gradually switch to more aggressive tactics as the water warms up.
Pay close attention to your fish finder and check the water temperatures frequently to help you hook up more often. Earlier this spring I was fishing in water temperatures around the 50-degree mark, so I fished a curly tail grub on a dropshot rig crazy slow. Later, I found a cove that was receiving constant sunlight and I noticed the water was five whole degrees warmer. I tied on a jerkbait and started aggressively twitching it through the likely spots. Sure enough, I started hooking up more than I had been the entire day. Thankfully it also meant I could fish much faster.
Many anglers consider the amount of sunlight on a particular day—bluebird sky versus dark and overcast—but many forget to think about the angle of the sun. Fishing the flats teaches you that fish and structure are easier to discern when the sun is at your back. You also learn just how skittish fish are of shadows and how to position your shadow to stop scaring them away.
Overcast days tend to throw less shadows, but it’s surprising how even a subtle shadow will make a fish refuse to bite. To avoid spooking fish, I always try to cast at least another ten or 15 feet beyond my shadow. Also, make sure that your kayak’s shadow doesn’t throw off a piece of structure. Many times I’ve been focused on my shadow while casting directly in front of me, without realizing my kayak’s shadow was laying over the structure I planned to cast to next. This makes it much tougher to hook up.
4 Check the Bank
Whether you’re fishing a new spot or not, take a look at the bank before you push off from dry land. What you find on the bank can tip you off to what is in the water. On my local smallmouth bass ponds I know when the crawfish have started to come out because the banks are always littered with crawfish shells from raccoons foraging in the night. That tells me to tie on a crawfish imitation, but also the size and color of crawfish that are currently in the water. Then it’s just a matter of checking the water temps to figure out the right retrieve speed.
I was fishing Arkansas’ Buffalo National River a while back and I had no idea what was in the water. The guide told us there would be smallmouth bass, but otherwise I had no clue. As we were readying our kayaks beside the clear, shallow river, I noticed the skulls of a few gar littering the bank. That tipped me off to know there would be some slower, deeper and warmer sections of river along the stretch we would be fishing, which would not only give me a shot at a gar, but also possibly a few largemouth bass.
In the end I caught a bunch of smallmouth in the faster water and riffles and even picked up a few largemouth bass when the water dropped off into deeper pools. I saw a bunch of gar too, but they absolutely refused to bite. That’s fishing.
Natural fishing cues like the previous day’s weather can tell you how the fish will behave, especially cold or rainy days. | Feature photo: Ben Duchesney