The challenge for most anglers today is not catching fish, it’s finding them.
“As the old adage goes you can’t catch a fish that isn’t there,” said Steve Pennaz. “Fishing’s greatest challenge has always been locating fish. That’s true even with today’s superb sonar units and mapping software.”
Pennaz is in a unique position when it comes to locating fish. For the past two decades this Yamaha pro has traveled extensively in search of multi-species fishing action, both as a television host and magazine editor. He has developed an uncanny ability to find fish, a skill he shares each week on Lake Commandos television series.
“It all starts with the fish,” said Pennaz. “The more you know about your target species the better you become at predicting their behavior. Guys like Berkley’s® Dr. Keith Jones have written extensively on fish and fish behavior, and I thank them.
“All fish exhibit behaviors common to their species, yet there are members in a given population that behave uniquely. With bass, you have fish that tend to orientate to shallow cover, but there are also fish that roam open water.
“In some cases, larger adult fish act much differently than juvenile fish of the same species. Northern pike are the perfect example. Those weighing 10 pounds or more seek out much colder water (55-60 degrees) than smaller pike (65-70 degrees), which is the reason anglers fishing shallow weeds in mid-summer may catch a lot of pike but may fish a lifetime without ever landing a trophy.
“The second piece of the puzzle is understanding the seasonal movement of fish,” said Pennaz. “The spawn dominates fish behavior either spring (bass, walleye, crappie, etc.) or fall (certain trout, char and salmon). Knowing a fish’s preferred spawning temp and habitat are important clues; they provide clues on where the fish will be prior to, during and after the spawn.
“Water clarity is also a factor in determining fish location. In extremely turbid waters, low light penetration limits weed growth to shallow water. This typically means you find weed-relating fish like bass and bluegills will be shallow as well. In very clear waters, finding fish deep is often the norm.
“I’ve come to rely on water clarity on almost a weekly basis when trying to break a lake down quickly on Lake Commandos. The lower the water clarity the shallower I start my search, and rarely has this approach let me down. The deep weed line, when available, is usually the key to determining just how deep you’ll find most active fish.
“Forage is another piece to the puzzle,” said Pennaz. “Every gamefish is a predator, at times they will key on specific forage; other times they feed opportunistically or eating whatever they catch. Knowing what the fish are eating will help you not only narrow your search, but also help you select presentations.
“Trout anglers know better than most the importance of matching the hatch. To a lesser extent, the same can be true with other species, but typically not to that extent. However, if bass are keying on shad, give them shad imitators.”
Pennaz offers one last tip. “Whenever you are fishing with another angler or a group of anglers,” said Pennaz, “I suggest each of you fish a different presentation until you hone in on what the fish want that day. It’s stunning how even little things can impact success.
“Last winter I fished bass on a Texas reservoir. My fishing partner and I were both throwing black/blue Berkley® Chigger Craws on a Carolina rig, yet he quickly went up on me five fish to zero! I was dumbfounded. Our casts were landing just inches apart. He would get bit and I’d get nothing.
“We compared rigs after he released his fifth bass. His featured a fluorocarbon main line, a ¾-ounce sinker, bead, and 15-pound fluorocarbon leader running nearly two feet. My rig featured a braid for a main line, ½-ounce sinker, no bead and 16-inch leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon. I don’t know what made the difference, the weight difference, leader or mainline, all I can say is when I switch up to what he was using the bites started to come immediately.
“Whenever I am fishing with someone else I ask what bait they are throwing and then select something else – a different color, size, whatever. I also play with speed, line type and weight – anything to see if the fish display a preference. I found this approach helps with not only locating fish as quickly as possible, but also helps create a base pattern that can be tweaked as needed.”