By: Matt Razey
We all can dream of the “perfect” day of fishing from a weather standpoint can’t we? The day when making long runs are smooth and the wind makes the presentation of any bait in our boat easy and even if the fishing is bad we can look up at the sun shining down on our face and say to ourselves; yeah this is good. Well what do you do in the exact opposite scenario? You could stay home and say to yourself; self… “it sure would be a tough one out there today.” Or you could just… GO!
True weekend warriors go when they have time to go when they aren’t working and other daily life duties are done. I had a similar scenario a few weeks ago. I was off in the middle of the week and I had that day blocked off to go fishing. Forecast could not have been more aggressive. Heavy bands of rain that were rumored to bring up to 2 inches, cold temperatures in the 50’s and wind that could gust 25 mph. Pair all that with a transitional time up here in the northeast where fish were coming out of their summertime haunts and moving towards a fall pattern. A fisherman’s forecast for sure. So why do I say you should go when the conditions are like this? I think there are a multitude of reasons and no I am not crazy. Days like this force you to be a better angler in many facets when you are faced with conditions like this.
Prepping your equipment. If you are lucky enough to know what conditions are ahead of you; you can have the advantage of getting ahead of it and get your boat ready. For me it is carrying an extra bilge pump, a second strap on your trolling motor, a bounce buster on your electronics, and extra fuel. If you are making long runs take everything off your deck that is not essential. Take off your RAM mounted electronics if you want to be 100% sure they won’t get wiped out. That extra fuel will just give you that added weight to help in the rough water and will give you extra to travel with since you may have to take indirect routes to get there and back. If the conditions drastically change and your picture perfect day turns your lake into a washing machine; do whatever you can to prep yourself and your equipment. When in doubt strap it down!
Boating. Learning how to operate your boat under these conditions will increase your confidence no matter what scenario. You need to learn how to handle bad weather in a bass boat because it may be tournament time and you have to play in the conditions you are dealt. Also you may be on the water and a storm creeps up on you and the conditions change and you have to adapt. You learn how to read oncoming waves, you learn how to trim your bow in such a way to stay above the rollers but not spear any and fill up your boat. You look for angles so you stay dry, save your back from needing a chiropractor, and keep all your equipment on your boat. You look for safe passage even if it is not the most “direct” route or in really big water you look for troughs or what I call seams to run your boat in. Bottom line is you learn how to stay safe and knowing what your limits are and what your boats limits are. Being safe is the number one priority but having the confidence in your abilities when you are behind the wheel will help in your safety. Even if you don’t knock their lights out; learning how to drive your boat in these conditions will still be a great learning experience for you.
Mental Toughness. An intagible in this sport that is one of the best tools an angler can hone in on. It doesn’t get much tougher mentally when you are faced with less than favorable conditions. You don’t want to bunker down in a cove to get out of the wind unless the fish happen to be there and let’s face it; they usually aren’t. You may not be able to fish your pattern or your strength so you have to change and adapt to continue getting bites and triggering strikes. Let’s be honest the weather above the water’s surface takes its toll more on us than it does the fish. You need to stay focused on the fishing and not worrying about the uncontrollable factor that is weather. You aren’t going to get bites if you are focused more on how hard it is to balance on the trolling motor than crawling your 3/16 oz tube in 25 ft of water and maintain bottom contact. Control what you can control. Stay warm and stay focused on the fishing. Keep telling yourself this is going to be the cast. The better you are at blocking out all the other “stuff” the better off you will be. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to take our strength and make it work for us somewhere on the lake but other times you have to take what the lake and mother nature gives you.
Fish the conditions. You know that staying on a spot might be difficult especially if you are talking about a deep offshore pattern. I am a freak about boat control; if I don’t have it and I can’t make the casts that I need to make I am mentally out of the game. I have the best and baddest trolling motor on the market and you still physically cannot stay on your spot in situations as bad as this. You have to plan your drifts. Use your electronics and plan out where you can line yourself up with the way the wind is blowing and drift over your areas. You may only have a small window on your actual spot to fish but when the opportunity comes you have to be ready. When it is over you crank up the engine and line up your next pass. I was fishing a saddle where an offshore rocky shoal in 8 foot dropped into 25 feet and then came back up into 6 feet around an island littered with boulders. These fish positioned themselves on deep grass patches in 25 feet so I marked every grass patch with a waypoint and used the strong northeast wind to my advantage. I made it so I drifted over each spot and only used my trolling motor to steer. I was changing my presentations between a tube and a dropshot on spinning gear. These are something I can make low trajectory casts with and can constantly maintain bottom contact with by continuously checking by opening my bail. Make your casts into the wind and low to still get distance. Leave the bail open so your bait doesn’t get pulled with your boat. Keep your rod tip low to prevent massive bows in your line and stay focused on your feel. If they are only eating it when it is barely moving you have to barely move it even if the wind is moving you or blowing you over.
Landing fish. Never an easy task especially when we are talking smallmouth. Big water complicates things even more. I have two rules here that I always try to practice. Get as low as possible and constantly look at your surroundings. You get a bite and now you have to maintain your balance and land the fish. Mark a waypoint if you haven’t already (so you can get back to your spot) and abandon the trolling motor. Get low on the front deck on your knees or better yet get to the console area. I have had far too many fish get loose because of me not maintaining pressure because I could not maintain my balance. If you are at your lowest center of gravity you can combat this and continue to maintain pressure on the fish even when you go to land it. Now, back to looking at your surroundings. Since you have abandoned the trolling motor you will be drifting even more. If you are lined up to being blown into trouble you have to sense that ahead of time. As soon as that strike occurs you should move your boat into whatever direction will keep you safe given the direction of the wind.
At some point in your fishing life the lessons learned by fishing on days like these are going to pay off. There is no substitute for time spent on the water; regardless of conditions. File what you’ve learned on days like today and recall that information when you are faced with these conditions again. Maybe it occurs in a tournament and that is the edge you have over your competition. You will know how to go find them safely, how the fish position themselves, how to trigger strikes, how to make accurate presentations, how to keep focused, how to get back to the ramp safely. Maybe it just allows you to spend more time fishing. Here in the northeast we already have a limited window to fish so if you only go when it is nice your window might be rapidly closing even quicker. Everyone says you can’t catch ’em on the couch. So next time instead of wondering what those guys brave enough to fish in weather like this are doing today, go out and be that guy who puts them in the boat regardless of what curveball mother nature throws your way. Who needs the sunshine anyway?