IN THE PREVIOUS TWO ARTICLES WE DISCUSSED HOW TO IDENTIFY POTENTIAL FISH HOLDING AREAS AT HOME BY USING GOOGLE EARTH, THEN GOING OUT ON THE WATER TO FURTHER EXPLORE THESE AREAS WITH YOUR ELECTRONICS, AND TO ASCERTAIN WHETHER THEY ARE HOLDING FISH OR NOT.
“Isolating Patterns” In the previous two articles we discussed how to identify potential fish holding areas at home by using Google Earth, then going out on the water to further explore these areas with your electronics, and to ascertain whether they are holding fish or not – Divan Coetzee
Now we’ll discuss patterning. How does one effectively pattern fish? First, let’s look at the definition of a pattern: ‘a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in the way in which something happens or is done.’ I can’t explain it any better than that. From the definition it is clear that one can apply the word to both presentation, and fish movement. For me personally, patterning fish movement takes priority over presentation. Let me simplify; if you can’t find them, you can’t catch them. Knowing this, there is only one logical place to start: fish movement according to seasonal stages. Understanding fish movement throughout the year is of critical importance, knowing when the majority of the population will be where, helps eliminate dead water.
Let’s look at what the text books tell us:
Winter: “Fish go deep in search of stable water temperatures. They will often suspend in or above the thermocline if present. Fish will also make use of old river channels with a steep drop off. They will feed, but for much shorter duration of time.”
Spring: “Early spring coincides with heavy feeding activity in anticipation of the spawn. Fish move shallow. Males build nests in shallow backwaters and larger females remain close by. Moon phase and water temperature will trigger the spawning process. Afterwards the males remain shallow to protect the nest (fry) whilst the female returns to deep water staging areas to recover.”
Summer: “Fish start to retreat to deep water areas in search of baitfish and favourable temperatures. Fish may hunt shallow during early morning, but would retreat to deep water in the absence of suitable cover.”
Autumn: “Falling temperatures trigger fish to move shallow and feed in anticipation of winter. Fish will remain in such areas until conditions become unfavourable and will then retreat to deep water.”
This is fundamental knowledge and please take into account that the terms ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ are used loosely.
Now we’ll look at targeting specific zones according to the seasonal stages, once again we’ll start with winter. The majority of the population will be deep throughout the day. This means fishing baits that get down to the bottom. Now technically everything, given enough time, will sink to the bottom, but this is no good. Too much time is wasted waiting for an improper presentation to reach the target zone. You know the old saying about keeping the bait in the strike zone for as long as possible. So what gets down quick? Anything that contains about half an ounce of lead will do nicely. Carolina rigs of different weights, jigs, large spinnerbaits, drop-shot, shakey head’s you name it. Next we divide these presentations up into two groups, namely aggressive and finesse. As you’ve guessed the drop-shot and shakey head will form part of the finesse approach, and everything else forms part of a more aggressive approach.
With regards to the Carolina rig, I like to have two rods rigged in this fashion. One gets a 3/8 ounce weight and the other a 5/8 ounce. Both will have totally different baits attached to gauge what the fish respond to. Start with the more invasive presentations first and work your way to the lighter ones. Work the area thoroughly to try and assess what the fish prefer in terms of presentation and depth. Experiment with the cadence imparted and give each bait an equal opportunity in order to make informed decisions.
During early spring the fish start to move shallow.
They tend to gravitate towards shallow shale areas in order to spawn. The idea now is to cover water quickly to locate active fish. So what covers a lot of water quickly? Shallow running cranks, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, frogs to name a few. Once you are satisfied that there are fish in the area, then you can slow down by using a weightless bait or Texas rigged plastic. No bite is random and one should learn to pick-up on subtle nuances. For the summer time I like to employ a mix of winter and spring tactics. Starting off early and covering lots of water while the sun is still low. Afterwards heading to the deeper haunts to tough it out in the African sun. Autumn requires a similar approach except that I might stay shallow a bit longer before heading deep, and then returning to the shallows in late afternoon.
Now that we’ve covered fish movement and the best suited techniques. We can look at bait and colour choices. Everything in fishing is relative and every impoundment unique. What worked ‘here’, might not work ‘there’, and what made the difference today, might not help you tomorrow at all. Be sure to keep an open mind. A good rule of thumb would be the deeper you fish, the more presence is needed from your bait in order to be noticed. Think about that for a second. The same goes for windy days, stained water and heavy cover. The majority of our bass are either crab or fish eaters. Obviously they feed on other organisms as well, but the bulk of their diet consists of the above mentioned. Common sense thus dictates that one should present baits that mimic crab and baitfish. Only one lure imitates a crab properly (jig), but baitfish imitations are endless: crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, top water lures, swimbaits, soft jerkbaits and the list goes on. Once again, the baits that move a lot of water would be considered aggressive baits, whilst soft plastic jerkbaits would be the finesse option. As far as colour selection goes, I would recommend sticking to basics, brown and black for jigs, Watermelon, Green Pumpkin, black and Junebug for plastics; white, silver or gold for spinnerbaits. Crank- and jerkbaits should preferably have a white belly with darker back like black, blue, green, brown, purple, etc.
In the end it all comes down to preference - what type of angler you are and what you like to throw? Remember that your bait needs to get into the strike zone and remain there for as long as possible. So ask yourself this: ‘this bait I’m picking up, will it cover the zone that the fish are holding in? Will it stay in that zone? Is it visible at that depth, and am I matching the hatch’? We often get side-tracked by semantics and lose touch with the basics...
Another factor to consider would be that on any given day several different patterns may yield similar results. In such an instance, attention to detail is vital and recognising subtleties can make a huge difference to your day. Let me give an example: I recall a particular outing to a private dam in KZN, the dam has an excellent population of bass, but by ten o’clock we had nothing to show for our efforts. The previous day we had hammered the fish along a weedy drop off that runs the length of one shoreline. We were four people on the boat so I decided to take a break and give the guys some space while I watch them toil. Sitting behind the console and minding my own business I noticed on the sonar that fish were rising up to the boat and dropping back down. This got me thinking… The guys were casting to the weedline, letting it sink to the bottom (about 10ft) leaving the bait still for a couple of seconds, and bringing it straight back for the next cast. This drew the attention of fish, but they were not given an opportunity to get to the bait (or so I thought). The boat was positioned in about 20ft of water, I reached for the closest rod, in this case a Texas rigged grub, flopped the bait over the side and gave enough line to reach the bottom, immediately a fish came up to look at the bait and followed it down… but no bite. Not discouraged by any means I decided to leave the bait suspended whilst I enjoy the comforts of leather seats and cup holders. So much for my theory on giving the fish time to eat it. Then, out of nowhere came that familiar tap. The first bite is the most important, now I know that what I’m seeing on the sonar unit are in fact bass, and they are willing to eat. Yet something was off, fish in such concentrations should be easier to catch. Changing rigs was all it took, shaking a drop-shot in their faces drove them dilly, it much better represented what they wanted to eat at the right depth. The previous day these fish were patrolling the weedline and eating everything in their path, and the next day they had dropped back into deeper water due to an approaching front and preferred 4” baits. Then Peter discovered something we’ve been missing - the big bite. From the back of the boat he proceeded to boat pig after pig. All falling to a slow rolled spinnerbait in the areas that we had already fished with the drop-shot. Needless to say I made the switch. These larger fish were there all along, but we were content to fish the shallows on the first day because we did fairly well in relative terms. This left us blind in one eye and unwilling to change. The fact is our day one bag was about 6kg, and prior to Peter tying on a spinnerbait on day two, we stood on about 7kg. In the end our bag weighed 13kg. If I was fishing a tournament against Peter that day, he would have had nearly six kilos on me, I call that a proper hiding. Some food for thought…