Guerrilla Tactics DOUG PIKE
Every bay has its share of fishermen who run shorelines in search of others who already found action. It’s called “fishing the bent-rod pattern” in some areas, “bird-dogging” in others. Either way, these guys couldn’t find their own fish in a pet store.
And if they see anyone in your group hooked up, they’re coming in hot and often stopping so close that they spook the school.
When we saw boats bearing down on us years ago, some friends and I had a plan of action. Any of us actively fighting fish immediately free-spooled reels and slacked lines. One guy would shoulder his rod and start walking toward the boat, and a third man would feign picking out a deep backlash. That was enough “nothing” to send most freeloaders off to shadow someone else.
Conversely, if we were done with a spot, we’d offer a welcoming wave. Once the hawks were out of the boat and well dispersed, we’d spool up, pack up and motor away.
That’s deceptive, true, but we judged our trickery was not as bad as bunches of waders idling in to ask how things were going.
Another proven way to distract anglers is with false markers. This ploy has lost some efficiency with the longago introduction of GPS navigation, but it’ll still fool most inexperienced fishermen and some veterans.
Few things appeal more than the dream of finding a “secret spot” in open water, a place where some unseen bottom anomaly attracts and holds fish. An old guide from high on the East Coast told me he used to turn plastic soft-drink bottles, string and rocks into irresistible stops for people who didn’t know where to fish.
On his way across the bay, he’d sling one or two of the markers over the side in featureless, wide-open water. From a distance, while fishing with clients, he’d place bets on how long it would take for a boatload of guys to stop and fish around that jug. It seldom took long.
Sometimes, he said, he’d use a broad Sharpie to write “Made you look!” on the jugs. That had to sting.
One of my favorite deceptions almost certainly was the result of a lunchtime accident on a running boat. In many bay systems, sea gulls or terns are surefire indicators of game fish chasing shrimp or small baitfish to the surface while trying to escape hungry fish coming at them from the bottom. That feeding activity produces small, oily slicks that can lead us to a variety of game fish.
Potato chips and corn chips have the same effect, except for the presence of any fish or shrimp. As you ride across the bay, sling random handfuls of chips into the air. When they hit the water, their oil creates tiny slicks.
When the gulls see those slicks and chips, they start diving and pick and peck until every last chip is eaten. The scene is nearly identical to birds working real feeds, enough to convince almost any fisherman to investigate. That might be all the head start you need to be first onto some real action across the bay.
At the ramp, on the phone or online, most of us will tell anyone who asks everything we know about what’s biting and where. On the water, rod in hand, we tend to be a bit less eager to share.
Most places worth fishing these days are overcrowded, or so say fishermen who think they were first ever to fish there. If you can’t beat the crowd, some say fake it out.