What I Know About Fishing, Part 2: Think Like a Fish

What I Know About Fishing, Part 2: Think Like a Fish

Now that you have observed the situation and have come to the conclusion that there are fish where you are, then start by doing the things that have worked for you in the past. Like a good athlete, you have both muscle and brain memory. The latter is of extreme importance. There is no greater teacher than experience. That said, when all else fails, think outside the box, or better yet, do what my dad told me more than 60 years ago; “Think like a fish.” Well not literally, but you do need to know what a fish needs and wants.

Take the temperature

He needs a friendly environment; one that fits his needs, both nutritional and physical. The single most important thing other than food that he needs is a comfortable temperature. For example, a brook trout can’t live in water of 70+ degrees or more for more than a matter of minutes. He is happiest in water between 53 and 65 degrees, but he can live in temps a little warmer and much colder.

Preferred Temperatures for Trout

Preferred Temperatures for Trout

Of course oxygen is essential, and there are some places where oxygen levels are better than others, particularly in a river. This is especially true when the water warms in the summer. So it makes sense that in the summer, water that is churning over rocks, would contain more oxygen than flat or still water.

Eat up

OK now your fish has oxygen. Now he needs food. You need to figure out what foods are available where and when. You would not fish a lure that looks like a frog in April

when there is no frog activity. Why would you fish a dry fly if there are no insects flying about? If it is early spring, and there are no insects hatching, then in makes sense the

trout are heavily dependent on eating other fish or insects in the nymph stage. Many insects spend 364 days of their 1-year life span living in the water, only to hatch, mate, and die in a single day. So from a pure numbers game, you are far better off betting that the trout are eating something sub surface.

Mayfly Life Cycle

Mayfly Life Cycle

Many years ago, I used to say that trout diet consists of 80% nymphs. I was wrong. Now I believe that it is more like 99%+ over the course of a year. This does not take into account consuming other fish because that varies greatly on availability, species, and the size of the trout.

Browns, for example, start feeding on other fish at a younger age than rainbows or brookies. It also matters greatly the availability of the prey fish.

Here is a personal example that has stuck with me for 43 years. I was fishing on February 29, 1976, the last day of the fishing season, and an extra day at that because it was a leap year. (The next year, Massachusetts went to a 12-month trout season.) I stood on the shore of Long Pond in Plymouth and watched the ice break up. It was exciting and disappointing at the same time. This would be my last chance to fish for six weeks.

As soon as I had open water to cast to, I did exactly that. I soon landed a 12-inch rainbow. That fish had the tail of another fish still jutting out from its mouth. It wasn’t just any fish, it was an 8-inch yellow perch! When I removed the perch the head was greatly digested, but the middle and tail were intact. This told me that this rainbow grabbed the perch hours earlier, yet he was aggressive enough to go after my lure. It must have looked like an easy meal that he just could not pass up. This is a classic case of availability. Despite this incident, I contend that rainbows are not the fish eaters that similar-sized browns and brookies are.

One last tip: If there are yellow perch in the body of water you are fishing, you could do worse than put on a perch-imitating lure. A yellow perch Rapala is hands down my wife’s favorite lure and is on my list of favorites for sure.

Perch Rapala

Perch Rapala

On our last trip to Moosehead Lake, we were getting little action on our usual lures that imitate smelt when Tony put on a perch Rapala and caught a salmon despite the fact that we were in a river that was full of smelt. Why did he put on the perch Rapala? Because he remembered that a lake trout we caught the year prior had two yellow perch in its stomach.

The Landlocked Salmon that Tony Caught on a Perch Rapala

The Landlocked Salmon that Tony Caught on a Perch Rapala

Use your head

Try to give a fish what he wants to eat or something he just can’t resist. Remember that all forms of life tend to take the path of least resistance. More to the point, the will seek out the maximum amount of calories with the least effort. Hence the success of lures that imitate a crippled fish, amphibian, or insect.

Just yesterday, I saw this video of a 30-inch lake trout trying to eat a 20-inch lake trout that was being reeled in. It would never do that if the smaller fish was not in distress.

I have had incidents like that happen to me many times, including:

  • a pickerel attacking a large sunfish that I hooked
  • smallmouths grabbing a hooked trout (several times)
  • bluefish grabbing another hooked bluefish

And that’s just to name a few.

Think like a fish. Think temperature, think food, think opportunity. 

WLAGS

What I Know About Fishing, Part 1: Be Observant

What I Know About Fishing, Part 1: Be Observant

I have been asked by many people to put down on paper my knowledge of fishing. In my mind, there is a direct correlation between knowledge and experience. The keys there are to identify the experience and remember it for future use.

At the top of my list of things to do is to be observant. The number of times that my being observant has resulted in fish is literally countless. I’ll give you an example of what I think might be the first time I applied that theory.

Everything happens for a reason

It was the summer, and I was fishing with my father on the Assabet River in the Maynard/Stow area of Massachusetts. I was probably 13 years old at the time.

The Assabet was notorious for becoming carpeted with small algae that the locals referred to as duckweed. (The ducks did love it, by the way.) It would be so thick on the surface of the water that it would support the weight of many non-metal lures.

On this day, we were drifting downstream when I noticed a disturbed spot in the duckweed. Logic told me that it happened for a reason, and I assumed it was brought about by a fish. So I cast my recently purchased 6-inch black Creme plastic worm towards the spot. I was careful to cast slightly past it and bring it on top of the algae to the slightly open spot.

BOOM! A nice largemouth bass grabbed the worm. My father got so excited that I could not believe it. We landed the fish, which we kept to eat. After that, we caught a few more, but we missed more than we caught. The next time we went fishing, my dad had his own supply of plastic worms.

Later, I would apply the same principle to bait fish. My friends and I would go down to the river downtown with little pea-sized dough balls to catch shiners. We couldn’t keep them all alive so we would wrap them in tin foil and freeze them. Before we put them in the freezer, we would bend them into about a half moon shape. That way when we put a hook in the frozen shiner and cast it like a lure, they would spin on your retrieve. They worked in open water, but they worked best coming across the algae.

Stop and look

There are many obvious instances of being observant when it comes to fly fishing, but here is an unusual one. I was wading at Menemsha Beach on Martha’s Vineyard one fall day while fly fishing for bonito.

I was having no luck, despite knowing that I was casting a fly that was a perfect match to the small baitfish that we call “spearing” that were schooled right in front of me. The bonito were crashing within arm’s length of me, at times even splashing me. To say that I was frustrated was an understatement.

The next time a bonito crashed close to me, instead of casting at it, I simply observed exactly what was going on. A crash came, and I immediately noticed a dozen stunned spearing just quivering and slowing sinking from the shock of the strike. Suddenly, below the surface and out of anyone’s view, these flashing streaks darted in all directions and picked off every one of the stunned spearing. When the next explosion occurred in front of me, instead of retrieving my fly after casting, I simply left it there and twitched it a few times…BOOM! I was on!

Sometimes, things are not what they appear

Many times, early in my fly-fishing life, I would get frustrated by casting at rising fish and not getting a take. What I learned was a simple principle that applies to all forms of wildlife, “The less energy expended, the better.” In other words, “Take the easy way out.” Or, “Why kill yourself for a meal when you don’t have to?”

As it turns out, more often than not, those rising trout were not taking the already emerged dry flies, but rather the emerging ones. Those nymphs lay helpless in the surface film for several moments as they dry their wings. They are so easily picked off, like the spearing on Martha’s Vineyard, why not take the easy lunch?

Take it all in

Being observant can also mean exactly that, in that you want to take in all that is around you.

If for example you aren’t catching fish in your favorite bass pond, but you occasionally hear or see a large splash in the lily pads you can assume that the bass are looking on top for lunch, for something like frogs perhaps.

Trust your senses. If you thought that you heard a splash to your right, you no doubt did, and splashes don’t happen for no reason.

If you notice the slightest movement by a lily pad that seems out of place, you can bet that it is a fish, probably a big one.

Watch the loons and mergansers. There life depends on finding fish. That said I would never crowd either of them. Wait until they move off before fishing that spot. When you are there, take note of the depth and water temperature (when applicable) where they were fishing.

Water temperature isn’t that important at certain times of the year. For example, in a shallow lake in late July, the temperature is going to be pretty uniform throughout. However, if you are fishing a few weeks after ice out, a one- or two-degree temperature difference from one spot to another is huge!

I kid you not

Don’t forget the little boy or girl in you. When you went to a pond or river as a kid, what did you do? You looked for all the neat things that lived and grew there. Keep that in mind the next time you launch your boat. If you see many pollywogs, for example, you can bet that the game fish are fully aware of them too. 

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

If you are fishing a body of water that is next to a ripening corn field, you can bet that little rodents are making many trips to that corn and are in need of a drink or a swim.

Look at what is under those rocks. Are there nymphs or leeches? Neither is pleasant to most of us, but they’re high on any game fish’s menu.

Dragonfly Nymph

Observe the elements of your success or failure

For example, August is without a doubt the toughest month to catch trout, especially on a fly *most* of the time.

Many years ago, I fished a heavily fished trout pond on a rainy, foggy, muggy August morning, and I had a spectacular day. Now every August I head to the pond on days just like that. In fact, that pond, which had long been one of my favorites, I have yet to fish this year. It has received much publicity, and it is very popular with kayakers so fishing it in good weather is no longer pleasant. Fishing it in unpleasant weather is much more relaxing and productive.

On a similar note, my very best days there have been in early season snowstorms; I kid you not! 

In fact, one of those days is a perfect example for this topic. In late April of 2011, we had a very cold snowy opening day of trout season.

Ian and Your Guide in the Snow on Opening Day

Ian and Your Guide in the Snow on Opening Day

I had my grandson Ian in my boat, and Tony had my grandson Sam in his. The pond had at least a dozen other boats on it when we got there.

We started by trolling close to shore to try to locate some fish. We did in less than 10 minutes, and we stopped at that spot to cast. A couple of hours later, we had the place to ourselves, and we had landed 77 trout that we released.

Sam's First Tiger Trout

Sam’s First Tiger Trout

It seemed that we could have caught fish all day, but I insisted that we leave because Tony and both of my grandsons were wet and shivering. When we got to the launch, the local warden was waiting for us.

Dave asked how we did. He was shocked. He said none of the other boats had landed a single fish. He said that he was called all kinds of names including a liar when he assured the other fishermen that it had been stocked.

Why did we catch fish when no one else did? We were observant and smart. After the very first hit that we got trolling, I stopped the boats for two reasons. First, I knew that this early in the season the fish would be schooling. Second, I knew that they would seek “structure,” meaning rocks, logs, etc. for protection.

That is exactly what happened. My very cold and wet grandsons were very happy.

It was a memorable day for sure.

Another example that you might remember from my August 2014 blog post called “Rapid River: A Challenge and a History Lesson” is when Tony spotted a backwash that no one else spotted. He learned about the benefit of backwashes from fishing the Cape Cod Canal, where we often catch schooled striped bass who target bait fish caught up in backwashes.

The fishing at the Rapid River was challenging, and the banks were crowded with fishermen. I can count at least nine fishermen in this one photo that Tony took that day. 

A School of Rapid River Fishermen

A School of Rapid River Fishermen

If it weren’t for the nice backwash that Tony spotted and many other fishermen missed, our success would have been very different. We caught most of our trout and salmon on dries, which is preferable, but with the river so properly named, every fish was a challenge to land. Why were the fish attracted to this backwash? Like in the Cape Cod Canal, the backwash traps food. In this case, insects.

Tony caught what was then his biggest native brookie (16 inches) along with several others and several nice salmon. He earned them because he was observant enough to spot that nice backwash that was holding so many fish.

Tony's 16-Inch Brook Trout in 2014

Tony’s 16-Inch Brook Trout in 2014

Keep your eyes open, and think about what you are looking at. 

WLAGS

Typical September Fishing

Whenever I am asked about trout fishing in September,  my answer is always something like this:

  • The fishing can be slow.
  • The fish are moody.
  • They are thinking more about reproducing than eating.
  • The weather conditions can vary greatly, also affecting their moods and urges. 
  • That said, the fish are in peak condition in both strength and appearance. 

So the quick, two-day trip that Tony and I took just after Labor Day proved all of that.

We started our fishing at one of the most famous spots on the Magalloway River–the Mailbox Pool. We never fish there because it ALWAYS has so many fishermen that I feel like I can’t enjoy myself in a crowd that size.

So when we saw no cars there, we decided to see what was so special about this spot. When we got there, it was obvious why it was so desirable. It looked like the picture perfect trout water.

Your Guide at the Mailbox Pool

Your Guide at the Mailbox Pool

We fished it without a hint of a fish. I think I saw one fish rise. So when a young man showed up with *two* fly rods and his dog, and apparently had fished here many times, we decided to move on.

Local Fisherman and Dog at the Mailbox Pool

Local Fisherman and Dog at the Mailbox Pool

Surprisingly, when we got to our car, there was no other vehicle there. We assumed this young man walked there. That said, there is only one house within a mile or more of this place, which seemed to confirm our belief that he was very much a local.

Now we moved on to our secret place on the river, downstream a few miles. This spot is rather innocuous, but it simply holds fish, big fish. You might remember this spot from this spring’s story of the big brookie that Tony hooked briefly. It was easily the biggest brookie we had ever seen in the lower 48.

Our Secret Spot

Our Secret Spot

So we fished that pool–or more accurately a bend–and for quite some time, there was little to get excited about. Suddenly a nice sized fish broke right in front of me. Thankfully I was in such a position that I was almost instantly able to put my flies (a dry with a nymph dropper) right on the spot. There was a splash, and I was on. Tony knew, even at a distance that it was not your typical 9-inch brookie, and he dashed over to help.

The bank there is the very definition of steep and deep. It is a few feet deeper that Tony is tall. He literally slid down the bank, having to be careful not to go too far so as not to end up in the very deep river.

Eventually, I got this beautiful native brook trout to Tony’s waiting net–a very small hand net that you hang from your wading vest. What we needed, and I’ve since created is a long-handled net.

If Only We Had This Net

If Only We Had This Net

Now Tony needed to get up the bank. That was no small feat, but eventually he made it. The trout was a beautiful 15-inch female that we returned to the river very quickly. That made the trip.

My 15-Inch Brook Trout

My 15-Inch Brook Trout

This place is within a short drive of one of the most heavily fished brook trout pools in all of New England–or maybe the Northeast! We have only once seen another fisherman there, and even that was very briefly, thankfully.

At midday, we went to the dam. That resulted in each of us catching a trout and a salmon.

My 13-Inch Landlocked Salmon

My 13-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s salmon was the biggest at 15.5 inches. It was a nice couple of hours.

Tony's 15.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 15.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

That evening, we returned to our secret spot. Just after sunset, I heard an excited Tony as a salmon took to the air. I went over to help, as it appeared something was wrong. Sure enough, the salmon had taken Tony’s line under a log, not once but twice, wrapping the line around it, and making it impossible to move him. I held Tony’s rod while he once again climbed down the steep bank and into the river, lifted the log, and rolled it to untangle his leader. The fish and the fly were gone.

It worked out for this very smart–or more likely lucky–salmon, as the resistance of the log was enough to break the leader at the fly, which was one of the yellow soft hackle streamers that I tie. Luckily, Tony took a picture of it before he tied it on so I can recreate the fly that he lost.

My Yellow Soft Hackle Streamer

My Yellow Soft Hackle Streamer

The next morning we returned to the dam, and Tony caught an average sized brown trout.

Tony's 10.5-Inch Brown Trout

Tony’s 10.5-Inch Brown Trout

Later that afternoon, we returned to the dam and caught a couple of small smallmouth bass.

Tony's 7-Inch Smallmouth Bass

Tony’s 7-Inch Smallmouth Bass

When 10 high school students began to slowly portage their kayaks over the dam, we decided to move on.

Invasion of the High School-Aged Kayakers

Invasion of the High School-Aged Kayakers

That night, we returned to our secret spot. It started off quiet and uneventful. There were no rises to take note of.

Suddenly, about a rod-and-a-half length from me, directly in front of me, the largest salmon that I have ever seen south of Labrador, jumped in a classic arch.

One of Our Salmon in Labrador

One of Our Salmon in Labrador

It–and I mean this very honestly–took my breath away. I could not even speak as I tried to yell to Tony. I finally caught my breath, and it became obvious that at even 75 yards away, Tony had heard the splash and seen the rings.

This is going to sound crazy to some, but like the appreciation for the big brookie earlier in the year, we felt lucky just to be fishing in a place that a magnificent fish like that called home. Actually, he probably does not live there. He is more likely there for the sole purpose of spawning. He’ll then leave, but he’ll be back. So will we.

WLAGS

Lodge Rating: Great Northwoods Getaway Cabin Rentals

Lodge Rating: Great Northwoods Getaway Cabin Rentals

We here at WLAGS want to give you what we deem an honest evaluation of lodges, camps, and other places we have been. Today, we’re giving you our opinion of Great Northwoods Getaway Cabin Rentals, and sharing some of our photos of our stay there.

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Cabin #4

Cozy Cabin #4

Cozy Cabin #4

Location: 9 (It’s close to many of our favorite fishing spots and close to amenities.)

Service: 10 (Very friendly, accommodating owners)

Check-out time (11:00 AM): 10

Cabin overall: 7.5

  • Pros
    • Linens provided
    • Plenty of towels
  • Cons
    • No hooks for hanging clothes 
    • Broken toaster

Cabin structure: 9

Water pressure: 7

Water temperature: 9

Beds: 7

  • It’s a very hard bed, and only one of them.
  • The pull-out couch is, well, a pull-out couch (uncomfortable), and it takes up the whole living room.
The Pull-Out Couch Takes Up Half of the Living Space

The Pull-Out Couch Takes Up Half of the Living Space

Cabin location: 8

  • Cabin #4 is furthest from the WiFi router.

Cabin view: 3

  • It’s right on Route 26.

Cabin temperature: 8

  • There is a window A/C unit.
  • There is a stand-alone heater.

Boating facilities: 8

  • Plenty of room to park a boat and easy turn-around.

Fishing potential: 9

Fishing access: 9