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. 


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