How To Be A Better Angler, Part 6 – Really Get to Know Your Fish

A recent outing to a local bass lake taught me a good number of things about fishing. The first is that all the pollen that the pine trees have been releasing lately has made all the water on the bottom of the valley really murky, which makes fishing tricky. Another thing I learned is that unless I’m fishing in a very specific set of circumstances, I don’t know the first thing about fishing for bass (beyond looking for structure and they like it hot, but not too hot).

My only fish to the boat that day.

Growing up, I didn’t really need to know a lot about fishing for bass. So much of my fishing was just walking to the end of a dock and casting. If I caught something, great. If not, I’d cast again. Eventually I’d either give up or try somewhere else.

In fact, outside of a handful of details that I picked up along the way, I didn’t know much about fish at all. I knew when a few different species spawned because it was either a big deal where I grew up (like the smelt runs, perch season and the big salmon run on a small river).

All of that changed when I moved to B.C. and started fishing for rainbow trout. Those first couple of years where I didn’t catch much in the way of fish were an eye-opener for me. I learned that if I wanted to start catching rainbow trout, I had to know more about them.

So I started reading.

And reading.

And reading.

Eventually, I hit the point where I could reliably catch rainbow trout on most outings, which was where I wanted to be.

As you might imagine, the more you know about the species of fish you’re targeting, whatever it happens to be, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to at least find when them when you’re fishing.

What Should You Learn About?

Absolutely everything that you can. The more information you possess, the more likely you are to be adaptable when you’re on the water.

Their eating habits: This is probably one of the biggest things you can learn. Take rainbow trout, for instance. Their eating habits have a tendency to be focussed around whatever particular insect happens to be hatching at the time. In the spring in the Interior here in B.C. the first major hatch is chironomids, that’s followed by sporadic hatches of backswimmers and boatmen, flying ants, damsel flies and may flies. Early in the season, you’ll do pretty well trying those flies as you try and match up to whatever is hatching. The more you know about their feeding habits, the better you’ll be at keying in on their food source and catching more fish.

Trout food.

Where they spend their time: Where does you fish like to hang out? Are they deep water fish like burbot or do they like it shallow? Perhaps they like it deep at one time of the year and go shallow during others, like bass. The more you understand about stuff like this, the better. Not only does knowing where they like to hang out help you, but if you can figure out why they go there (are they photosensitive, does what they eat hang out there, is it where they mate) you’ll increase your success on the water.

Where I typically look for bass (on this particular lake).

What is their life cycle: Knowing the life cycle of your fish can help you understand things like where they spend their time at certain stages of their life. Say you’re fishing an area and all you happen to be catching are smaller fish. If you knew that the young trout like to hang out in a certain zone of lake and, based on what you’re catching, you’re in that zone. All you have to do is move to where the bigger fish hang out (which you know because you spent the time learning about their life cycle). This can also help you stay away from spawning fish or target pre-spawners (who are usually looking to bulk up).

How Does This Help Me?

Like so many of the things I’ve been talking about in these posts, the more information you have about the fish you’re targeting, the more likely you are to have successful days on the water. It can be especially helpful if you’re trying to plan a fishing trip. For example, here in B.C. planning a stillwater trip any time during the month of May almost always going to be successful as you’ll be fishing during the peak of the chironomid hatch.

On the end of the spectrum, there’s no point in trying to plan a bass trip in Ontario, because they are early season spawners and the fishery is actually closed until some time in June (I could be wrong about the specifics here, it’s been a while since I lived in Ontario and some details may have gotten fuzzy).

It can also help you figure out why you’re not catching any fish. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being too shallow or using the wrong thing or just being in the wrong part of the lake for the time of year you’re fishing.

This is great stuff to focus on in the offseason, as it’s possible to spend weeks, if not months just studying up on the eating habits of some fish (I know this because I sat through a three hour presentation on trout food once that was then broken down into an all day session on one particular part of their diet).

At the end of the day, that extra little bit of knowledge you’ve taken the time to turn could be the thing that saves a trip from being a frustrating weekend of not catching any fish, even though they’re jumping all around you.

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  1. I enjoyed this! The great joy of spending time outdoors is that you’re always learning, and there’s always more to learn. I don’t fish, but any time near or on a lake is time well spent, and you have lakes galore in BC!

  2. I agree that any time near water is time well spent. Even when I was living right in downtown Toronto getting down to Lake Ontario or even one of the rivers was often enough to calm the noise for a while.

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