self-reliance fishing snoek in water

Self-Reliance Fishing

I just had a detailed conversation with one of the most recognized, and–some would argue–one of the most experienced anglers walking the earth today. He has “been there, done that” and is the who’s who of the angling world. This gentleman has fished all over the globe and placed top 5 in The Tournament of Legends hosted by Bass Pro Shops (a competition a few years back among 30 of the most accomplished anglers from around the world). In short, this person’s skills are top shelf.

Of great importance is not his name or accomplishments (although they lend a great deal of creditability to my point), nor secret fishing techniques, hot lures, or clandestine fishing locations. Rather, the significance of our conversation was a verbalization of something too often overlooked when taking to the water to fish. It’s that nothing is a guarantee and only hard work, determination and a little luck will pay off in consistently catching fish.

Many times as a resort owner, I hear something like “we’re really counting on you to get us fish.” I’d love to swim down and place a walleye on someone’s hook, but it will be some time until I figure out how to do that. I completely agree it’s my job to provide people with access to AWESOME fishing; however, there is little I can do to ensure they’ll ultimately catch a fish. In the end, finding and landing fish is the important piece of the puzzle that rests squarely the shoulders of the angler.

Please don’t get me wrong–we have access to phenomenal fishing here at Pasha Lake Cabins. And that’s not me just tooting my own horn (toot, toot). That statement is backed by some very savvy anglers, people whose combined experience in the professional and recreational fishing worlds is staggering. However, we are PROVIDING you the road map for access and latest information on where to fish. Catching them can be, and often is, a daily trial and error of figuring out what works and what doesn’t. A mystery of developing a pattern that is subject to change with the swirl of the wind.

Case in point–this past week I sent two groups to the very same lake. Group A slaughtered the walleyes, including a 29.5in, 9.5lbs trophy and enough eaters to feed a small army. Twenty-four hours later, Group B was given the same information and fished the exact locations. They used the same techniques and a carbon copy of presentations they noted in talking with Group A; however, they experienced very little action. Group B was left scratching their heads, while Group A celebrated with cocktails and a trophy fish that will soon be displayed on a wall for all to see.

Why did this happen? I have my theories, but what’s important to realize is that Group B didn’t change things up. They relied too heavily on what they were told, and failed to react to real-time happenings on the water. Conditions obviously change, be it wind direction, a front, a new smelt run, or any other number of variables. Yet the anglers didn’t adapt. If they’d just listened to what was being said (in fish speak that is), they would’ve discovered fish weren’t going to be in the recommended locations. They should have changed it up (moved shallower, deeper, fished weeds, worked the inside of points), yet they forged ahead with the same game plan and were left almost empty handed.

Remember too that it’s not only fish behavior that will impact angling success. In a blink of an eye, Mother Nature can wreak havoc on any angler and his ability to catch fish. This past Wednesday, we were fishing brookies on Lake Nipigon. About mid-day, the breeze picked up and suddenly we were battling 20-25mph winds and crashing waves. The fish were in the same locations from days before. In fact, they were even more concentrated, yet getting a lure in close proximity was challenging to say the least. Boat control was nonexistent and there was a constant threat of running the boat up onto rocks. At one point, we hooked a 12lb lake trout and, during the battle that ensued, were tossed dangerously close to boulders several times. Fishing was difficult and dangerous. By day’s end, however, it turned out to be the best brook trout fishing I’ve experienced on Lake Nipigon, catching north of 40 specks. The above water conditions made it EXTERMELY difficult. Had Mother Nature forced us to submit to fishing lesser areas, we would’ve missed out on a record setting bite.

So remember, next time you want to rely on someone to put you on fish, the high of all things angling will only come when YOU find the fish and catch them. There’ll be plenty of factors to consider during your pursuits, all which will have a role in determining where active fish are. And, you can have as much local information in your back pocket as you want, but last time I checked, information does little to hook a fish and land it. That’s up to the person holding the rod.

Until next time…

Chad

school of hard knocks fishing that is a dozen fish

School of Hard Knocks–Fishing, That Is!

Fall fishing in Canada can be brutal in more ways than one!

Last weekend was the first in a long time, and let me tell you, it’s a wholly painful ordeal! 

Having your butt handed to you while guiding on your favorite lake of all time is, to say the least, not pleasant. Of course, I am referring to Onaman Lake, the GRAND PUPA of all walleye lakes in Ontario. My typical milk run of hot spots usually ends with stringers full of walleyes and several claims of “that’s the best walleye fishing I’ve ever experienced.”  Yes, if you’ve ever wanted big walleyes, in crazy numbers, caught jigging (not trolling… yawn!), then Onaman is the place to be!  Last weekend, however, that was not the case.

Unbeknownst to me, a significant change happened in the 48 hours since I’d been there. I was utterly unprepared, and even if I had been, it would’ve made little difference. What I am referring to is “fall turnover.” Turnover happens when the surface temps have cooled to the point that the water beneath the thermo cline becomes warmer and therefore begins to rise. At the same time, the upper water sinks and you have this mass discombobulation of everything–water, bait fish, current, temperature variance and so on. This Issac Newton concept causes fish to go bonkers. They relate to nothing, are spread out over mass areas, and as far as I know, don’t feed for days. At least it feels that way!

Now those of you familiar with Onaman Lake know it’s probably THE premier walleye fishery in all of Ontario. Not only in quantity of fish caught, but also in sheer size. So when someone goes there and doesn’t experience the best the lake has to offer, I take it to heart. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I know what it’s capable of. Often I reflect on the staggering number of guests who’ve returned to say just how unbelievable it is. So when I go there and struggle, one can only imagine my wholehearted disappointment.

But, I am a glass half full kind of guy. I loathe “problem identifiers” and try to align myself with the more uplifting “problem solvers” crowd. So in this case, I made it a point to unearth the valuable lessons the day offered. 

First, I don’t care how good you think you are or how well you think you know a body of water, fishing’s equivalent to Murphy’s Law will find you. When that happens, the inevitable “slow day of fishing” will happen. It is what it is! Not only do I have to remind my guests of that, I have to remind myself–often! 

Second, when turnover comes knocking, you need to have an arsenal of weapons to thwart its effects. By that I mean, pull out your crank baits or spinners, fire up your electronics (learn how Chad get’s his competition grade electronics in to remote, back country lakes) and prepare to cover water. My plan last weekend was the same one that I had success with for the entire month of September and most of October. Fish shallow structure where the walleyes were concentrated. Pitch jigs and minnows and hold on tight. It worked up to that point (see pictures from earlier trips here) and I should’ve known the pattern wouldn’t continue, especially with the frigid temperatures we were experiencing.  

Now, keep this in mind. Cooling fall temps cause fish to migrate shallow on Onaman. This in turn renders electronics pretty much useless; the fish are just too shallow. For the last several trips, I opted to leave my Lowrance HDS5 at home. If I’d brought it, I’d been allowed to cover a ton of water, and at the same time, I could‘ve been trolling (insert yawn). Who knows, maybe I would have run into a concentration of fish and things would have turned out different?!

The final lesson is simply being under-prepared. Anybody that knows me realizes I methodically prepare for my outdoor adventures. I put packing lists together, plan contingencies, and usually bring so much gear that the people from Cabela’s themselves would be wowed. But late season fatigue and laziness got the best of me. Because of that, I got caught with my pants down and wasn’t able to serve my guests to meet my own standards. Granted we did catch fish, but it certainly wasn’t the best the Onaman has to offer. (For those of you who are wondering, I waived the guide fee for the day!)  I know I am not perfect, but I am sure as heck a lot better than I was that day!

In reflecting on the days’ events, I am reminded of my interview with the legendary Al Linder. During our conversation, I asked him “how to respond to someone saying they were skunked while fishing in Canada.” He laughed and I’ll never forget his response.  He said let them know it’s not the lake and it’s not the fish, because they are plentiful in your region. Nope, you need to gently tell them to look in the mirror and staring right back will be the reason for their mishap. Well, after this day of fishing, I took a good, long, hard look and can only come up with one reason for the lack-luster performance. Al, sir, you obviously have wisdom beyond your years!

Fall fishing, it’s a ton of fun. It’s a time I look forward to and it usually yields some of the best fishing of the year. I’ve guided trips where we’ve landed 4 northern over 40 inches in less than an hour. We’ve even filmed some awesome TV shows in the fall. But fall turnover can bring a brutal halt to the last season, barn-burning fishing. So when that time approaches, remember to keep your head in the game. Load up your tackle arsenal and be prepared to throw the kitchen sink. More importantly, realize it’s an opportunity to take your fishing game to the next level–a time when you’ll learn lessons that will carry you through the next time fishing creeps to a stall.

Until next time… 

Chad