"It's not how far you cast," my dad once told me as we fished a small
stream in Jackson County. He had just parted the willows and stepped to
the edge of the creek, still partially hidden by the willows.
He poked his five-foot bait-casting rod through and opening in the brush
and stripped four or five feet of line from the old South Bend 550 reel,
as he continued my angling lesson by telling me that an accurate and soft
presentation of a lure is often more important that distance of the cast.
With his right thumb firmly on the spool of line on the reel, he grasped
the line in front of the reel with his left hand and pulled gently until
his artificial lure (a No. 3 Hawaiian Wiggler, as I recall) dangled two
feet or so below the rod tip which was over the water.
He started the lure swinging, pendulum style, toward the far bank and
back toward the bank he stood on. When he was satisfied with the ark of
the lure and his chances of putting it at just the right spot, he released
the line with his left hand and lowered the rod tip. This sent the lure
to the far bank and it plunked softly in the water near some brush.
He started the retrieve immediately by grasping the line again with
his left hand and raising the rod tip. Then the quiet little pool exploded
as a two-poundish largemouth hit the lure and was hooked.
Soon thereafter my dad hoisted the flouncing bass through the willows
and turned to me with a one-word message that spoke volumes: "See?
See I did--the whole episode. And it is etched as plainly in my mind
today as it was the day it happened more than half a century ago. Not only
do I remember that angling lesson from the old master, I use it every time
I fish a stream or walk the bank of a pond or small lake.
Catching fish--especially at this time of year when water levels are
getting low--is a matter of thinking like a fish, aside from the fact that
the lesser critters do not have the capacity to think.
The lesser critters do have the capacity to know when they are comfortable
and/or safe (or relatively so). They use it to find respite from the heat
of the day and many of their natural enemies.
Thus, it is more important during the hot part of the year to put artificial
lures--or even natural baits--close to the lairs of fish. A bass on the
feed may rush from his daytime hiding spot to attack a lure or natural
bait, that is several feet away. But when the same fish has a full tummy,
it may just look at the bait, yawn, and go back to sleep.
On the other hand, the satisfied bass with full tummy might take a whack
at a bait or lure that invades his daytime domain.
On numerous occasions over the years I have experimented with this thinking
while wade-fishing and floating streams and rivers. I simply would not
cast a lure or natural bait (whatever I happened to be using) unless I
saw evidence of the presence of a fish, or noted a spot that was likely
to be hosting a fish.
On every occasion I found that the number of fish or strikes per cast
always was higher than on other occasions when I cast willy-nilly for the
joy of keeping a lure or bait in the water.
I call this mode of fishing "reading the stream," but it is much more
than that. The angler who fishes in this manner is using everything in
sight or earshot to determine where he should cast.
One day, for example, I was wading Salt Creek (near the town of Kurtz
in the northwest corner of Jackson County). I was fishing live night crawlers
on ultra light spinning tackle with nothing more than a light wire two-hook
Although I was wading to get to the best spots, I had taken to the high
banks to get around a hole that would have floated my hat. While still
on the high banks at the lower end of the deep hole I noticed that the
creek narrowed considerably and the crystal clear water was flowing
(six to eight inches deep) over a nice gravel bar and into another deep
From my high perch, I could see the bottom of the riffle clearly. As
I stood motionless admiring the beauty of the scene, I noticed action at
the foot of the riffle. Fish that I took to be bass and rock bass, were
darting from the deep water below up into the foot of the riffle. I presumed
they were feeding on items of food the current was carrying down.
The question I asked myself: Should I slide down the steep bank to get
to water's edge (this might spook the fish)? Or should I simply cast my
night crawler into the fast water and pay out line as the current carried
it to the fish? I chose the latter and was glad I did.
Not only did my first cast-and-drift produce a nice largemouth, but
subsequent efforts--still from the high bank--counted three nice goggle-eyes.
Getting the fish up the steep bank through weeds and brush was not easy
but it added an interesting dimension to my day and fishing.
If I had splashed into the riffle at the end of my slide down the steep
bank, I probably would not have caught any of those fish. On the other
hand, stealth is not always so important in fishing small streams and creeks.
While fishing a tributary of the Eel River in northern Miami County
a few years back, I was having little luck. I was particularly surprised
at not catching any smallmouth or rock bass from a great looking deep hole.
Late in the afternoon, I retraced the steps I had taken in the hot part
of the day. As I approached this hole from the downstream side, 10 or 12
cows were headed from pasture to barn lot and splashed through a gravel-bar
riffle just above the deep hole.
Standing in the shade of a big sycamore tree at the foot of the hole,
I was surprised to see signs of feeding fish at the point where the fast
water dropped off into the quiet, deep pool.
My first cast with a tiny artificial was rewarded with a nice smallmouth
bass which was released. Subsequent casts produced several keeper goggle-eyes.
I could only presume that the fast action had been caused by the cows stirring
up the gravel bottom of the fast water which washed a smorgasbord of aquatic
life into the pool. I later wondered if this happened every day.