By Capt. Steve Soule
For many of us, fishing is possibly one of the greatest pleasures in life. That statement certainly fits me well. So many times you hear expressions about fishing like “A day of fishing is better than a day of work” or “I’m just happy to be out on the water” or “the catching is a bonus.” Those are all great and though true to some degree, but I like catching fish! One of my favorite childhood memories was on tough days of fishing my dad would always tell me “that’s why it’s called fishing not catching son.” Well, it didn’t take long to elicit a very profound thought from me; “Well dad, I like the catching part!”
Whether you’re new to fishing or if you have been at it for a lifetime already, I’m going to propose some thoughts that hopefully can make your fishing days better and more enjoyable.
We all tend to overthink and overcomplicate things in life, when in fact most of life is very simple. If you take a close look at problems and work towards solutions, things tend to work themselves out just fine. It’s not until we start trying to overthink things and complicate situations with irrelevant information that we start struggling to find solutions. Fishing is fairly simple when you break it down to its most basic components. We as anglers, target various species of fish. They have to eat so we should be able to catch them!
Let’s keep this simple! Fish cannot survive without eating! Let’s add a few important points. Fish live in the water. They need several very basic things to stay alive and thrive. They need food! They need safety! They need comfort! They need rest! When you break this down to the most basic list of survival essentials, it’s really not all that complicated. There are other inherent needs but those aren’t nearly as relevant to this discussion.
In that short list above you will notice that food is first. Without food, none of the others is important for long. I’m going to start at the other end since food will be one of the top keys to your success. Comfort for fish comes in just a few areas that are useful for us as anglers to be aware of. Temperature and barometric pressure, then the ability to rest without disturbances. The first two, tend to effect fish in very similar ways. Generally speaking if temperatures are at extremes of high or low, fish tend to move deeper. It’s important to be aware that fish are cold blooded and therefor move a great deal based on temperatures. Here’s one of the most profound things about most of the fish we commonly seek on the upper Texas coast: in the colder months if air temps are lower than the water temps, fish will move to deeper water! The reverse is true when the air is warmer than the water. Barometric pressure can have a similar effect on fish, especially trout. Very high or very low pressure will move fish to deeper water and tend to slow their feeding. Barometric pressure changes, tend to trigger feeding.
Safety for fish comes in several forms. It may have only been safety from larger predators at one time, but we have added a huge influence with boats and the advancement of boats today. Predators for speckled trout and redfish would consist of larger members of their own species, sharks, alligators, birds of prey and more. In many cases fish can live in deeper water and avoid predation by living near structures that can provide safe haven. Many species live in shallower waters, where larger predators can’t reach them. With modern boats and their ability to run in just inches of water, fish have considerably less ability to hide to find comfort or safety. When you do find areas that provide safe haven for predators and prey, that also don’t have heavy boat traffic, things can get really exciting.
Food. This is the single most important factor in finding fish. You can’t rely on finding their food sources alone, nor can you find safe spaces that don’t have food and expect to have good catches. Food is a quintessential element of survival. Finding food is the beginning of finding predators. In the summer this is way too easy; food sources are everywhere and you have to narrow it down to a particular type of bait. Predators may get very picky about what they will follow and eat when there is an abundance of food. During the cooler months, predator fish, such as trout or redfish, have considerably less on the menu and therefore finding baitfish often leads to catching. Here’s some fun things to remember; finding baitfish in periods of cold or extremes of barometric pressure isn’t always easy. Here’s where some basic knowledge of the bay or specific areas you are fishing will help. Each progressive step up the food chain needs to eat, so knowing what each step requires to live will help you locate the overall food chain.
As you grow in fishing and knowledge, these puzzle pieces become much clearer in how they fit together. Give yourself a few minutes of thought before you fish next. Take the time to look at and theorize what the conditions would do to the fish and their food sources, then be prepared to adjust your plan on the fly, as theory and practice don’t always see eye to eye.
Get out and enjoy the outdoors, but please do it in a respectful manner.