Bob Jensen column: Switch gears to speed up your catch rate

Bob Jensen, Fishing the Midwest
Special to the Ames Tribune

From mid-summer until ice returns to the lake — pond or river — if you want to catch more fish, you need to be fishing where the predator’s food lives.

The type of food varies from body of water to body of water, but the concept remains: if you want to catch game fish, you’ve got to be fishing where their food is located.

After you’ve located the food, you’ve got to be willing to present a bait to the fish in a way that increases their willingness to take your bait. You might have to alter your current fishing technique.

A while back a friend and I were on the Mississippi River a mile or two downstream from Wabasha, Minnesota. We were trolling crankbaits for walleyes. We would catch a walleye every now and then, but the action couldn’t be described as fast. As we trolled along, my fishing partner noticed a flock of gulls diving to the river’s surface a half-mile away. He said, “Reel in, let’s get over there.” He had seen this happen many times before and knew what to do.

What was going on was a school of white bass had pushed a group of baitfish, probably shad, to the surface of the river. The shad were splashing on the surface trying to escape the white bass. The gulls saw the surface disturbance and started feeding on the shad. White bass below, gulls above, a tough place for a shad to be.

We quickly but quietly moved into casting distance of where the birds were diving. We tied on topwater baits like KVD Splash Jr.’s and started casting. In just a few minutes, we caught more white bass than we had caught walleyes all morning. White bass are fun to catch and some people like to eat them. They presented us with an opportunity to catch them. We switched our fishing technique and converted a slow day of walleye fishing into a memorable day of white bass catching.

I recall another somewhat similar fishing technique switch with a different fishing friend. On this day we were fishing for largemouth bass in shallow vegetation. Fishing was pretty good, but then my partner noticed that a dragonfly hatch was going on around nearby lily-pads. We got over there quickly, but again, quietly.

Every now and then we would see a bass slurp a dragonfly off the surface. We tied on weedless spoons and started throwing them around. What had been good fishing changed to great fishing. The presence of the dragonflies got the bass into a feeding frenzy, and we took advantage of it. If we hadn’t noticed the dragonfly activity, however, we could have missed out on the action.

If walleyes are your goal, pay close attention to your sonar for the presence of baitfish. You usually won’t see the surface activity with walleyes that you might with bass, but locating the walleye’s food is just as important to catching them as it is to white bass or largemouth bass.

Modern sonar will create a detailed picture of the bottom and will show you if there are baitfish in the area. In the summer and fall, many of the most successful walleye-chasers won’t fish a deeper water area if they don’t see baitfish on the sonar. However, if the wind is blowing onto a point or shallow water structure, consider spending a few minutes casting shallow-running minnow-shaped crankbaits like a KVD Jerkbait to see if there are some walleyes around. If there are, they will usually be biters.

Keep in mind that if you want to catch more fish, sometimes it can be very productive to switch species or switch techniques. If you do, you’ll find that your success will go up and you’ll enjoy your fishing even more.