6 Factors Every Fishermen Need to Know to Catch Any Fish Successfully and Consistently

Fishing is one of the most popular outdoor sports in the world. There are many reasons and benefits to go fishing, such as for fun, for social bonding with family and friends, to relief stress, to get fit (especially if you are paddling and fishing), as well as to contribute to wildlife conservation. Below are some quoted data showing the economic impacts of recreational fishing on Canadian and U.S. economies.

$8.3 billion were spent by anglers in Canada in 2010.
$5.8 billion on durable goods related to recreational fishing activities.
$2.5 billion on fishing expenditures during fishing trips.
Survey of Recreational Fishing in Canada 2010.

$24.6 billion were contributed by anglers to the U.S. economy in 2012.
$20 billion on durable fishing-related equipment.
$4.6 billion on fishing trips.
Fisheries Economics of The U.S. 2012: National Overview.

Once I read somewhere online saying that “A Bad Day of Fishing is Better than a Good Day at Work.” So, great, many of us enjoy fishing. But, there are always days when fish are finicky. And you have to deal with snags, line twists, and bad weather, etc. Yes, those are part of fishing. That being said, we all want to be successful every time we go fishing, right? Definitely. Now, the question is: how can we catch any fish species successfully and consistently?

The Art of War by Sun Tze says “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles”. It is also true when it comes to fishing. You need to know the the fish you are targeting, the area you go fishing, and talk to local people who fish there regularly, if possible. Here are 6 factors I believe every fishermen or fisherwomen need to know to catch any specific fish species successfully and consistently.

Shelter

Fish need shelters to hide from predators, hide and wait for their meals to swim by, or simply shade themselves from sunlight. These shelters include rocks, stumps or sunken tress, lily pads, reeds or other aquatic plants. In rivers or creeks where there could be strong currents, fish also need to rest and/or feed in back eddies, deep pools, and river bends etc.; or behind islands, bridge or dam structures, etc.

Forage

Fish feed on a variety of forage. But they do have their preferences depending on fish species and locations. Common fish forage include minnows (e.g., smelts and shiners, etc.), shrimp, crawfish,  aquatic insects and their nymphs (e.g., bloodworms, mayflies, dragon flies, and stoneflies, etc.), terrestrial insects, fish eggs, mollusks (e.g., clams and snails, etc.), earthworms, algae, and plant matters.

Temperature

Fish feel comfortable in their preferred ranges of temperature for many reasons. Higher temperature usually means less dissolved (available to fish) oxygen, increased metabolism (fish get hungry faster), respiration and oxygen demand. Change of temperature is one of the key components for seasonal and diurnal movement patterns of fish.

According to Kikolsky (1963), “The behavior of fish, particularly their diurnal activity and many other aspects of their life, are significantly related to the degree of illumination”. Fish are influenced by light in terms of their metabolism, coloration, breeding, and also predation. Sight-orientated fish (e.g., rainbow trout) feed actively mostly during the day, usually with feeding peaks in early mornings and evenings. Other fish like burbot/ling may become active at night. On sunny days, fish may hide themselves in covers. On cloudy days, fish may be more scattered.

Preferred temperatures for walleye, northern pike, bass, trout, and more
Preferred temperatures for walleye, northern pike, bass, trout, and more (credit: various sources online)

A sonar fish finder may tell you a lot about structures beneath your boat, the surface water temperature, and the thermocline.

Dropoffs and humps provides ample forage for fish
Dropoffs and humps provides ample forage for fish

Read my post: how to use fish finders to help you catch more fish

Oxygen

Fish get their oxygen via their gills. Some fish can tolerate lower oxygen level than others. The amount of dissolved oxygen changes with water temperature, water movements, water depth, and the amount of algae and others in the water.

Barometric pressure

Fishermen have long discovered the positive correlation between upcoming low barometric pressure and increased feeding activities of fish. The barometric pressure tends to be lower when the weather is stormy. Right before (could be hours before) the storm comes, fish tend to feed heavily. No one knows exactly why and many factors including the factors discussed above affect the behavior of fish each day.

Below are some Rule-of-Thumbs (not exact science) that you may want to know about barometric pressure, typical weather, and feeding activities of fish

About to drop and dropping barometric pressure: The weather is going to become stormy. Fish feed actively. Great time for fishing.

Low barometric pressure: The weather is stormy. Fish dive deep, hide in covers, tend not to feed. Bad time for fishing.

About to rise and rising barometric pressure: The weather is becoming better. Fish may still need some time (maybe up to one day) to adjust themselves after the bad weather and start feeding normally.

Normal and high barometric pressure: The weather is good with some clouds or clear skies. Fish feed normally. Good time for fishing.

What’s the best time to go fishing?

Recall that I quoted earlier in this article “A Bad Day of Fishing is Better than a Good Day at Work.”. So that leads to the answer: the best time to go fishing is when you have time and you are OK with the weather. Once I fished Lesser Slave Lake in northern Alberta in a stormy day, even though I was caught in the heavy rain and got wet all over, I was happy as I had a wonderful time catching fish one after another. About 20 minutes before the storm, fish were biting like crazy. Meanwhile, I could see thick and dark clouds coming toward my kayak along with the wind (~20 km/hr). Anyways, that was a fantastic experience.

Where to go fishing and how to find good fishing spots?

Lakes and streams are not all created equal in terms of fishery. Some waters may offer great walleye fishery while others may be fabulous in bass fishing, or maybe trout fishing. So, you want to do you research online or talk to experienced people if you can. All in all, you need to find out there the fish are holding in the first place. And then you can focus on how to catch them. Enough said, here are some good spots you should look for:

Drop-offs, mid-lake humps, dips, and rock outcroppings offer sharp depth gradient. Fish like to hold at these structures because it’s easy for them to access different depths of water for various reasons including to adjust themselves to changes of food availability, temperature, light, oxygen availability, etc.

Ledges,  tree stumps, sunken trees, lily pads, and reeds offer great shelters for fish to hide from predator or wait for ambushing a swimming-by bait fish. In addition, these structures offer places for aquatic plants, aquatic insects, and mollusks and so forth to live in, which attracts both bait fish and predator fish.

Outflow/inflow river/creek mouths provide ample forage, oxygen, and often eddies, deep pools for fish to feed and rest.

Sandy or rocky bottoms may be good places for some fish to spawn in.

Rocky points together with waves create oxygen.

To sum up, these areas/structures provide fish with shelter, forage, oxygen, and easy access to different water depths to adjust to changes of temperature, air pressure, and light conditions. Fish always move around, but they don’t move just randomly. They need to stay comfortable. That’s why every fishermen should keep the 6 factors we just discussed in mind to catch fish successfully AND consistently. The next step is to present your carefully chosen baits or lures to them and get many bites.

An interesting side note:

90/10 Rule-of-Thumb: 90% of the fishing time is spent on finding fish while only 10% on catching them. 90% of the fish is located in 10% of the water.

Happy fishing!

Fishing tips: 7 great soft plastic lures and how to use them

7 great soft plastic fishing lures
Soft plastic fishing lures for walleye, northern pike, trout, perch, whitefish, and more

In a previous post, I listed the advantages of using soft plastic lures. The above picture shows 7 soft plastic lures I carry regularly. And of course, I use them on a drop-shot rig, which is almost my exclusive angling rig.

These 7 soft plastic lures are (from left to right):
Berkley Powerbait 4” Emerald Shiner.
Berkley Powerbait Realistix 2” smelt minnow.
YUM 4” Walleye Grub.
MrTwister 4” Double Tail Grub.
Lunkerhunt 2” River Worm/Red Worm.
MrTwister 2” Teenie Curly Tail Grub.
MrTwister Nymph (assorted).

Often, keeping things simple makes your fishing trips more successful. For example, for one fishing trip, I use only one rod and one type of rig and tend not to re-tie anything unless I have to (i.e., the rig is broken or will soon). That is to say, I want to keep my lure in the water for as long as possible in a fishing trip.

I typically use a spinning reel, medium action rod, 15 lb PowerPro line (about the same diameter of 4 lb mono-filament line) and size #6 hook on a drop-shot rig for most of fishing trips. It’s like a one-rig-for-all type of thing. This rig used together with the 7 soft plastic lures shown in the picture above are good for:

(1) a variety of fish species: walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, lake whitefish, trout, bass, burbot/ling, and more.
(2) many situations such as bottom fishing, surface fishing (needs a float either close to the sinker side by side, or above the hook), vertical fishing, cast-and-retrieve, fishing in weeds or other structures, finesse presentation, etc. For a drop-shot rig, the sinker is at the tag of your line and it is typically the sinker instead of the single hook (less trouble than treble hooks) that contacts the bottom, which means less risks of snags.
(3) detecting a bite, even a subtle one, fast. In a drop-shot rig, there’s no extra mass (such as a sinker or weight or bobber) in between the hook and your rod tip. So, when there’s a bite, the bite will transfer the highest possible force to your rod and you’ll know it right away.

Two fishing techniques / presentation skills you’ll ever need:
Again, I’d like to keep things simple and numbers small. These two fishing techniques are:
(1) jigging: if you fish on a boat and you happen to have a sonar fish finder, you don’t have to cast-and-retrieve. To jig for fish, you just sink you lure to the right depth, twitch it and let it fall back, then leave it there for a while before twitching it and letting it fall back again. So, it’s like twitch-pause-twitch. Typically, you want to keep your twitching action small (i.e., a few inches). The lure (usually light) will fall back slowly as the lure attached to the line at a position above the sinker. This fall-back-slowly motion makes it look vulnerable and an easy meal for game fish and often can trigger a bite. When you see fish close to your lure (via eye sight or a fisher finder), you’d better just keep your lure still to get the most bites.

Read my post: how to use fish finders to help you catch more fish

(2) cast-and-retrieve: whether you fish on a boat or from shore, cast-and-retrieve allow you cover a large area and present your lure in a good way imitating the real things (e.g., nymph, blood worms, leeches, other aquatic insects, and minnows). To retrieve, you want to retrieve painfully slowly, like 2 seconds for a 4-inch twitch or hop. So, you twitch it, let it fall for a couple of seconds, and then twitch or hop it again. Doing this will imitate a bait fish or bait worm picking up some forage on the bottom. For most aquatic insects, they are not strong swimmers and they have to pause a while after a short burst of movement. These aquatic insects crawl on the bottom as well. For top predator fish (e.g., norther pike, walleye, etc.), you may also retrieve the lure in a steady pace.

Watch the videos below to see how a nymph swim to help you have a better idea of how to imitate a nymph. A good read about how to imitate aquatic insects in fly fishing can be found here.

The curly tail grub actually imitates some nymphs well:

A Review of Pelican Unison 136T Kayak

Kayaking on Cameron Lake
Kayaking on Cameron Lake May 2015

I had a few kayaking and fishing trips to lakes including Cameron Lake, Upper Waterton Lake, Pigeon Lake, and Lesser Slave Lake in the past couple of months. So far, I am very happy with my Pelican Unison 136T Kayak. Below are some pros and cons I found with the tandem kayak.

Pros:
Great product for the price. We got it at Costco.ca with $150 off the $949.99 regular price. The package comes with 2 paddles, which may worth more than $100.

It tracks (moves in straight line) well with two people on board. Paddling with this tandem kayak with one person (solo kayaking) sitting in the front cockpit was acceptable as well.

The speed could go up to 1.5 m/s (5.4 km/hr or 3.4 mile/hr) on calm water with payload (two people and some gears) of about 280 lbs. We were actually faster than the speed of average hikers.

The kayak is fairly stable. We had no problem kayaking on Lesser Slave Lake (1,168 km2), known as the fresh water ocean in Alberta, Canada, on a windy (>20 km/hr) day with big waves.

Cons:
The 60 L Quick Lock hatch was not water-tight. It was more than half-full with water after kayaking for about an hour in waves.

The kayak has no bulkhead. One may want to use inflation bags or equivalents so that it will be easier to re-enter in case of flipping over. Inflation bags provide buoyancy and take space in a kayak so that less water can fill in the kayak, which means the kayak may still be afloat filled with water and there will be less work to do to drain the kayak.

Read the specifications here.

Camping Kayaking
Camping with a kayak (Pelican Unison 136T) on a car (Waterton Lakes National Park Townsite Campground May 2015)

Read more:

How to mount/put/carry a kayak on a car roof: 6 easy steps with pictures.

Interested in highly portable inflatable kayaks instead? No kayak carriers needed! Check the products below. They are from reputable companies (Intex and Coleman) having great track records in making a variety of outdoor products.

Lesser Slave Lake fishing spots

If you want to catch walleye, northern pike, burbot/ling, perch, or lake whitefish successfully and consistently, you should definitely pay a visit to Lesser Slave Lake, the 2nd largest lake and the largest lake with easy access by vehicle in Alberta, Canada.

According to Alberta Conservation Association, in 2005, the estimated total angler catch of walleye was 870,000 fish while the mean weight of harvested walleye was 0.92 kg/fish. And the estimated number of anglers that fished the lake in 2005 was 115,000. What does that mean? It means that each angler could catch about 8 fish on average in 2005. In addition, anglers on ifishalberta.ca are saying that they are catching dozens of fish per day. Sounds exiting, doesn’t it?

Located about 3 hours driving north of Edmonton, Lesser Slave Lake has an area of 1,168 km², close to twice the size of Edmonton (684.4 km²). The Lake is a popular destination for fishing, boating, camping, hiking, birding and other activities. Here is an overview of what to do or where to go in Slave Lake area.

Below is a map and depth chart of Lesser Slave Lake that I think everyone who goes there for fun may want to keep a copy. It marks the locations of campsites, boat launches, beaches, river/creek mouths, and more.

Lesser Slave Lake map and depth chart
Lesser Slave Lake map and depth chart (source: sunsite.ualberta.ca)

Great fishing spots at Lesser Slave Lake
I remember someone says “90% of fish are in 10% of water”. In other words, fish prefer some parts of a lake to the rest of the lake. These preferred parts include:

Dropoffs, ledges, mid-lake humps, shoals, dips, rock outcroppings, outflow/inflow river/creek mouths, sunken trees, lily pads, reeds, etc. These areas provide fish with forage, oxygen, shelter, and easy access to different water depths to adjust to changes of temperature, air pressure, and light conditions.

Dropoffs and humps provide ample forage for fish
Structures like dropoffs and humps provide ample forage for fish

So, here are some easily accessible hot fishing spots on Lesser Slave Lake:
(1) Shaw’s Point and Buffalo Bay west to Shaw’s Point.
(2) Lakeshore Campground.
(3) Spruce Point.
(4) Canyon Creek.
(5) Slave River outflow mouth and Dog Island.
(6) Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park area.
(7) Hilliard’s Bay Provincial Park area.

To find dropoffs, you may want to mark those areas with dense isobath lines on the map above. A sonar fish finder will definitely help you locate structures and fish.

Read my post: how to use fish finders to help you catch more fish

Tips:
Wear PFDs/life jackets while fishing on the lake, especially if you are kayaking/canoeing. Waves can get big on this lake. The lake can be calm and quiet in the morning. But it can get windy and noisy toward the end of the day as well.

Check the weather forecast before you head out. Storms and windy conditions are not unusual in summers.

Further readings:
Walleye fishing tournament: Golden Walleye Classic.

How to mount a sonar fish finder on a kayak: a simple and easy way

Savvy fishermen / fisherwomen often use sonar fish finders to help them locate fish, structure (e.g., humps, drop offs, ledges, shoals, and dips). DIYers have come up with innovative ways to mount sonar transducer and fish finder itself. For example, some may use a suction plate to mount the transducer while others enjoy using PVC pipes for supporting the transducer and also the fish finder.

Read my post: how to use fish finders to help you catch more fish

Here, I am going to talk about a different method of mounting sonar transducers onto kayaks.

Materials you’ll need:
(1) 1/4 inch by 1 1/4 inch flat head stove bolts and nuts.
(2) brass washers with sunken design, which can provide an increased bearing surface (to reduce stress at the holes you’ll drill on the kayak).
(3) a drill or a Swiss army multi-tool knife.
(4) a slotted flat steel bar (1-3/8 in. x 36 in. Zinc Steel Punched Flat Bar with 1/16 in. Thick from The Home Depot).
(5) a saw for cutting the slotted flat steel bar.

Steps:
(1) at one end of your slotted metal bar, cut off the excessive metal bar so that the edge near the first slot will not touch the top of the transducer and prevent you from mounting the transducer onto the first slot of the metal bar.

(2) secure the transducer onto the first slot of the metal bar using a bolt, nut, and washer, as shown in the picture below.

Mounting a sonar transducer
Close-up of sonar transducer mounted on a slotted metal bar

(3) shape the other end of the slotted metal bar so that the slots on the metal bar will touch the surface of the top of the cockpit area of the kayak.

Tips: You may want to secure the transducer near your cockpit so that it’s easily accessible for mounting and dismantling. Typically, sonar transducers work best when you place it slightly (say, 2 inches or 5 cm) below the bottom of your vessel. So, you may want to take a measurement and mark where you want to bend the slotted metal bar.

Sonar transducer mounted on a slotted metal bar
Sonar transducer mounted on a slotted metal bar. The metal bar has been bent to follow the shape of the kayak.

(4) after you have the slotted metal bar bent nicely, fit the metal bar on the kayak nicely and choose two slots and drill holes on the kayak for the two chosen slots, through which two bolts will be installed.

(5) put a washer on the flat-head end of a bolt, slide the bolt through one of the two holes on the kayak from bottom to top. Put a second washer and then a nut on the bolt. Tighten the nut. Do the same thing for the second hole you drilled. Now you have installed on the kayak two bolts (with 4 washers and 2 nuts in total) with room for a metal bar and one more nut on each bolt. Each hole on the kayak will be in-between the two washers shown in the picture below.

Bolt, nut, and washer
The way you use bolt, nut, and washer for securing the slotted metal bar and the transducer of sonar fish finder onto your kayak
Mounting fish finder transducer
Bolts on a kayak for mounting fish finder transducer

(6) now you can fit the slotted metal bar onto the two bolts you just installed on the kayak. Put nuts on top of the slotted metal bar and tighten them. I usually won’t mount the metal bar and transducer until I am on more than 30 inches (75 cm) of water so that the transducer won’t touch the lake bottom.

Sonar fish finder transducer mounted on a kayak
Sonar fish finder transducer mounted on a kayak
Kayak Fishing
Kayak Fishing on Pigeon Lake, Alberta May 2015. A sonar fish finder was mounted on the bow using the bungee cords.

Thank you for reading. Happy kayaking and fishing!