Name one game you absolutely hate playing, but when you’re forced into it you desperately want to win. Easy: bumper boats.
Even though you try to avoid it like your annoying cousin who always talks your ear off at family gatherings, sometimes there’s simply no way around heavy boat traffic––especially when your favorite fishing hole is a well-known hotspot (and when you’ve got the mixed blessing commonly referred to as a job, which pays the bills but forces you to fish fewer weekdays and more crowded Saturdays and Sundays than you’d like).
What to do when you’re fishing boat-to-boat with other anglers? Follow these three tips below from Steve Scepaniak. As a guide on Minnesota’s famous Mille Lacs Lake, he has no choice but to cut through the crowds and get his clients fish, no matter what.
1. Slow Down
Many anglers speed up their presentation when fishing a heavily pressured area, with hopes of triggering a reaction from otherwise finicky fish. Walleyes that are sick of watching jigs and live bait dragging along at snail speeds might snatch up a crankbait that zips overhead, so the logic goes. And while this thinking is not necessarily wrong (in fact, it often works), Scepaniak’s first reaction is to go the other direction: Slow it down.
“One of the most common mistakes anglers make is allowing the wind to dictate the pace of their fishing,” Scepaniak says. “When that’s the case, typically people error on the side of moving too fast. So if you slow down and really focus on boat control, you’ll be putting your bait in a better position than 90 percent of the boats out there right off the bat.”
Also, a truly refined, finesse approach requires great attention to detail, an advanced skill set and plenty of patience. That patience pays off in many ways, not all of which are glaringly obvious at first.
“The tendency on crowded lakes is to get frustrated if you’re not catching fish, and leave a good spot that really does hold fish, simply to search out non-pressured water and fish by yourself,” Scepaniak says. “Well, those other isolated spots might not hold as many fish. By default, slowing down your approach forces you to work a spot more thoroughly and reduces the odds that you’ll leave a good spot too quickly.”
2. Slim Down
Once again, the option of upsizing your presentation is not a bad one, but Scepaniak feels the odds are more in your favor if you downsize instead. For one thing, fishing smaller is sometimes harder than fishing larger. Any angler can throw out bigger, bulkier and flashier crankbaits, jerkbaits and spinners––you strap ’em on, cast ’em out and see what happens. It’s arguably more difficult to effectively fish smaller presentations.
A down-sized, subtle approach requires more precision, higher accuracy on water depth and boat control, and a greater ability to sense what your bait is doing in the water. Master that route and do it accurately (which as NAFC Members we know you do), and once again you’re separating yourself from the competition.
“Go smaller, and rather than making more drastic changes to your presentation––such as switching from a jig to a crankbait or from a natural-colored lure to a fluorescent chrome colored bait––making smaller changes might pay off more,” Scepaniak explains. “Switch to a fluorocarbon leader. Try a yellow hook instead of a black hook on your live bait rig. Move from a ¼-ounce weight to a 1/8-ounce weight.”
If you’re fishing live bait rigs and you have multiple lines in the water, constantly vary your snell length until you discover which length results in more bites; then make all your snells that exact length.
3. Smarten Up
Smarten up with your electronics. Perhaps you thought the first two tips were obvious enough (in which case you’ll really roll your eyes at this one), but the fact of the matter is anglers often get distracted by other boats in crowded areas. The result? Less attention to your electronics––or, as Scepaniak puts it, “less interaction with your electronics.”
Yes, by all means keep an eye on other boats and see who’s catching fish and what they’re using, but the more boats in your area, the more you need to key in on your electronics.
“If you’re the only boat fishing a flat that’s full of hungry walleyes, those fish are likely more willing to move up in the water column to bite,” Scepaniak says. “But when they’re watching an underwater parade of presentations float by, you need to make sure your bait is in the exact right spot on the spot, and the exact right depth.”
Study your depthfinder for other insights, too. Where are baitfish? Why are you seeing fish suspended, and what type of fish are they? How is the water temperature changing throughout the day? What’s the bottom composition on each spot you’re fishing?