12/27/2011
Focusing on the vertical!

I've guided and fished with numerous anglers varying from sheer beginners to very accomplished fishermen.   When it comes to casting lures, most fishermen are fairly adept at working them horizontally and I'm sure most of us have had success casting stickbaits like Rapalas, crankbaits like a "Big-O," spinners, spoons and so forth.   There's nothing quite like reeling in a spinner or spoon and having a nice fish just hammer it.   

What happens when the fish aren't moving for spinners, spoons, plugs and similarly presented baits?   Some anglers just rummage through their tackle box and change lures with no rhyme or reason every 5 minutes.   Others think the fish have vacated the area.   A lot of us that have faith in these lures stubbornly keep working them - basically keep covering water.   We might slow down our presentation or work the lure more erratically in hopes of generating a strike, but we often assume the fish aren't there, and if they are, they aren't hitting.   So after a while it should become apparent, even to the most stubborn fishermen amongst us, that a change in presentation is in order.    The more consistently successful anglers I run across, are good at "focusing on the vertical,"  even when working lures typically fished horizontally.

Here's a typical example - I see a lot of fishermen struggle with pike fishing.  Let's face it, pike really respond well to spinners, spinnerbaits, spoons, plugs and swimbaits worked fast.   When pike (or pickerel or muskies or 'add your favorite fish here') are really in a positive feeding mode, the fishing is pretty darn easy.   Just cast and reel.  Great pike fishing often occurs in May and June, off and on throughout the summer and then into mid-autumn.   Water temps from the mid-50s to mid-60s often result in aggressive pike.   But what happens when a cold front moves through and you're faced with bluebird conditions?   During the cold water period in the late fall and winter pike often sloooooowwww down!   Way down -especially when water temperatures are dropping!   That isn't to say you can't cast a spoon and crank it in and catch pike, you can, but it often isn't going to work day-in and day-out.  

So we slow down and incorporate more vertical and even static elements into our typical horizontally-fished lures.   A lot of people really struggle with this.   The good walleye fisherman or bass or panfisherman usually doesn't, but a lot of people used to aggressively working lures really have a tough time slowing down and focusing on the vertical.  When doing this, you need to "flip the switch" and change your mindset.  Realize that the majority of fish aren't going to strike if we keep working the lure aggressively.     We need to focus more of our attention on the lure as it sinks and as we stop it and incorporate more of these traits into every cast.   When pike fishing gets tough, I think of my fishing (or catching) occurring when I'm stopping the lure and letting it hover or sink.  THAT'S when I'm most focused and ready.    During those tough days - actually working the lure with the reel and the rod is mostly just an attraction phase, or water-covering phase.  The grabs are coming when the lure is still or sinking.   So I think of the "fishing as happening in between the fishing."  That's the Zen concept of the day. 

The Senko is the perfect example of a lure geared towards these conditions.  Even though I don't typically use them for pike, is it any wonder that soft stickworms like the Yamamoto Senko are so effective?   The novice angler can go out, wacky rig a Senko, cast it out and let it sink.   These anglers often didn't do as well before when they went bass-fishing because they were always "chucking and winding," but finally a lure came along that basically works itself.   It appeals to fish in a positive, negative or neutral mood.   The point is that it's important to realize that on tough days, think about how that Senko works and find presentations that incorporate those traits - whether pike fishing, perch fishing or whatever.

This requires adjustments in rod-position and sometimes line.   I use a lot of braid during the winter when gear-fishing.   I tend to keep the line loosely tight -basically tight enough to detect bites on the fall, but not so taut so the lure swings in unnaturally.   The rod is always in a position that facilitates hook-setting, often up in the 9 to 10 O'clock position.   Working lures that have fish-attracting characteristics when they sink or are paused is also pivotal.   Stickbaits that suspend.   Bulky swimbaits with lighter jig heads.   Spoons that flutter nicely when they sink. 

Incorporating vertical traits into our typical horizontal presentations enabled us to catch some of our best fish of the season in 2011.