If you listen to the majority of fishing magazines, YouTube salesmen, and other consumer-minded parts of the fishing industry, you might think that your chances of having a productive day on the water come down to whether or not you have a trolling motor and other gizmos.
The fact is, those things can help, but they’re in no way necessary.
Anglers have had massively successful fishing trips before those things were ever invented, and plenty of anglers still catch more than their fair share from the banks or with nothing more than a basic jon boat.
Fishing isn’t about gizmos; it’s about skill and experience.
So, we’re going to walk you through the key factors you need to consider that will help you to catch lots of fish without a trolling motor, power-pole, and fully-equipped boat. Most of these tips can even work from the banks.
Get the Right Gear
We know we just told you that fishing isn’t about getting as many fancy gizmos as possible, but you really do want to make sure you at least have a solid selection of the basics, and they need to be decent.
Of course, when you’re just starting out, it is perfectly fine to grab a $30 Zebco complete, some bobbers and hooks, and a tub of worms to go out and grab some panfish or small bass. However, if you’re looking to truly maximize your fishing experience, you need to put a little more effort into it than that.
For this section, we’ll focus on your rod and reel. Tackle will come into play soon, though.
You want to pair your rod and reel with the type of fishing you’re doing. Are you going after crappie and bluegill? You’ll want an extra-sensitive ultra-light rod that can pick up on the weakest bites and set the hook quickly in their paper-thin lips. Are you going after large bass with fast-paced lures? A medium or medium-heavy rod that’s stiff and sensitive with a fast baitcaster will be more appropriate.
The reason you want to focus on your rod and reel so much is that it will do two things for you if you get the right setup for what you’re doing.
First, it will help you execute the techniques used for the type of fishing you’re doing a lot easier. This will help you present your lures more effectively, and that will automatically make your fishing trip more productive.
Then, not only will having the right rod make it easier to detect hits and fight, but it will also make the most out of every bite. If you have a slow-action tip that bends a lot before it can snag a hook, you will miss a lot of hooksets with bass and other fish that require a bit more of a yank than bluegill and crappie do. By missing fewer hooksets, each fishing trip will get a huge boost in productivity.
The reel you use will largely depend on the rig you’re using and the type of fish you’re going after. It will also need to be paired with your rod, but there are entire guides available on selecting the right rod and reel to put together for different things. For the sake of brevity, we’ll leave that for another time.
Get a Varied Tackle Box
Using the right lure is just as important as using the right rod and reel, but it's a little more complicated than just setting up a combo that is designed for the type of fishing you're doing. You'll want to invest in a large variety of lures designed for the type of fishing you're doing, and if you only have a one-rod setup, make sure you grab lures that match that rod.
Having a variety of lures in different colors, patterns, shapes, and types will dramatically help you increase your productivity. Many fishermen stick to a single lure their whole trip based on past performance, and when the bite is slow or non-existent, they just assume it’s a bad day. In reality, they’re usually a quick switch away from jumping into the action. It’s all about what the fish want on that specific day and time.
We’ll use bass fishing as an example.
We recommend having a decent stockpile of all the classics. This includes U-Tail Grubs, Twister Grubs, Zoom Trick Worms, Senkos, and a couple of creature-bait soft plastics such as Pit Hogs. Don't just buy one pack of each, though. Get a few different colors of each, and make sure you have the weights and hooks necessary to rig them in different ways. This is the cheapest way to get a diversified tackle box when you're first starting out, but as your fishing journey continues over the years, it's a good idea to start grabbing a diverse selection of more expensive baits like crankbaits, jerk baits, etc.
By having a diverse set of lures, you can quickly swap out to a different color, or even an entirely different lure, and you can maximize your chances of catching something.
We would recommend switching your lure slightly every 15 minutes or so if you’re not getting bites. When you do start to get some action, stick with it and move around a bit to see if you can get in the right spot for cast-to-cast catches.
Lures tend to be an angler’s best friend for most species, but sometimes, actual bait might be the better choice. Namely, catfish and panfish tend to be highly productive with real bait. However, bass can also be pretty easy to catch on it. The problem is that it’s much harder to target a specific species. Plenty of fishermen dangling worms in the water have pulled out everything from bluegill to channel cats in one trip. However, bait does tend to be very productive. It doesn’t require as much work to present it properly, and it’s more or less a set-it-and-forget-it option.
We'll approach this in two ways.
First, if you intend to use live bait, we suggest bringing a small variety. Try to have a container of nightcrawlers or grubs that will appeal to a wide variety of fish, and bring along something more substantial such as dough bait, cut fish, etc. If your more specialized baits aren’t working, you can always switch to the smaller stuff to catch cut bait or live bait. This allows you to diversify your approach like you would with lures.
If you’re planning on using lures, but find that a real bait might be more effective, we recommend two preserved baits that should always be in your tackle box.
First, bring a little jar of crappie baits. They work like magic when it comes to bluegill and similar species, and that can be the ticket to getting more substantial bait directly from the fishing hole. If soft plastics and crankbaits just aren't working, catching good bluegill to hook up might net you a massive bass. Then, consider some preserved baitfish. You can buy these stinky things cheaply in packs, and if you decide you want to try something a little less artificial, hook one up. You can use a mix of tactics with these, too. You can get them on a jighead and bounce them around, or you can use a traditional bobber rig and relax for a bit.
With either approach, make sure you move around a bit. Just like most lure users cost themselves a lot of action by sticking with one lure, bait fishermen do the same by sitting around hoping for a bite.
Choose the Right Location:
Your location matters a lot in the world of fishing. High-pressure areas can easily spook the fish, and even if the area is perfectly calm, places that aren't maintained well can provide some very slow fishing.
If you want to catch lots of fish, you want a spot that is large enough for anglers to spread out, and you want to know that the water is well-maintained. Limits should be in place and enforced, the water should be clean (murky is fine, but there should not be contaminants and litter), and the municipality should regularly stock species that aren’t native to the waterway.
Also, watch out for waterways that have been impacted by invasive fish such as snakehead or Asian carp. The species you actually want to catch might be overpowered by invasive species, and your fishing trip will not go according to plan. Of course, you can also help the local effort to fix that problem by fishing those locations and helping to remove invasive species (law permitting). You’ll get a productive fishing day in that way, but it won’t be what you expect.
You might need to try several local spots to find one you can consistently have productive trips at, but you can also do some preliminary research, ask other anglers about spots you’ve noticed, or check online forums.
Another way is to check BassForecast fishing app. BassForecast is an app that has in-depth information and maps for basically every waterway in the United States, and it provides real-time weather alerts that go further than just your average news broadcast. You can research a spot before you go check it out, and you don’t even have to ask around or Google anything.
Make the Most of Your Spot:
Even the best spots will underperform if you’re not fishing them correctly. Just because fish are in the water and known to bite, does not mean that they’re just laying around every inch of the waterway and snapping at random movements.
This is where experience and skill come into play.
Learn to "feel" the bottom. The feeling of a lure scraping the bottom of a dirt-bottomed lake is very different from what it is on something lined with large rocks and sand. You can also learn to feel the dips and drop-offs along the bottom, and even identify basic structures without seeing them or using sonar just by how your line reacts as you skim the bottom.
Learning to do that takes time, but it can drastically improve your fishing.
Suddenly, even a bank fisherman with no idea what the bottom is like can take fifteen minutes, make a mental map, and start fishing the drop-offs and structures as if they were utilizing sonar.
This will boost your productivity dramatically.
Fish like to hang out next to cover, and when you can identify that, you can fish it more effectively.
Another key point is to present your lure or bait naturally. The best example of this is creature bait.
Most creature baits resemble crawfish. Crawfish don't move claws-first against the current. They walk backward and "hop" across the bottom, and they usually move with the current. If you rig your creature bait with the crawfish "claws" forward, your presentation will be extremely unnatural. The fish aren't all that smart, but they're not that dumb, either. You want to make sure that, no matter what type of bait you're using, you present it in a way that mimics the real bait it's supposed to. Again, this comes down to skill and experience, but there's a huge difference between skipping a Senko across the top and gently bobbing it with a Ned rig.
Alright, we said you can catch lots of fish without a trolling motor or power pole. That’s true. Those things allow you to cover a large amount of water very quickly, but they’re not necessary. However, that doesn’t mean tech is a bad thing.
If you really want to be productive, get your eyes on the fish with a bit of tech.
If you’re in a boat, take the time necessary to learn how to read sonar readings. You probably have a proper sonar system if you own a boat, and that’s a major feature of it. Why not learn how to truly maximize its usefulness? This will show you exactly where you need to be casting, at what depth you need to have your rig, and if there are any hazards you need to worry about.
If you’re on the bank, you’re not out of luck. There are “castable” sonar systems that resemble bobbers. You rig them to your line, cast them, and they send their readings back to your smartphone. This costs around $100 or so, but it can increase your productivity dramatically.
Beyond using sonar, don’t forget to try the BassForecast fishing app. Information, combined with experience, is more important than any tech.