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Lessons from a john boat
by Jeff Miller

Anglers Edge Outfitters
Providing the Ultimate Fishing Experience  

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to host a benefit Fishing Tournament in the fall.  Properly dubbed “The Fall Fishing Classic.”  One of the things we do each year is tag and release about 5 to 10 black bass species a few days  before the tournament.  To do this we have to call in the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  They are always eager to help out with any charitable event, plus it gives them the opportunity to do some creel surveying.  To my surprise the first year we did this they called and had me meet them at the ramp.  I assumed it was for some last minute details about the event and exactly what they would be tagging for us.  When I arrived at the ramp I was greeted with warm hand shakes and a pair of rubber boots.  I was clueless as to what was going on but was pleasantly surprised when they told me to climb in the boat.

Excitement!  Like a kid in a candy shop.  That’s about the only way I can explain how I felt about having the opportunity to spend the day shocking one of my favorite lakes.  Most anglers only dream about this opportunity.  I was living it.  What transpired was a lesson that has changed my entire perception of bass fishing.  Not to mention it has made me a much better angler.

The day started around 8am.  As we piled into the 18ft flat bottom john boat I positioned myself exactly where they told me to set–In the middle.  Flanked to my front and rear were 2 fisheries biologist.  In the rear of the boat was the engine, gas tank, and generator.   To the front was some gangly looking deck, attached to it were 2 long boom type arms located on the left and right sides of the deck.  At the end of the arms were tentacles dangling there like a dead squid.  For the most part we looked like some mid-evil torture device about to inflict some serious torture on the underwater world.   At best we tore down the lake at about 15 to 20mph.  It reminded me of a barge loaded with coal heading down the Mississippi .  It’s amazing how much scenery you miss when you are tearing down the lake at 70mph in your high performance bass boat.  They asked me where I would like to go.  “Anywhere,” I exclaimed.  I was just happy to be a witness to this spectacle.   We pulled into a creek arm about 4 miles away from the launch site and this is where my lesson on bass and their behaviors began.

The creek we pulled into was once widely excepted as one of the best creeks on the lake.  Over the past few years though the number of fish and the size that were coming out of the area had dropped off considerably.  Most of us attributed it to the “pressure.”  I am sure that the pressure had something to do with it but needless to say we stayed in that creek all day and was I surprised at what came to the surface.

The biologist fired up the generator and lowered the booms arms into the water and the survey begin.   We started at the mouth of the creek next to the bank and worked our way all the way back and then back out and up the opposite side.  Now take into account the time of year.  This is for the “Fall Fishing Classic.”  We were into mid fall.  The foliage had started to change and the water temp was about 62 to 65 degrees.   PERFECT!  The anticipation was killing me.  What was going to turn up.  We made our first pass and turned up a lot of fish but not many largemouth, smallmouth, or spotted bass.  What!  It’s fall.  The fish should be stacked in the creeks.   I could see the shad balls everywhere.  Especially in the back of the creek.  I commented to the biologist that I guess the “pressure” had taken its toll on this particular area.  They just smiled and politely said “we weren’t done yet.  We headed back into the creek.  This time moving off the bank about a 8 feet or so.  This time a few keepers we netted them and placed them in the livewell for observation and later tagging.   Our second trip in 2 keepers.  Hardly anything to write home about.   The question and answer session continued.  Of course I was asking all the questions.  I believe the only question that I did not ask was “why is the sky blue.”  We made the turn and headed in for a 3rd trip.  By this time I was getting board with the same routine.  My excitement had subsided a little.  We moved out another 10 feet or so and begin the process again.  Round 3.  4 keepers.  We netted them and placed them in the livewell for observation and tagging.  Well things were getting better I told my self.  At least we were seeing some keepers.   Now the  size limit on this particular body of water is 15in.  The fish we had netted measured no more then 15 ½.   I asked the guys if we should go somewhere else.  We had been at this for about 3hours now.  They told me we would make one more pass and then head somewhere else if I wanted.  I agreed.  We started our 4th pass.  We are now out off of the bank by 30 to 40 feet.   I’m thinking well if we can get a few more keepers and get 10 tagged fish total then great.  Its been a fun experience.  What happened next was like something out of a dream.  I was staring off at a deer running up the hillside when I heard one of the guys yell “There they are.”  I look down and see 2 largemouth that weigh 3.5 to 4lbs floating on the surface.  “Awesome,” I thought.   We moved down the bank another 25 feet or so and up comes 3 more nice largemouths in the 2 to 4lb range.  I thought to myself what has happened.  As we continued throughout the creek over the next hour we shocked up well over 25 fish that weighed 3lbs, 10 that weighed close to 4lbs, a few 5 and 6lbs to top it all off.

What was the difference?  I asked the biologist what just happened?  What am I not seeing?  His answer that day changed the way I approach fishing.  He has been doing creel surveys for well over 15years and his knowledge of the water and what largemouth do is worth noting.  He agreed that fishing pressure has had an effect but not as drastic as we the angler might think.  “Fish have adapted but the angler hasn’t.”  He said.  Were use to you could run down a bank casting parallel to it you could catch a good number of fish but with all of the tournaments and weekend anglers on the water now that has become a more difficult process.  The fish have become conditioned to this.  So what have they done?  Adapted.  All they have done is back off to the first break.  Instead of being up against the bank like years past, they have just backed up under your boat.  The majority of angling is done just 20 to 25 feet from the bank.  If you don’t believe me the next time you go fishing take a look for yourself.  Remember we were setting off the bank 35 to 40 feet and we hit pay dirt.

So the next time you go fishing try to move your boat out away from the bank another 10 to 15 feet and fish the first break.  I would be willing to bet your day would get much better.   If you are a bank oriented fisherman I promise this process will be hard.  It was for me but I can say this, since I made myself back up and fish that first break my success rate has done nothing by climb.

Jeff Miller
Anglers Edge Outfitters
The Ultimate Fishing Experience

Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, Motorguide, Exodus Baits, D & S Lures, Bass Pro Shops, Southern Indiana Marine.