I just got off the Wolf River, a small 75-yard wide stretch of river that runs through the center of Wisconsin at Freemont. The river is broken up by lakes and in the Spring, massive schools of white bass and large groups of walleye migrate between the lakes via the river.
We usually go up here every year about the time that the lilacs bloom in hopes of getting in the "bite" when these fish eat everything and anything in sight. This is my second year and I am starting to learn a few things which help when the fish aren't as active and are not taking baits aggressively. Tactics that I teach near Chicago do help everywhere when the going gets tough. Fishing is easier when the fish are aggressive and swimming out to attack baits but fishing is also when the lips of those fish aren't opening. Fishing is about working your rigs, gear, tackle and presentation to coax a cold-front fish into eating.
We had a little bit of both on this trip and the fish never really got cranking, yet using some stealthy tactics, I was able to catch near 55 fish during the tough bite. To compare trips, last year there were 2 days of poor fishing and one day where we caught 100 in just under 4 hours. This was a tougher condition despite warm temperatures.
I learned a few things and these will help me when the fishing is again tough in future trips. Lighter line is a key on moving water because it reduces the drag from the current. I noticed a lot of the locals were using such light rods and line that their rods were bending just because of the light jigs they were cranking in. When they had a fish, these rod tips were bent nearly to their spool. While the rods were too light, I appreciated their light line presentations. I too had a lighter setup but was using 4 lb. finesse line and a 3 lb. leader in that current. The difference I had was a float designed for rivers which featured the weight up top. I saw people using bobbers with not enough split shot for the most part. There was the occasional angler who had their bobber weighted and down in the water.
I had another advantage in the fact that my river floats were much smaller than all of the bobbers I saw out there. As stated, when the fish are really active, this doesn't matter. When you have to work to get them to take your small minnow, it makes ALL the difference. My small float which was about the thickness of your pinky finger and perhaps 3/4 its length was talking to me. Fishing floats, you can get messaging on the fish's takes by listening (watching) for float movement. When I have made adjustments and the fish are taking, I can hear my float telling me what I need to do to catch more. When you set up a proper float, it is the best fishing guide in the world and will give you all you need to know to catch a bunch.
What I was noticing with my jig setup on another rod was that the fish were tapping the minnow and unlike the active periods, they tapped once only. The next big taps weren't coming. My float was able to hold the bait in place a little longer in the current, and even, with some work, hold the minnow in their face, off the bottom. This, I can not do with a jig, and this would be the best method on my 3-day trip. The float caught fish at a rate about 2:1 vs. the jig I was working because the fish didn't have to work to chase the jig and I caught medium-active fish because of the presentation.
I am even going to modify my equipment next year based on the fishing. I will be including a 15 foot telescopic pole which I will use to control a float and hold the bait in the current. This will be my insurance policy should the fishing be slower. With the long pole's tip, held just above the float, I can hold the float in the faster water (up top) and the bait will remain still below. Near the bottom, the water does not flow because of the bottom structure and resistance to the water. Just off the bottom, the water flows slightly faster, but still very slow. It is this area where my small hook and light leader are held in place with the struggling small minnow. Fish which are only slightly active will take this presentation when the bite is tough.
On the trip, my float was telling me that these fish were slightly active or near inactive (same thing). With the small float, I could see light hits where the fish were going at and trying to sip in the minnow, but not inhaling the bait. I could see the float dip and often times it would only drop about 1/4 - 1/2 inch and then come back up. Less than half the time, the fish would return to finish off the minnow. My float was telling me the fish wanted the bait, but not that badly. My adjustment was to hold the rod tip and check the float holding it still in place. On the river, this was the difference between not catching, missing takes and catching. I started the 1st day with a small jig on the float, thinking the color would help attract takes. On the third day, I removed the jig in favor of a plain #10 hook. This would also help as it would take the weight out of the equation and offer the fish just the minnow on the light leader.
The downside of course is that with the lighter line, I had to play the fish a bit before bringing them into my net. When the fish are really taking, lighter line will slow you down, but it is magic dust when that light line is working inactive fish. If you do use the lighter line and lose a couple of fish, it is far better than not getting as many hook-ups. Lighter line offers a bit more challenge too in working around snags. I did favor the flats, just of grassy drop-offs instead of fishing the downed trees. The lighter line in those would be recipe for disaster. I did manage to hook up on 3 gars with the lighter setup, losing the hook to the 3rd gar. Another good reason to get away from those downed trees.
So my float talked to me, I made some adjustments and assisted in offering up a really easy meal for the fish below. This happened because I adjusted my hook offering, moved the weight away from the hook (split shot up the line vs. a jig head) and because I eventually moved most of my weight up the rig 1/3 of the way to the hook beneath my float. If you read my blogs or listen to my online radio show
(now on Wednesday nights) -you know I love float fishing live bait. I preach it and enjoy its successes. To really have success with the floats, you need to listen to them, adjust your depth, leader length and split shot arrangement. You also need to watch them (listen to your float) and they will tell you what is, or isn't going on below. If nothing is happening with your float- it is telling you you need to make a change. Move something, fish deeper, check your bait but do something.
Above all, watch your float. Look away and you lose contact with your float. That line of sight to the float should not be broken while fishing because you WILL miss a fish take. Get used to doing different tasks while still watching your float and you will have a lot more success. Put your drink or cooler within reach and get things around you to where you can reach them without looking at them. Doing so will allow you to keep your eyes on your float and will allow you to see, and catch more takes as they happen. In competition, I will set everything up in a half circle and set my drink at the back of my seat. Everything I do while watching my float, I can reach and find without taking my eyes off the float tip. The only time I relax that setup is when I bring my hook in to rebait or check my bait.
Use a float to tempt inactive fish and use your rod or pole tip to control your float and catch some more fish. Whether you are up against wind current or a river's current, the tip of your rod or pole will defeat that current. When you are fishing right, that line from the tip of your rod or pole is tight to the float. Any movement by you and you will see the float move. When you do this, your float will be just a bit more sensitive and you will be just that more ready to bump a hook set on a take.
I learned a lot on this trip and I look forward to taking that small river again next season. I will be that much more ready and hope to be catching a load of fish on a telescopic pole and float. I can't wait because I think I can do that much better up there!
Catch ya later-