Learning When Things Aren't Working

By Kurt Dove

Making adjustments to your standard fishing tactics when things aren't working can improve your fishing success.

Past Experiences

These last few weeks I have been fishing some tournaments up North in Ohio and New York. It is the first time I have been able to do some serious smallmouth fishing since I moved from VA to TX in 2008. Yes, we do have smallies at Lake Amistad but they are few and far between and are nowhere near the size of these Great Lakes smallies. So far it has been a successful trip. I finished 5th in the BASS Northern Open in OH on Lake Erie and 5th in the FLW/BFL Super Tournament in NY on Lake Ontario. A huge part of my success these last couple weeks has come from experiences in the past when I didn't catch fish. That's right, I have learned a lot about fishing when I wasn't catching them and I am learning how to make those experiences vital in my fishing success.

Here is how I managed to do that in these situations. This was my first experience at Lake Erie on the western basin. I have fished out of Buffalo, NY on the eastern basin a few times in the past and I learned that on the eastern basin the little rocky drops are the biggest keys to catching the bigger fish. I learned previously that it is really small isolated rock around larger rocky reefs that are the keys to locating the really big fish, essentially finding the "spot on the spot".

Sure I had cashed a few checks in the past and even caught a 20+lb bag, but it was the consistency that I needed to place higher in the multi-day events. At the BASS Open in Ohio my whole strategy was to find 3-4 areas of places where fish were holding, but then really dissect these areas with my electronics to find the little key areas that held the bigger fish. I managed to find 4 large areas that were holding fish and then I located 3 areas that were the 'spot on the spot' and that is how I rode out a 5th place finish at the Open.

Smallmouth Habits

This past weekend at Lake Ontario, I finished 5th in the FLW/BFL Super Tournament. It was an experience I had here in 2008 at an EverStart event that I learned when things weren’t working. I had been in the top 10 after two days and was really hammering the big smallies in shallow water on reaction baits. Then Day 3 I could not get a bite up shallow and I went running around the lake just moving everywhere to try and locate some active shallow fish. It never worked and I weighed 8lbs that day and drop down into 30 'something' place to finish the event.

After learning more about smallmouth habits and how they relate to their environment through watching and listening to any information I could get, I think I figured out what I did wrong back in 2008 based on what I learned when things weren't working. Instead of moving to try and locate more fish shallow or active shallow fish I now know those fish are still catchable if you just stay locked down on the area you found them. The change I have learned to make is slow down.

Even though smallies are very active and like to eat reaction lures while they are up on shallow cover and structure, there are days when there mood dictates a different presentation. This past week when I located some shallow fish on Lake Ontario with reaction baits I was stoked. When I found the going tough the first morning of the tournament, instead of making the same mistake twice and running around trying to find active fish, I hunkered down and managed to grind out two 21+lb smallmouth bags to finish 5th place. Both of these success stories came from learning when things weren't working. I hope you do too!