What goes through an angler's mind that makes them keep fishing when they aren't getting a bite?
During those slow days when you can't buy a bite, lots of ideas go through an angler's mind. The best thing about fishing is that you're so focused on the next moment being the one that a fish will bite, that it becomes difficult to focus on anything else.
That's the zen of fishing. Meditation is the absence of thought, but sometimes our mind can't help but wander. Some of the thoughts that come to mind are usually how to turn on the bite, and some of them are how to just turn the day around.
Here are a few common thoughts that cross an angler's mind while getting skunked. Try not to think too hard about any of these.
"I wonder if this has something to do with the barometric pressure."
Barometric pressure has been talked about in relation the bite for quite some time. As Robert Montgomery explains in his book Better Bass Fishing, sometimes when the pressure is high, fish tend to hold closer to structure. Putting something close enough to grab their attention becomes more of a challenge when they hold tighter to boulders, deeper into shelves, or in the back of brushpiles or weeds.
Either way, this is a frequent excuse used to explain why yesterday was apparently the day to be on the water according to the reports.
"Should have been here yesterday!"
When you chase reports, the fishing is always great yesterday! That's a common problem with high pressure fisheries. Some days can be stellar, but the willing biters often get yanked on the day before and it can turn the bite off.
Maybe a subtle change in temperature, water level, is to blame. Maybe the fish from yesterday have sore lips. Maybe the barometric pressure is off. Maybe you're just a day early for the prime conditions.
"Should have gone tomorrow."
If you don't go fishing, you surely won't catch anything. Sometimes you have to roll the dice on the conditions and hope that things work out in your favor. This is a gamble, but the risk can provide some great rewards.
If the fishing was great yesterday, maybe it's because they got to the fish first.
"Should have brought beer."
At least then, you could have caught a buzz. Nothing eases the pain of a skunk than some cold ones sitting on ice.
"Should have brought my other rod/reel/lure/tacklebox/boat."
You ever have those days where it seems like you brought everything the fish don't want? Maybe your rod is too long or too short to get the job done. Maybe your reel is overkill, or maybe it doesn't have the line capacity.
Maybe you left the lure you really need in another tackle box in your other boat. Maybe you came to a frozen lake without your auger. Good luck with that. Maybe you need to get organized, do some spring cleaning, or make a checklist.
"Should have checked the weather."
Did you bring a tank top to a rainstorm? Are you wearing long johns on summer solstice?
Matching your gear to fit the conditions will make things a lot more comfortable, especially on days where you're doing more fishing than catching.
"Wonder what they're doing differently?"
Sometimes it's just not your day. Sometimes it's someone else's, and you have to bare witness to it. There's often no rhyme or reason to this, but more often than not, there's a good reason you're not seeing the same success as someone else.
Don't be afraid to ask. The worst thing they can do is lie and lead you astray fishing another technique that doesn't work either. Either way, you're not getting any bites, so what do you have to lose?
"Am I using the right color? Lure? Retrieve? Line?"
Adjust your colors to the situation. Use brighter UV colors in murky water, more realistic patterns in clear water, and darker colors in deeper water.
There's definitely some science to matching lure color to water clarity, adjusting your retrieve to match the metabolism of the fish that are feeding (or not feeding) and developing a presentation with key adjustments such as using a high quality flourocarbon line to outwit the most intelligent fish that seem to have a bad case of lockjaw.
"Am I fishing deep enough?"
Maybe you're not getting down to where the fish are. Maybe you're dragging the bottom and catching nothing but weeds and debris. Changing the weight or speed of your retrieve, or simply counting down as your lure sinks can vary the depth of your presentation greatly. All fish tend to move around to different depths based on a number of conditions.
Do your homework, start an almanac, record what works and what doesn't. There's no sense in troubleshooting next year too, so you might as well learn from today.
"Where are the fish?"
When casting, I always assume there's a fish where I'm aiming. If I didn't, what would be the point of what I'm doing? However, sometimes they're just not there. Maybe you didn't check the trout stocking schedule. Maybe you didn't do your homework on when is the prime time of the run. Much like changing your line, lure, retrieve, depth, gear, etc, you need to change your location. Maybe they're upriver, maybe they're down.
Maybe they're deep, maybe they're shallow. Maybe they're roaming, maybe they're hunkered down in some cover. Either way, you've got to be willing to adapt. If you're the kind of angler that likes to hang their feet in the water and toss a red and white bobber out a few feet from the dock, maybe you just want to take your mind off everything else. Who cares where the fish are anyway, because...
Unless you're a tournament angler, guide, or commercial fisherman, you've probably had this thought on a day when you can't get a bite. Sometimes the fish aren't cooperative, but neither are your clients and co-workers. Would you rather be dealing with uncooperative clients, co-workers or fish. Well, there you have it!
"How much time do I have left to fish?"
I try to squeeze in every hour on the water that I possibly can, and a lot of things often get neglected when the fishing is good. Sometimes connecting with nature means disconnecting with everything else. Set a plan for how long you're going to fish, or get a few things accomplished before you hit the water if you plan on fishing until dark.
Then at the end of the day, you'll at least feel like you accomplished something when you don't get the bite you were hoping for.
"Am I holding the mouth right?"
My grandfather always used to say this when there wasn't a bite. Some of my fondest fishing memories were fishing with him, even if they weren't biting. He taught me some of the more important lessons of being a fisherman by simply exhibiting a great deal of patience.
Unfortunately, I still have no idea what that saying means, but I often wonder when I'm not getting bit, if I'm "not holding the mouth right." Whatever that means.
"What's for dinner?"
Probably not fish. Maybe you should be thinking about whether or not you have time to stop by the grocery store on the way home. If you're going to tough it out until sunset, maybe you should think about what drive through is open, so you can drown your sadness in honey mustard and hot sauce.
"Sure is a beautiful day on the water!"
If this isn't your first thought when you're not getting a bite, maybe you should take up golf, because obviously fishing is not for you.