When I teach my monthly fishing classes, I often get questions about fish finders.
My answer: “God gave us two of them. Use them on every trip!”
Now, electronics are helpful, particularly for trolling, ice fishing and hunting panfish schools. But for my money, no manmade tool is as good at finding fish as your eyes. Here are a few tips for putting your fish finders to good use:
This one is obvious, but it’s super fun and effective. With a trained eye and polarized sunglasses (a must!), it’s incredible how much action you can see underwater.
Spring and summer are prime seasons for sight-fishing bass and bluegill, which often inhabit shallow water in lakes, reservoirs and local ponds. I have learned how to pick out the dark lateral line of a subsurface largemouth bass, and every time I do, it gives me confidence. Not only will I be able to make targeted casts to specific bass, but I also love knowing there are fish nearby, which is half the battle.
Sight fishing doesn’t stop with bass. Trout can often be spotted holding in pools and riffles. Look for their fins — cutthroats’ are orange or pink, while rainbow and brook trout fins have white tips. The further apart the fins are, the bigger the fish! Mountain lakes are a great place to sight-fish for trout — and you might even encounter maddening, adrenaline-pumping tiger muskies!
Many fly anglers sight-cast for big carp on the Snake River, and it’s also a great strategy for fishing flats and reefs in saltwater. Give it a shot and you’ll be hooked!
Even if I don’t see fish around, I’m constantly on the lookout for subsurface activity. When using a moving lure like a spinner, crankbait or streamer pattern, watch it approach as you finish your retrieve. Fish often crush a lure right at your feet, and if you see them coming, you can keep the bait in the water for that crucial extra half-second. On a recent trip to Lake Walcott, I watched a huge smallmouth bass swirl on my swimbait, allowing me to follow up with a slower retrieve and catch that fish. I’ve even seen trout follow my jig to the surface while ice fishing. With a quick dip of the rod tip, the lure tumbles down through the hole and (usually) gets eaten.
Big fish aren’t the only ones worth looking for. On a recent bass trip, I noticed large clouds of bluegill minnows milling around an otherwise nondescript area. We probably wouldn’t have stopped if I hadn’t seen those baitfish, but thanks to our insider knowledge, we pulled a dozen largemouth off that spot.
Watching action unfold underwater is great fun, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes, poor water clarity, fast current and weather (especially wind) obscure our view. Other times, the fish are too deep to be seen. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Experienced anglers learn how to spot good habitat for their target species. Trout seek refuge from the current behind boulders or under cutbanks. Bass are drawn to leafy or rocky cover they can use to ambush prey. Bluegill and perch cling to weed beds while hiding from predators. These are all clues our fish finders can help us hone in on.
There are others, too. Hatching insects and rising fish are almost always a good sign. Flocks of diving birds like loons and cormorants often signal schools of fish below. Gulls and pelicans skimming is a sign baitfish are being hunted from below. So, keep your fish finders open and alert. With practice, I promise they will help you catch more fish. Tight lines!
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures and questions with him at email@example.com, or visit www.tightlines208.com for the latest local fishing reports and upcoming class offerings.
Get enrolled for Panfish School!
My next Tight Lines 208 fishing class is set for Thursday, Aug. 19, at the Hilton Garden Inn Boise Spectrum. Panfish School will focus on the top lures, locations and strategies for catching bluegill, crappie and perch year-round in Idaho waters. Get all the details and sign up at www.tightlines208.com.