You know the lake, the kind of structure you want to fish, what species you want to target, what has worked there before, but you can’t seem to catch a thing. You know there’s a fish down there…somewhere…if you can just get them to bite.
On some days you can’t help but to catch fish, but others are a real challenge.
The fishing gurus on TV or the internet always talk about “patterns” and seem to always catch fish (or at least that’s what they lead us to believe). But if you are an ordinary outdoorsman like me, you might understand these “patterns” to some degree, but not for every species in every situation. Besides, you can’t afford all the different kinds of tackle and lures and electronics these guys use for all these different situations.
What can you do?
Before you give up, here are my suggestions on what to do when the fish aren’t biting. I approach these sequentially. Do number 1 before number 2. Do number 2 before number 3 and so on.
Catch more fish during a slow bite.
1. Be sure you “cast around the clock.”
No, I don’t mean stay out all night trying. I mean be that sure you are covering the entire area with your casts. Cast to 9 o’clock, then 10 o’clock, then 11 o’clock, and so on. In most cases you’ll have a full 180 degrees to fish, more if you are alone on a boat. Don’t keep casting into the same spot, over and over just because you caught fish there the last time. Cast “around the clock” at least one full time before you try something different. Casting one time around will tell you what you need…that they like what you are throwing, or that the bite is slow today.
2. Try a different retrieve.
If you have cast around the clock and still nothing, try varying your retrieve. Reel more slowly. Reel more quickly. Add random jerks to your retrieve. Add stops to your retrieve. Reel slowly with short quick bursts. bounce the lure off the bottom. Try jigging. Don’t just repeat the same thing over if it’s not working. Depending on the species you are targeting and the lures you are using, you may not be able to try all of these (for example you can’t really jig crank baits), but you’ll at least be able to vary your retrieve in a couple ways. Fish at least a few different retrieves around the clock before you try something different.
3. Try a different color.
If you have fished around the clock and varied your retrieve and still haven’t caught anything, try a different color. If you were using a dark color (blacks, grey, etc.), switch to a lighter color (white, yellow, etc.) or a brighter color (red, blue, etc.). If your lure is shiny, switch to something more subdued. Change it up and fish around the clock again, varying your retrieve. It’s always good to spend some time reviewing the general recommendations on color choice based on water color, clarity and conditions.
4. Try a different lure.
It’s easy to jump right to this, but don’t. Cast around the clock, try different retrieves and a different color before you try a completely different kind of lure especially if you have had luck at this lake before using that particular kind of lure. However, if you have followed this process and still don’t have any luck, try something different. Use a different kind of lure and start back through the process. It may seem tedious or time consuming, but if you follow the process above, it may only take 15-20 minutes. If you stumble on a combination that starts to garner bites, then you now know what to do.
5. Move to a different area and start over.
If you get this far and still no bites, move to a different spot and start the process over. Make your best guess at what will catch fish and where they are in the lake, then select a lure and start casting. Work the system and be patient. I have seen guys zip into an area, make a series of casts with no luck, and zip away to another area…all this while I am working the process and managing to catch fish.
6. Circle back and try again.
Depending on what species you are targeting, even if you find a combination that works and catch a few fish, eventually you’ll stop getting bites. If so, move on to a new spot and use the combination of lure, color, retrieve that worked previously. After you have tried several spots, don’t be afraid to circle back to those where you did manage to catch a few before the bite shut down. More than likely you’ll catch more fish when you circle back.
This last step really applies to all fishing. Even on a good day, if you fish for long in one spot eventually the bite slows or stops. Move on to another until it slows or stops. But don’t be afraid to circle back to a spot you fished earlier that day and try it again. You’ll often get more bites circling back to a previous spot after you have let it “rest”.
Slow is slow.
You can still catch fish on a slow bite, but you can’t expect it to be gangbusters. Just be patient and work the process. It may not be the best fishing trip ever, but it’s better to catch a few than none at all.
What about you? What do you do when the bite is slow?