When it comes to fishing, you just can’t force it. Deep down I knew this, but I found myself sweating it out anyway.
The locals had warned me when I moved to Florida several years ago: bass fishing, they said, was non-existent anytime after 10 a.m., June through October.
“Better go early if you wanna catch anything.”
I’d show them.
Yet there I was, sweat rolling down everywhere, without a bite. The bass yawned. A big gator slowly went underwater to lay on the bottom. Time stopped.
It brought back a memory. Over a decade ago, I discovered a unique thing while fishing daily on Lake St. Clair. If you’re familiar with the place, you know that St. Clair commonly features very clear, turquoise water, chock-full of smallmouth bass. However, even St. Clair turns muddy from time to time, usually due to strong storms upstream.
And when that water turns the color of a Southern stock pond, the smallmouth don’t bite. Period. Now, while there’s exceptions to every rule, if you find yourself fishing St. Clair under these conditions, you'd best find clear water somewhere, or a weed bed full of largemouths.
It took me about six trips to figure that out. Then one day, the water cleared as I was out there, and the fish went nuts. It turns out that all the water in the St. Clair system cycles every three days. So, in nearly every case, the water doesn’t stay too dirty for too long. And I think the fish know this.
Born and raised in such an environment, the sight-feeding smallies know to wait it out rather than expend valuable energy chasing bait they can’t catch in water they can’t see in. Wait it out; three days for a fish is no time. So, after a few years of being hard-headed, I too would wait it out, resulting in fewer time-wasting sessions flailing around.
Yet, here I was doing it again.
A reaction bite. I figured that would be my best chance given the circumstances. You can always get a reaction bite. The 1-ounce weight plunked through the mat. Again and again and again.
The monotony took me back.
A lifetime ago, I terrorized the ponds scattered throughout the National Recreation Area near my home as a boy. While the trips started as excuses to get outside, they soon turned into big-bass forays once I was bitten by the bug. And despite their northern location, many of these small waters held fish in excess of 7 pounds.
One pit lake offered a great shot at a lunker, especially at night in the summer. I assumed the reason for the p.m. bite was due to the lake’s clear water. However, after spending a few sessions there in the dark, I discovered that the best summertime bite was always around 10 o’clock, about an hour after it was good and dark. Whether I stayed and fished until midnight or until 4 in the morning didn’t matter. Rarely did I catch a fish past about 11:30. Had my theory of “dark is the answer” been true, I’d have caught fish all night.
Those 30-year-old memories hit me as I continued to flip and flop. Maybe ripping a lipless crankbait would work on the shellbars. Reaction bite. Maybe the feeding period would start.
Which reminded me.
Each spring I spend a considerable amount of time shiner fishing for Florida giants. Granted, not as much time as some, but more than I talk about in front of my wife.
In any case, over the last 5 years, I’ve recorded and tracked any fish caught in my boat over 7 pounds. The list includes numerous trophies to 12. I’ve plotted those numbers against a calendar, a moon phase chart and a “rating” list derived from a timetable complete with minors and majors.
My findings have been quite compelling. While it’s certainly possible to catch the fish of a lifetime on any given day (thank goodness), I’ve found that the period around the new moon in the spring is the best. Second is the exact day of the half-moon (technically, the first- and third-quarter phases).
Now granted, this data coincides with my findings for shiner fishing in central Florida. It doesn’t apply to the topwater bite on Okeechobee (I don’t think) or big crappies in the Ozarks.
But what it does reflect is additional personal proof that productive fishing occurs through windows of time and, often, unproductive periods must be accepted.
Is that what we need to believe as bass fishermen? That there are just some periods when it’s nearly impossible to catch bass and our time would be best spent cleaning the boat or mowing the lawn?
Conversely, I’m immediately reminded of another bass fishing fact: When money’s on the line, somebody always catches something.
Only once in my life have I ever witnessed a bass tournament where no participants weighed in a fish. That happened on the Ohio River, where anglers joke that there’s only about 10 bass in the whole place and the locals just rotate as to who gets to bring them to the scales.
Anyway, someone always catches ‘em, as we say. So some fish are always biting.
But where, and how? Temperatures soared. I took a break for water and thought about pulling out a spinning rod, quickly realizing the heat had gotten to me.
Just a couple more flips.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)