It was an up and down weekend as far as the weather was concerned. Saturday was plagued with thunderstorms and heavy rains while Sunday was very hot and calm. We were fishing for smallmouth bass on Lake of the Woods in Ontario.
The fishing was slow but despite the bad weather on Saturday we managed to muck out about 2 dozen fish. Though the usual haunts that were stacked up 2 days earlier were barren and we fought for every bite.
Sunday had it’s own challenges. The drastic weather change to calm and hot kept the bite in shutdown mode and we struggled once again to find fish. We decided to pick apart a new area of the lake which was going to present a difficulty in itself but in the end, this day was a great learning experience and we picked up on a few things that we feel are of value to share.
Bass are like us and, on hot sunny days, want a place to escape the heat – so we started by looking for shade. This can come in the form of large shadow-casting boulders, weed cover or trees (standing or laying). When we arrived at the new area we wanted to target we started by using our GPS to pinpoint the structures we though might have fish. A few reefs, boulder fields, and mouths of shallow bays etc. We did find a few bites in the boulders but it wasn’t until we started working a shoreline of one of the shallow back bays that we got a look at what was going on and keyed on how to approach these timid fish.
WHAT WE WITNESSED
Along the shoreline we came across a small indented bay (no more than 2-3 boat lengths wide and 3-4 deep). There were a few key elements that made this spot look particularly good and caused us to key in on it.
First was the shade. This bay was facing north meaning that much of it was well shaded from the south from the trees standing along the shoreline. Our first fish came from a nice shade patch on the northwest point of the bay. The second fish came from a shade patch on the opposite side. So we confirmed that these fish were definitely crowding into the shade on this hot, sunny afternoon.
The second feature of this bay was a few small lily pad mats. Again, providing shade, we were able to muck another 2 fish out from under their cover.
Now the third feature that made this area extra tempting to us was a small laydown on the east side about halfway back into the bay. This was small, little more than a stick, but large enough to cast a little shade and provide some cover. While not really paying attention I felt a tug on my line and looked down to see a smallmouth spit my bait and head for this tree. I shouted to my fishing partner for the day to throw her bait in there and see if she could get a bite (convinced that he probably already determined mine was not food). She did and what we saw surprised us because this fish was acting a lot like a male protecting a bed/nest. He pick up her bait, swam it about 5 feet away, spit it and shot straight back to his post. I tossed mine in and got the same response. From then on, cast after cast, we couldn’t seem to get a response from this fish which is when it dawned on me what I needed to do.
With each cast, we aimed as close as we could to the fish and twitched and bounced and walked our baits around trying to elicit a bite to no avail. While tossing my bait one last time (the same mustard coloured tube jig this bass had already picked up and moved twice) I said to my partner “I bet if I just drop it in front of him and don’t move it, it will agitate him to the point of just eating it”. So I did just that. Landing the bait fairly close and confident he could see it, I let it sit. And sit. And sit. He made a small motion toward the bait after a few moments and paused. Still I let it sit. He finally swam up to it and picked it up. I could tell he only had half the bait so I left a little slack in the line and stayed perfectly still and that’s when he decided to commit and swallow the tube. With a mighty hookset he took of swimming but wasn’t long for the fight before we had him in the net.
Having keyed in on all of these elements, from the structure and cover to the way that fish finally took the bait, we were able to pattern these finicky smallies and use that information to start hooking up on more fish. Now, even if the water was a little deeper or darker and we couldn’t see the fish, we knew to slow down our presentation and trust in the clues we had picked up.
The next spot we hit was a much larger lay down where we had just witnessed another angler drop a fish. Knowing what we knew now we were confident that we could key in on that spot and find success. Right away my partner felt a bite and I reminded her “It’s the same thing, just let your bait sit” and sure enough, a moment later came the pick up, the hookset and the end of the story.
Now this story may not provide the exact solution for you when the bite shuts off (though try it, it might). But what’s important to note is how to put together the clues and get the fish to start biting. Maybe you need to change your bait or the size of your bait. Maybe change your presentation or targeted structure. We gathered the clues and were able to key in on fish in an area we had never fished before. With a little effort, you can too.
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