A “bottom feeder” by most accounts, this flathead catfish bit a spinnerbait just under the surface.
After 40+ years of participating, I’ve decided that fishing is a sport built on fallacies. Yep, the most written about pastime in the history of the World, literally, is heavily rooted in misconceptions and misinformation…propaganda even. In the span of time it takes to pick up a few lures and get one fishing report at your local Tacklerama, you’re likely to be deceived several times, and then you’ll also add a few tidbits of poorly concocted logic of your own to the day once you get on the water.
Now, before you think that I simply must be anti fishing based on such a negative viewpoint, let me tell you that I’m not. I love the sport from its oldest history forward, and the very fact that there is so much misconception out there is part of the mystique. One can spend their entire life studying angling and never answer all the questions with solid facts.
Solid fact. That’s the rub…hard facts are rare in fishing, unless of course you’re talking about laws or fish physiology. When it comes to actually catching them, that info which is taken as solid fact is rarely solid at all, and our observations and held beliefs are often even less so. Let’s look at a couple of specific observations in particular.
How about the old “they aren’t biting” comment? Of course they’re biting…they just aren’t biting what you’re throwing. Or possibly where you’re throwing it. Or possibly the way you’re retrieving it, or possibly at the depth you’re presenting it. You see, they are always biting somewhere somehow. It’s up to you to figure it out, and if you don’t…well, don’t blame the fish for not biting because that’s only your misconception. Somebody caught them on the lake that day, I promise.
A classic one revolves around fish biting or not biting something specific. We aired an FTTV episode from the Colorado River where we caught a bunch of trout on a little surface popper. I got tons of emails from folks asking specifics about the “hopper hatch” or terrestrial fishing; they linked the surface popper to a specific bug trying to rationalize why a trout would bite a popper. The reality is we never saw a single rise to a bug of any kind that day and the lure selection had zero to do with matching anything. Surface commotion is a great attractor for ALL predatory fish close enough to the surface to notice it. We chose the popper simply for the sheer joy of watching trout get giddy and blast it; nothing more. No bug match, no food source…just something that was big, splashy and running from them on the surface, and therefore the trout’s inner-predator came out to play. For the record, we caught them on bass-style buzzbaits and spinnerbaits that day as well. If we’d have aired those lures, my email would have blown up like one of the popper strikes…
Fish bite because they are hungry, right? Sure…but it’s just one of the many reasons they bite. If you really think they only bite out of hunger, you’ve spent way too much time with very old school fly fisherman or live bait slingers. (Side note: it seems funny to me to lump those two angling genres into the same thought process, but the more I think about it, the more similar thinking they are.) Berkley, the largest company in sportfishing, spent a lot of money to figure out that fish only feed a couple of hours a day, so why do they bite when they are not feeding? While is entirely likely that, like any human or animal, they snack between feeding times, it is equally likely that they get curious, aggressive, territorial, or surprised. Since they lack hands, any of these feelings result in whatever is causing them to get bit. As an angler, recognizing why a fish bit is critical to triggering more bites.
I love the concepts that are correct, but for the wrong reasons. A classic is related to fishing wind-blown banks. We’re told that the wind blows the baitfish to the bank so fish feed there. True, fish feed there, but not because the wind blew baitfish there. Pretty sure baitfish can swim against wind-generated current! But…baitfish are drawn there of their own free will to feed themselves on zooplankton being stirred by the waves. Right idea, wrong reasoning.
Another common fallacy is that certain lures are “bass lures” or “trout lures”. A sales guy will state it as fact, and Joe Average will be surprised when any fish other than the target species bites it. Well, said lure may have been designed with a certain species in mind, but any fish can and will bite any lure on any given day. It goes back to why fish bite and/or to the fact that lures exhibit triggering qualities. Triggering qualities are things like action, color, sound, profile, etc. Those qualities can have a triggering effect on any species of fish, especially when the different reasons for a bite are considered. You may be working a huge, gaudy jerkbait down a rocky windblown bank hoping to get a bite from pike feeding on the baitfish that were “blown in” on the bank, only to have a spawn-phase walleye bite it not because he is feasting, rather because he will spawn there later that night so he is territorial and wants to show it who’s boss. Several misconceptions lead up to that walleye catch, but who cares…you caught a walleye!
That is the point. What point, you ask? The point of this column…that fact that there are no wrong answers in fishing! Fishing is based on misconception because nobody can prove why a given fish bites. Humans struggle with anything they can’t rationalize, so we apply an answer that fits our belief. Some answers are better than others but over time it’s been proven to me that none are 100% wrong.
And that, friends, is why you can never go wrong fishing!