In my world, there are two kinds of people; fishermen that hunt, and hunters that fish. Anyone not fitting into one of those categories is an also-ran…as in, yea, we can be friends, but given that the outdoors is a lifestyle, not a hobby, don’t expect much since we likely have little in common. There are a some folks that only fish or only hunt without combining the two outdoor disciplines; I can certainly understand that and we can be friends, but I’d bet my favorite jerkbait that those folks have at least a basic understanding and tolerance of the other half’s passion. Statistically speaking, most outdoor enthusiasts at least dabble in both pursuits and as a lifelong angler and hunter, I’m here to tell you that lessons learned angling can make you a better hunter and vice versa. I might be called the Fishful Thinker, but much of what I know about angling I learned from hunting. Lets’ look at some commonalities.
Before fish can be caught or game harvested, said fish and game must be located. Breaking down their world requires an understanding of their daily needs and preferences. Surprisingly, the same basic concepts can be applied. The understanding of daily feeding patterns versus resting needs, the mating cycles, and how environmental conditions affect daily movement all need to be understood to be consistently successful in location of the target species. Note that I am not saying that game and fish have the exact same characteristics and needs, just that the process of considering whatever characteristics are relevant is the same.
For instance, I primarily fish reservoirs, meaning that it was dry ground until some shovel-wielding overachiever built a dam. That means the inundated structure is terrestrial in nature as opposed to a natural lake where the structural elements – the actual topography of the lake bottom – may be completely different than the land around it. On a reservoir, bottom structure will be very similar to the visible terrain and I often use this, in conjunction with Lowrance sonar, to quickly evaluate fishing locations. It was a major turning point in my deer hunting consistency when I realized many years ago that I could easily do the same (substituting binoculars for sonar) to locate and pattern the deer. Major reservoir arms are the same as hunting terrain; big draws or valleys, and creek arms and channels, pockets, flats, bluffs, etc all transfer over in a systematic way. It is not a coincidence that my favorite deer hunting area is a secondary canyon that joins the main river valley at an outside swing in the river channel, and that the canyon has a bunch of small fingers branching off each side that lead up to good feeding areas, and that there are nice bedding pockets along each of those secondary channels. If I was looking at a top map of the 3000 acre canyon, I would look at the exact same elements when considering where to locate bucks or bass.
Now, I’m not saying that fish and game use the same patterns in terms of daily movement – bass don’t typically travel as far in daily patterns as western whitetails do – but I am saying that what defines good structure for the deer also makes good structure for the bass…or walleyes, or perch, or lake trout, etc, etc.
The same consideration can be used for evaluating cover. Cover is anything that gives texture to structure, so a patch of thick brush or stand of saplings is not unlike a weedbed or flooded willows, and fishing pole timber is much like hunting a stand of mature aspens or pine. Evaluating which cover is best to hunt or fish depends on the exact season, weather conditions, and especially the cover’s location in relation to the major structure. I love to target isolated cover located at a strong structural element whether I’m hunting big bucks or targeting large bass. If I were hunting does or guiding an angler that just wants consistent action, I’d look more at major resting cover located near food sources. Mature whitetail bucks and giant bass are usually loaners, preferring to avoid the fat part of the population bell curve, and are willing to utilize isolated small cover areas to do so.
Daily weather conditions can also be considered in the same ways, yet here again they may affect the target species differently. For instance, bass are well known to be inactive directly following a a major cold front; those cold, calm, bluebird days following a front are brutal on bass anglers while deer will often take full advantage of the nice day to feed, and therefor will be more active. While the weather affects them oppositely, decisions based on the consideration of the weather’s affect are what I’m talking about. Also, we can use wind to pattern deer locations in bedding cover in the same way that we can use current to pattern fish holding areas. Their reasoning for being in the chosen locations is different obviously, but the flowing liquid, whether it be water or air, is still an excellent tool for the observant hunter or angler. Shade is another great tool; if I have a large canyon to glass looking for bedded deer, I’ll focus strongly on the areas of shade because, even when it’s cold, deer will choose to use the shade as extra cover. Well, if I’m faced with a bay full of docks to fish, it’s inefficient to cover it all so I’d concentrate on the shadiest parts knowing that fish also display the same gravitation to shade that deer do.
Obviously there are a lot of differences between fish and game, but the fundamental basics of daily life as it relates to their environment is not one of them. Those that use the same decision factors, only applying them using the preferences of the target species, will be more consistently successful in the long haul whether catching fish or harvesting game. Hunting or fishing…either way it’s a thinkin’ man’s game to win!