Fish are fish. Profound, right? Not really; it’s far too simple to be profound. Or maybe not, if you consider my background mindset for the statement. I’m not referencing fish being fish in a physiological way, rather the fact that most of the common fish pursued for sport have very similar characteristics that can be applied with broad stroke in our angling. That seems basic and it is, but like a lot of basic things in life, it can be very powerful when intelligently applied.

I started thinking about this column concept while working on a new season of Fishful Thinker TV to debut spring 2016. We’re taking the last 14 seasons – 170+ episodes worth – and distilling it down to the 12 most successful concepts, strategies, and presentations, each to be presented in their own episode. As my team and I have worked on the distillation, it has become very apparent that we gravitate to a relatively few major themes in the daily decision making process, almost regardless of species. It is worth noting that, since you may not be familiar with FTTV, we always film our shows in one day (usually 2-6 hours of fishing time total) on public water, and typically without guides or much, if any, prior experience on the water. We don’t scout the day before, we don’t script, and our goal is to communicate exactly how we worked the day’s angling out. We fish multi-species, conventional and fly tackle, from boats and shore. In our angling world, versatility counts.

So what kind of major themes am I talking about? I’m talking about behavioral aspects that can be addressed with presentations across a range of species; concepts that may have been developed around one species yet can be applied to many others. The reason I feel this is important to consider is because it has made me far more consistent angler overall, and in an unforeseen twist in the process, I now carry a bunch less tackle. I mentally file my concepts in two categories…predator fish like bass, trout, pike, walleyes, and lake trout, and prey-fish like bluegills, yellow perch, and crappies that are predators in their own right but are more commonly on the menu for larger predators mentioned above and therefore act differently in some ways. Let’s look at a few fishing location concepts we use when addressing high level predator fish. In next month’s column I’ll address presentation concepts for them.

A very obvious one but that is often overlooked, is fishing where the wind is blowing in. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing for bass, trout, pike, or walleyes, if you’re looking for a place to fish, you’ll find more active predators on wind-blown banks than calm ones. I don’t buy the old wives tale that the wind blows bait fish into the banks – it would take big time current for that – but the wind does activate the food chain and therefore draws baitfish willingly. Phytoplankton and zooplankton are stirred from the bottom or vegetation, shad, crayfish and minnows of all sorts now have access to them, and food chain goes nuts…at least for a little while. Windblown banks are best the first couple of hours that the wind blows on them. Too windy for too long is no bueno, but a daily breeze or approaching front that comes up in the afternoon can yield an excellent window of opportunity regardless of species.

Another concept is fishing isolated cover. This one is strongest for ambush feeders like bass and pike, but has worked very well for walleyes and trout, especially when an eye is kept on structure too. A prime example is a lone log, bush, dock, small patch of vegetation…basically anything that constitutes cover but that is not surrounded by similar cover. The more the separation there is from any other acceptable and similar cover, the better. If it occurs on a preferred structural element like a creek channel, rip-rap dam, or tapering point, then it’s better still, but that may not be required. I know of a single large stump on an expansive four-foot deep flat that is otherwise void of cover or depth changes for 100 yards in any direction. I’ve visited that stump a gillion times over a decade and it almost always holds a mature bass, pike, or walleye. If not, I can usually dab up crappies and/or bluegills regardless of the season. Even stuck a big channel cat from it one day. Funny thing, and part of the charm, is that rarely do other anglers idle out across the flat to it (it’s in a no-wake zone) apparently because there is nothing visual to fish along the way. Fine with me.

The last concept I’ll share is fishing only transitions. By transitions, I mean bottom content or shoreline changes. It could be where a flat gravel bank rolls over to a bluff, where a sand flat meets a rock-lined bar, a change in the rock used for rip-rap, or even where the edge of the boat ramp you launched on meets whatever the surrounding bottom content is. The concept we use is to run around fishing the transition itself and maybe 50 feet on either side of it at most. If we notice that more fish are caught on one the two elements, we may fish that way to see if the bites hold up, but regardless when we head to the next spot, we’ll start right on the transition again. This one has upped my catch-per-hour probably more than any other location concept because we are always fishing the highest percentage spots to keep contact with your fish.

Yep, fish are fish. Next blog I’ll go over a few presentations that fall into the same concept of universal and consistent appeal. In the meantime I sincerely hope all you Fishful Thinkers are taking advantage of the new spring season!