Be prepared when opportunity knocks

The very best anglers I know—people like Bob Izumi, Kevin Van Dam, Tim Horton, Gary Parsons, Al Lindner, Guido Hibdon, Dick Pearson, and Ted Takasaki—share a number of common characteristics.
Most notably, they rarely are satisfied with their fishing results. They are always looking for an added advantage. An upper hand. The ultimate lure for the occasion. The ideal presentation that is specifically suited to the situation. The perfect location.
And as often as not, they find it. It is the reason their combined tournament earnings exceed the gross national product of some small countries.
Several have prize winnings totalling in the millions of dollars. Takasaki, Hibdon, and Van Dam own world championships to boot.
But what is so surprising about these extraordinarily-gifted anglers isn’t that they tinker with their tackle and choose to experiment. We all do that. It is when they choose to do it—when the fish are active and biting.
Think about it for a minute. The last time most of us would even think about tying on a new lure, or moving to a new location, is when we’re catching plenty of fish. Instead, most of us reserve experimentation for those times and places when we’re scratching the bottom of the barrel.
When we’re caught between a rock and hard place. When weather or water conditions are unfavourable. When nothing else is working.
And therein lies the problem. If nothing is working, what have we learned?
Three years ago, seven of us greeted the new millennium—and the start of another Sunset Country ice-fishing season—on a gorgeous remote trout lake. We had more than 50 hits that day, catching and releasing 36 lake trout.
The two biggest weighed 16 pounds. Twenty of the trout weighed 10 pounds or more. The smallest was a respectable six-pound chunk.
And Al Lindner caught 12 of the 36 fish. Fully one-third of all the trout iced that day.
Why the disparity? Because most of the gang was thrilled with the activity. Everyone was getting plenty of hits and catching enough fish to stay positive. So why change strategies? Why, indeed, pull out the pitcher or substitute a new goalie when you’re winning the game?
Why? Because it is fishing, not hockey, football, or baseball.
Al believes there is always a better way. And there is no better time to find it out than when you’ve located actively feeding fish. It is why he took full advantage of the frosty situation.
Sometimes his fiddling was big league as when he rotated between a battery of brand new, never-before-tried flash lures, jigging spoons, and swim baits. His reasoning was that if he couldn’t catch trout on the new lures now, under the best of conditions, why would he use them when conditions were tough.
Failure now told him plenty. The lure was headed for the minor leagues—the back of the tackle box—for a mighty long time.
Other times, the adjustments were more subtle, as when Al sliced and diced lead off the head of his jigs to alter their weight, balance, and action. Still other times, he made what appeared to be almost absurdly minor modifications, as when he ripped off one hot soft plastic lure after the other and exchanged them for almost identical models sporting only slightly different hues.
What turned out to be a great day on the ice for the rest of us was a fabulous day for Al. But more importantly, he was able to file away strategic information that some day in the future, on some other frozen body of water when the lake trout are much more picky, will force them to bite.
Fishing is a lot like playing the stock market. Timing is everything. And the best time to experiment with innovative lures, novel presentations, and new locations is when you know the fish are active.
It is easy to say but very difficult to practise. Even more so when you’re dealing with fish, like muskellunge, that are tough enough to catch at the best of times.
Yet, ironically, the very best and quickest way to find new overlooked muskie hotspots and presentations is when the fish are on a tear.
Once, twice, occasionally three times a season, usually for a five-seven day period, muskies go crazy. No one has yet discovered what causes the frenzied activity. It is as though someone flicks a switch, opens a window, and the fish go out of control.
Old-timers call it “muskie madness.” I call it opportunity knocking. Because over the years, I’ve found some of my best spots by testing them during these peak spells of intense activity.
Usually I start the day running my trapline of tried and true locations—high percentage seasonal places that have proved to be productive over the decades. But if I quickly catch a nice fish on one spot, then raise another muskie or two on the next couple of locations, I abandon the strategy and immediately run-and-gun new locations I’ve marked on the map as showing high potential.
Places I’ve saved specifically for the best of times.
Now, if I can’t raise a fish on a spot after testing it two or three times under the most ideal seasonal conditions, when I know the fish are biting elsewhere, I can write it off as having limited potential.
I can’t come to the same conclusion nearly as quickly, or as efficiently, however, if I test the location and catch nothing when my prime spots have dried up, as well.
The famous poet, Robert Frost, perhaps summed it up best when he wrote, “Two paths converged in a wood and I chose the less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.”
The next time you’re experiencing the bite of a lifetime, force yourself to follow Frost’s advice. Put on a new lure. Try a totally different presentation. And heaven, forbid, try that new spot you’ve always wondered about.
It just may make all the difference.

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