How do 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish?

How do 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish?

It used to be a truism that 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish. This is not so certain anymore with technology and online information-sharing narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots at the end of the fishing day. Even so, every fisherman has probably had the experience of watching the angler next to them pulling in fish after fish while they are not even getting a bite or strike. Is the successful angler doing something right or is the failed fisherman doing something wrong? Sam Mossman outlines some fine points of technique that can make all the difference.

Firstly, understand that there is no silver bullet for all fishing situations. Conditions and fish feeding patterns will vary from trip to trip and often during just a few hours on the water. Anglers must be flexible, using their minds and powers of observation to be consistently successful. The greater their understanding of natural processes, tackle and technique, the more successful fishers will be.

What are some of the factors that can make the difference between one fisherman getting the bulk of the action, while the one next to them goes almost fishless?

Bait basics

A basic way to increase success rates is using the best rig for the situation. For example, in shallow water, a bait straylined with the minimum of lead will usually out-produce a ledger rig with an eight-ounce sinker hanging on the end. This is because the lighter rig presents the bait to the fish in a natural manner.

However, in deeper water (say over 45m) a ledger rig may be best. With much less light penetration, terminal tackle is not so obvious to the fish at these depths, they are not so spooky and the ledger rig is more efficient at getting down to the fish and allows better bite detection. If your fishing mate is using a different rig to you with more success, it may pay to change to similar tackle.

These days, most successful fishermen take to the water with a variety of baits and on the day, one type will often be more successful than another. Depending on species targeted, useful bait types are skipjack, pilchards, squid, mullet and shellfish. Obviously, if a particular bait is getting more attention from the fish, change to match.

Another factor that can make a difference is bait durability. Sometimes a robust bait will last through the attentions of pickers and undersized fish until a better fish takes, while softer baits may be quickly picked off the hooks. Salting bait usually toughens it up considerably while freshly caught whole jack mackerel or cut baits from species like kahawai will stay on the hook longer.

Freshly caught whole jack mackerel will stay on the hook well.

Freshly caught whole jack mackerel will stay on the hook well.

Size does count – sometimes. You may need to adjust bait size up or down to suit the situation. Small baits may be better taken by choosy fish, but if there are a lot of small fish about, a bigger bait may be useful to target bigger fish.

How is the bait rigged? This can make a difference too. Make sure the point and barb are clear of the bait and check for any scales that may have been impaled on the point when it was rigged. This can limit hook penetration so the barb cannot be set easily.

A long, slender bait hooked through one end gives the bait a nice enticing movement in the water. Flashy white or silver belly-flap sections of the bait may be easier for the fish to see in duller conditions.

Another consideration is whether you have you cut your own throat by contaminating your hands with sunblock, insect repellent, petrol, soap etc, and inadvertently transferred it to your bait when rigging it.

The gear for the job

Having the right tackle for the situation can sometimes give a significant advantage, which is why some of the ‘guns’ around the place look like mobile tackle shops when approaching fishing-situations they are not familiar with.

I believe that long rods with sensitive tips (but plenty of grunt lower down) are a big advantage in many situations (particularly bait fishing and jigging). Stowage problems can be solved with two (or more)-piece rods, and leverage is not normally an issue with tackle (and fish) under, say, 15kg.

Some reel styles suit different fishing applications better than others. Baitcasters or spin reels with a free line facility are best for straylining baits. Baitcasters also suit kabura-type lures, while spin reels are generally best for casting lures like topwater types and soft-baits, resulting in fewer backlashes and less downtime. For deeper water work or trolling, freespool ‘boat’ reels work best.

Even line can make a difference. Sometimes lighter line will get many more strikes than heavier line. This may partly be a line visibility thing (especially with the leader section) and partly that lighter lines are more supple and allow a more natural presentation. Conversely, fine braid lines in high-visibility colours make it easier to detect subtle takes when using soft-baits.

There are plenty of occasions when one lure colour, size, weight etc is more productive than another. Have a range of options available.

There are plenty of occasions when one lure colour, size, weight etc is more productive than another. Have a range of options available.

The right lure

With lure fishing becoming more and more popular as a means of catching desirable inshore species like snapper, blue cod, trevally, gurnard and many others, the types, sizes, colours and actions of artificials available have gone through the roof. As fish see more and more phony food, my impression is that they are getting more and more picky. Consequently, there are plenty of occasions when one lure colour, size, weight etc is more productive than another and it is becoming important to match the fishes’ food type (if you can) with your lure. A good game plan is for each angler to start with different lure types and if one type, action, weight, size or colour is scoring desirable fish on a regular basis, it may be a good move to change the other lures to similar ones.

Having a range of colours and sizes of lures, such as these topwater types, can make a difference.

Having a range of colours and sizes of lures, such as these topwater types, can make a difference.

Born lucky

Some fishermen can catch fish in their bathwater – they have the ‘touch’. Some lucky sods are born with the touch, while others build it up after long hours on the water. It is a multi-facetted thing: being able to detect subtle bites; really fishing the bait rather than just putting it in the water; knowing when to let a fish run and when to strike quickly; and being totally in tune with the tackle are all important. Much of this is so subtle that it is half instinct.

Part of the reason good anglers are successful is that they are usually well prepared. A bite time may be short, and opportunities to cast out to or get a lure down to fish that show on the surface or the sounder can be measured in seconds. If you are not prepared, you can waste a lot of fishing time rigging gear, undoing tangles, making new traces, and so on. This down-time results in less actual fishing being done and will show in your results. Try and lift your game: prepare gear like lures and traces beforehand so you can be back in action quickly and concentrate on the subtleties.

The right side of the boat

There may be another reason why one angler is getting all the action – they are fishing where the fish are, and you are not. There may be a tightly localised hole, drop-off, channel, rock or other feature that is concentrating the fish in a small area.

If there is a berley trail going, it will also have its effect. I have seen several situations where the person fishing beside the berley bomb (and directly down current of it) was catching nearly all the fish. But be aware that a berley trail does not always run directly astern of the boat; wind may hold the boat at a different angle to the direction the current is taking the berley.

Assuming you are boat fishing, the boat will swing around a bit on the warp but try to pay attention to where the fish concentrations seem to be. Also, try to locate any bad snags where you are fishing and save yourself some gear and re-rigging time.

Sometimes the person fishing beside the berley bomb (and nearly down current of it) will catch nearly all the fish.

Sometimes the person fishing beside the berley bomb (and nearly down current of it) will catch nearly all the fish.

Cunning tricks

Really experienced fishermen can sometimes recognise situations that they can use to their advantage – and sometimes to the disadvantage of other anglers. I was once fishing off Whangarei Heads in a large boat with three other blokes. It was winter and in the berley trail behind the boat was a fish soup of equal parts barracouta and snapper. The difficulty was getting past the first species to catch the second. It is a little embarrassing to admit now, but I found myself using the other anglers as the fishing equivalent of a human shield – I would dawdle over rigging my bait until one of the other guys dropped their bait over first and inevitably hooked a snake. While his thrashing fish distracted the rest of the wolf-pack, I would cast in the other direction, get my over-weighted bait quickly to the bottom, and catch a snapper.

This went on all afternoon without the ploy being picked up, and I caught about 80% snapper, but only about 20% ‘couta. However, as we shared out the catch evenly at the end of the trip, everyone went home happy with a feed of snapper. Well, someone had to catch them!

At the end of the day…

Technique, knowledge, equipment and experience can go a long way towards affecting fishing results, but at the end of the day there is still a degree of luck involved. It could be that it is just the other persons day. Be patient, and next time the shoe may well be on the other foot.

Five FIne Pointers For Terminal Tackle Rigs

Sometimes seemingly insignificant things can make a difference. Here are some things worth looking at when bait fishing:

• Is your leader material stiffer, thicker, or more brightly coloured than your mate’s? This could be putting the fish off.

• Is your sinker heavier or lighter? Too much weight may give an unnatural presentation; too little may mean you are not getting down to the fish. Weight requirements can change with variations in the current speed over a tide, and with differing line thickness and bait size.

• Are you using a different hook size or style? Is the hook sticky sharp?

• If using a looped-on hook, have you threaded the hook on the right way? (The line loop should be passed through the hook eye from the point side.)

• If lure fishing, compare your lure with whatever is being used successfully by others. Colour, size and action can sometimes make all the difference.


March 2021 - Sam Mossman
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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