The electronic age has offered many benefits to the fisherman. It has also, in some ways, done an injustice to the beginner and novice. They have been led to believe by simply pushing a button, dropping a probe, taking a reading and watching a screen that fish will easily be caught.
It must be realized that electronic fishing aides are great tools, which should be combined with a "natural" knowledge, and not magical devices providing a 100 percent success rate. This knowledge is developed over a period of time by observing what nature is trying to convey.
Nature's primary visual fish locators are birds, turtles, wind, current, sun, weeds, shoreline contour and bait. The following is a brief breakdown of the uses of each category.
The best birds to watch are the heron, gall, blackbird and crow. All of these can indicate the presence of bait. Herons are shallow water feeders that will lead you to active bait fish, or areas of dead or crippled bait where larger fish are feeding. If the herons are setting high above the water, or flying around, then chances are the bait is deeper, out of the area or holding tight.
Galls that are flying and diving will indicate active bait and feeding fish. They are good open area locators. If they are seen setting or bobbing around in the water, then look elsewhere.
Two shoreline scavengers are the blackbird and crow. They will be seen walking the shore feeding on pieces of bait.
Frogs and turtles
The frogs and turtles are excellent indicators of the warmest water areas in early spring. They will show a strong presence along a warm shoreline, giving an angler a prime area on which to start.
Later in the season, frogs can be a very useful tool. If there are many of them croaking, to the extent of almost wanting to shout "shut up," then often the fish are actively feeding. Also, if the frogs are holding tight to shore, especially if there is a water cover such as duckweed, then this may indicate that bass are active, and perhaps feeding on topwater lures.
Wind performs several tasks. It stirs the water, creates break lines and provides a current.
The stirring action will help water temperature change, wash out bait along a shore or weedy point, and provide clarity break lines.
Another type of break line is formed where wind rippled water meets calmer water. These can be excellent locations to use crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Wind blowing parallel to a shore or through a gap in an island will provide a current. Areas with little or no natural current can benefit greatly from this occurrence, especially during hotter weather.
As mention with the wind, current can be a great benefit. Rivers are the primary fishing areas for locating natural current.
Current break lines are formed by anything breaking the natural flow. The edges of these can be excellent fish holders. I've done very well casting my catfish bait across these break lines, and allowing it to drift parallel to the break and just inside of the calmer water.
Any unusual currents, such as water from a drain tube or cutting through a land gap, eddies, and wherever food is being washed out are all potential fish holders.
While current can be important at any time, it holds more importance during hot weather. Fish will choose the cooler more aerated areas provided by current, over calm and stagnated water.
Warmth and light intensity are the two factors provided by the sun.
On a bright, sunny day in early spring or late fall, shallow areas along an open shoreline will warm, resulting in the potential for some great fishing. In the same respect, this open area could be too sunny and hot in the summer, unless there is a weed cover, at which time the sun would push the fish into the weeds.
Weeds are a very important part to fish life - being a major key to fish location. They provide oxygen, filtration, cover and a prime feeding area. For all of these reasons, never pass up weeds.
Analyzing a shoreline's contour will quickly provide an idea of a desired fishing location. For example, a sharp dropping shore will most likely indicate a sharp drop beneath the water, while a gradual sloping point should continue in the same manner out into the lake.
The same type of factors can be applied to river cuts, chutes and sloughs. Cut-away and straight up-and-down banks on an outward swing can indicate a hole, which could be a good catfish hideaway, or, if there are roots, an ideal place to flip a worm or jig for bass.
Everything mentioned so far has either been for locating or holding bait. This should be no surprise since the most important key to locating fish is locating their feeding area. As the late John Eastwold, of the Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock, always said, “Locate the kitchen, and you’ll find the fish.”
The types of bait can vary, but the most important are bait fish (minnows, shad), crawfish, bluegills, and leeches.
Learning to watch for "natural fish locators," and analyze what is being seen is very important. Combining this with overall fishing knowledge, electronic aides, the proper selection and use of tackle, and as much time on the water as possible will greatly enhance your fishing success.