to find fish, find the birds… and make quality casts
This has been hammered into the minds of anglers in countless other articles for years, and for good reason. It’s important. Circling, swarming, diving birds cause a raucous. They are not quiet or dainty eaters. To find feeding fish, find feeding birds. Feeding birds means bait. Though it could also mean humans throwing stale bread in the water, or birds running away with little Johnny or Cindy’s happy meal, I’m going with bait today. And where you find birds and bait, with any luck, you’ll find fish.
Diving and swarming birds are a dead giveaway of bait and predatory fish. Seeing blitzing fish is an obvious certainty, but I say birds are the biggest sign because of their visibility. Diving birds can be seen from the road and they are audible from around the corner as well. They are noisy. There have been plenty of times I’ve been fishing an area and seen birds diving on bait a quarter or half mile away, often further. On other occasions, I can hear birds around the other side of point or sand bluff. If I’m lucky, the action will be closer to me, but this isn’t always the case. Be ready to move.
Coming tight with striped bass means a lot of things need to happen, especially during the fall run when fish tend to be a bit more keyed into certain bait as opposed to the spring time when they tend to be a bit more opportunistic. Being where they are is the most important thing. If you see signs of birds, bait, and fish, go check it out. Take advantage of these opportunities because you could go the next 10 hours seeing nothing but waves against the shore. On my latest trip for stripers, there was a day I went 7:30am – 6pm without seeing a fish, only to have the water come alive for a half hour before it went silent again. On another day, it was a 200-yard dash down the beach to pick up a couple of quick schoolies before it was back to blind casting with no takes for several hours. Take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves and check out everything that looks like it could be fish.
While I suggest seeing what’s going on with the birds and making casts to the bait and fish beneath them, DON’T run right out there into the water flinging whatever feathered hook you have tied on and slapping the water with your line. While we all enjoy Hank Patterson videos, “splash down!” is not your friend. It’s never your friend. While it’s great to be excited, as you should be, there’s still work to be done and making a bunch of noise could lead to a mass exodus of everything.
Take a few seconds on your stalk to see what the bait is and what size it is. Sound familiar? It’s hard to believe in a feeding frenzy that fish would be so particular to a fly pattern and size, but they can be, much the same way trout can be while sipping on bugs floating by. Match the hatch. If fish are locked in on peanut bunker, like they have been, don’t try to feed them an 8-inch mackerel pattern. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but you’re adding an additional handicap. It takes 30 seconds to tie on a new fly. Throw something closer in size, even if it’s not an exact match in color.
Figure out which direction everything is working and moving. Remember what you’re seeing and hearing is where the fish were. You need to predict where the fish are going. Anticipate which direction everything is working and get out front. There are a couple reasons to not make a cast to the middle of the madness, mainly blowing everything up and spooking everything, but that’s another entry to cover another day.
Make a good presentation. While the presentation doesn’t need to be as delicate as throwing to pressured fish on a glassy flat, don’t make a lousy cast and drop a wad of coiled line into the middle of the blitz. No “splash down!” It’s a good way to send bait and fish alike screaming in different directions and for you, as the angler, to start cursing the fishing gods that nothing ever works out or to start blaming your gear. Don’t blame your gear.
Do most of your fishing in freshwater and don’t think any of the previous information pertains to you? Think again. On many freshwater lakes, fall is a time when bass, pickerel, walleye, etc. are locked into schools of bait, primarily gizzard shad or emerald shiners around here. If you see birds diving and causing a commotion with the water boiling below them, scoot on over there and start making some casts.
Follow the birds. Where there’s birds, there’s bait. Where there’s bait, there’s hopefully fish close by. However, it’s fishing and finding birds and bait with feeding fish under them is far from a certainty. It could be birds with french fries under them.
Thanks for reading and I hope you find a blitz your next time out.