The internet is packed to overflowing with fishing tips for beginners and just about every other kind of fishing tip you can imagine. Most are similar to other tips and while some are great tips, I’ll let you know of a few tips that are foundational to catching big (or any) fish, but most anglers don’t mention them much!
I’ll let you in on a few tips that few anglers will reveal, and that come from over 40 years of fishing lakes and rivers in Ontario, Canada!
Table of Contents
Tip #1 – ALWAYS LOOK FOR CURRENT
When I was in my teens and twenties, I was a fishing fanatic! I thought I knew a lot but I didn’t know a blessed thing about the issue of current. I caught most of my fair share of bass and walleye while trolling along cliffs or shallows in the early evening in a quiet bay or silent shoreline.
To be sure, that is still a valid and effective method of angling, but once I discovered that almost all species in a lake (other than lake trout in the middle of Summer) like to hang out in obvious currents in relatively shallow water, I leveled up my game for sure!
Current is crucial to all species since it provides oxygen, and brings food to them without them needing to spend lots of energy searching for it!
Current can be created by a number of factors including wind, tide, and river conditions.
In fast-moving rivers with shallow water, most species like to hang out just to the side of the fast water in a quiet spot/pool/eddie. These locations allow fish to stay relatively stationary while allowing the food (in the stream) to travel past them so they need only move when they see food instead of using energy prowling the river for food.
Very often, the dominant or larger fish will be positioned in such a way as to get the first crack at any new food coming downstream, so a well-placed lure (suited to the species of your prey) floating past quiet water will often induce a strike.
Also, when wind plays a roll in changing current (as it often does in larger lakes like the great lakes), fish will always be facing INTO the current. No one I’m sure, has ever observed a fish waiting for food while facing downstream of the current.
Finally, if it’s not already clear, one of the very best places to fish for a variety of species (but most often trout, bass, walleye, pike and panfish) is in the pool at the base of a set of large rapids or waterfall. Where a river empties into a lake is arguably the most productive location for fishing anywhere at any time!
Tip #2 – LOVE THE WIND
I, for one, am typically not a big fan of windy weather on the water. I tend to fish from a solo canoe that weighs less than 30 lbs and I also love my fishing kayak which barely holds me! Windy weather can make it at least annoying if not dangerous for me when I’m fishing from those small boats.
That said, a small chop is quite bearable, and can very often bring success when other techniques fail.
Most long-time anglers have heard of a ‘walleye chop” which refers to a bit of a wavy surface condition, and this surface condition is also excellent for pike, muskie and many other species.
Wind necessarily creates moving water which can create a current where one did not exist before (see Tip #1). The current is often not that strong, but it’s enough to stir up plankton upon which small baitfish feed.
This, in turn brings larger fish to feed on the smaller ones. In addition, the chop allows for some cover from predators like birds.
Even large predators like big pike and muskie feel more comfortable coming into shallows if there is a chop that hides them from anything outside of the water.
Lapping water along the shore can provide lots of food like dislodged insects or crayfish, and if the shoreline is near a weed bed that happens to be near deeper water, you have the virtually perfect scenario for pike and muskie as well as walleye.
Tip #3 – DON’T BE STUBBORN
As a self-declared creature of habit, I tend to want to “stick with what has always worked”.
For example, a fishing friend of mine owns a cottage up on Dollars Lake in North Central Ontario. He has always (or so it seems) had success with a pink plastic worm fished in the Texas-rigged style but without a lead weight.
He just lets it gently flutter to the bottom and then twitches it slowly back. If largemouth are around, they almost always hit it, but then, there are days that all our “best” spots are producing nothing at all. Are the fish gone?
Sometimes I switch a lure and find no action which then leads me to think there simply aren’t any fish – otherwise they would hit the pink worm.
Well, I’ve had enough experience now to know that just because the bass don’t like my pink worm or my spinnerbait, that doesn’t mean they won’t hit another lure.
On one occasion while fishing a shallow bay in the mid-morning on very quiet water, I could see several big largemouth bass cruising the shallows about 15 feet from shore. My pink worm did nothing, but because I could see them, I was encouraged to keep trying other baits.
I tried a buzzbait and that actually scared them! I tried a different colored worm (black) and they seemed to not even see it. I tried a white worm with the same result.
Undeterred, I was down to the last style of lure I had in my box, which was a non-jointed, 5-inch gold floating Rapala. That plug barely hit the water before the first bass slammed it and I was able to bring it aboard.
In the next 5 minutes, I was able to catch 2 more 5-lb largemouth with the same lure.
Lesson? Don’t stick with what always works if it doesn’t work! Bring a wide variety of colors and styles of lures and bait – you’ll be thankful for sure!
Tip #4 – FAKE IT TO MAKE IT
This tip is one that I use only on occasion, because it makes me feel like I’m lying or being deceitful. However, it’s not an ethical thing really since the only consequence is that a stranger might not catch all your bass or walleye!
Here’s how it works; when you’re scouting new locations and you find a drop-off that seems to hold a ton of suspended Smallies for example, should you mark it with a buoy?
Nowadays you can use your GPS, which is probably the best and easiest method, but sometimes it’s easier just to plop a small floating plastic container tied to a heavy fishing line to mark the general spot you’ve found.
Unfortunately, many anglers don’t employ proper protocol, and they’ll come zooming into your area that was just marked. They think this looks like an open invitation, and sometimes they even bump boats!
If this happens, I have no problem using my “fake location” technique. I would find my sweet spot and then instead of dropping a marker buoy there, I would orient myself to the area and move away from that spot by 100 yards or so and drop the buoy.
I would know where my actual spot is by lining up my buoy with a cottage or shoreline object. So, there’s no way any visitors to the area would know my “fake out” technique, and they’ll go and fish right beside the buoy at the wrong location.
Yes, deceptive, but somehow I don’t feel a moral transgress on this one!
Tip #5 – NEVER POINT YOUR ROD AT A FISH YOU HAVEN’T LANDED YET
This one should be a given, but my heart tells me someone reading this has never heard it! Here’s the deal; When you’re fighting a fish after setting the hook, there are 2 things you CANNOT do if you want to increase your chances of landing the prize.
The first thing you cannot do is let your line go slack during the retrieval process. If you do, that is the same as presenting the fish with an ideal opportunity to shake the hook. It’s exactly what you would do if you WANTED to free the fish.
You need to keep the line tight enough so there’s always some pressure on the fish’s lip or gill. That will increase your chances of landing it.
The second thing you must not do is to point your rod tip directly at the fish in the water, whether it’s close to the boat or far away (as you might if you were getting ready to pull up on your rod and you just reeled in some slack).
If you point your rod tip at the fish, the rod itself cannot act as a buffer to slow down a fighting fish as he makes his explosive attempt to escape. If you have your rod tip held high and the fish takes off, your rod will bend as it gives the ability for the fish to swim.
If you point your rod tip at the fish, one quick flick of his body or head will often snap the line because the rod is not acting as a buffer or shock to the fish’s explosive run.
Tip #6 – PATIENCE ON THE SET
This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges young anglers have to deal with. Setting the hook is the act of pulling your rod tip high in the air and briskly yanking it to “set” the hook in the fish’s mouth. If you don’t set it, you are again, inviting the fish to shake loose the hook which was never really embedded in his jaw to begin with.
Setting the hook needs to be done in both deep-water fishing and surface fishing. There’s no doubt that surface fishing is exciting and dramatic, but it is especially difficult to set the hook in the mouth of a fish that just launched itself out of the water to attack its top-water prey.
Part of the difficulty is that often a predator will not try to “eat” a mouse or frog on the surface of the water. Instead, his strategy is to disable the prey so it can be easily eaten or swallowed in the correct way – with the head going first down the throat of the predator.
So, what can be done to maximize your chances of landing a monster that attacks a surface lure?
Well, the first thing we need to determine is what 95% of anglers do wrong before we can correct the problem. Most fishermen will see a huge splash on the surface and immediately yank the line in a mostly futile attempt to “set” the hook.
The problem is that the hooks are not in the fish’s mouth!
Instead, it’s a known quantity that anglers should probably wait for a full 2 – 4 seconds before setting the hook. That short time gives the predator the ability to feel like he’s disabled his prey and to circle around for the final grab.
Another great method of determining when to set the hook is to do nothing on the initial attack, and then wait until you “feel” the tug of the line. This could be several seconds after the first attack, and that’s the time to set the hook!
Tip #7 – UNDERSTAND AND EXPLOIT YOUR STRENGTH
Here’s a very under-reported issue when it comes to fishing techniques and tips that you can take advantage of.
If I was a betting man, I’d say that you favor a specific angling technique and you may not even know it. I, for one, am very well aware of mine favored approach.
When you hit the water, whether it’s a lake you know well or a new one that you’re scouting, do you “run and gun” the boat to various bays and structures, etc. using crankbaits, spinnerbaits, buzz baits, and the like?
Lots of tournament anglers employ this approach and it can be very successful.
I don’t own a bass boat and when I go fishing with my canoe or angling kayak, I like to experience the environment with the call of a loon, the dripping of water off my paddle blade, the scurry of a chipmunk on an old campsite fish-cleaning table and even the throaty squawk of a blue heron.
What does this have to do with fishing techniques? Well, since I can run and gun with no motorboat, I have discovered that I have become “that guy” who fishes an area very slowly and methodically. I often use a plastic worm with no weight, and I let gravity take it down to the bottom.
I then slowly twitch it to just below the surface (usually near shoreline structures in the Summer). This is a good technique for any bass in the area, but it works for anything in the region including Pike, Muskie, Trout, Panfish, Rock Bass, Crappie, and even Bowfin!
If you’re near moving water and you’re fishing way up in the far North of Ontario, this technique works just as well for Walleye.
As you might expect, I have one fishing buddy (we don’t go out together too often for obvious reasons) who loves to cover lots of water because he owns a 20-foot Lund aluminum deep-V fishing boat with a 225 HP motor! I think I understand!
He has 5 or 6 rods ready on the deck with different baits and he uses them liberally. Usually he completes 3 casts to my 1.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I’ve recently discovered a technique I absolutely love, and I get the most enjoyment from it compared to any other technique.
I cast a floating plug like a Rapala in an open area within a weedbed and I make sure the surface path to the boat is open water. I then wait for as long as 30 – 60 seconds after the first cast before I twitch the plug ever-so-gently.
Then, I wait for random periods of time between twitches, and I’ll mix in a quick jerk and fast retrieve for about 3 seconds before I let the lure surface again and sit there for another minute. This technique is also known as “deadsticking”.
This technique drives my fishing partner insane, but he understands why I do it and he sees the success I’ve had using it!
Tip #8 – VARY YOUR RETRIEVE SPEED
This tip is kind of related to a part of Tip #7 as it relates to changing lure retrieval speed, but I feel like this needs its own section.
I learned this tip way back when I was ready Field and Stream magazines from a neighbor’s old stash back in 1979.
Successful Musky anglers know a technique that involves retrieving a lure with a stop-and-go action and then plunging the rod tip into the water at the side of the boat and making a huge figure-8 shape which drags the lure behind the rod tip by about 3 feet.
This erratic action often entices a predator to finally grab the lure.
A similar concept is used by both fast-casting anglers and slow/methodical fishermen alike. It involves retrieving your lure at a steady pace and then suddenly either slowing it down and jerking it a bit like an injured prey, OR speeding it up as you approach the boat which often excites the bass or pike to attack before the prey escapes!
Tip #9 – LEARN TO LOCATE FISH
Most anglers I know will just fish where it’s convenient for them. If it’s from shore, they’ll sit where they can be close to the water, maybe out of the wind where there’s a nice view!
Unfortunately, these factors often do not provide the best habitat or locations for fish.
The question of where fish are located at any given time is a huge one and can vary based on species, time of year, water clarity, water temperature, current action, lighting conditions, and a whole lot more.
I’ll just generalize by telling you that fish most often like underwater structures like fallen trees, rocks, docks, weeds, and more. Most anglers know this, but not as many know that fish also love transition points.
For example, the place where a river or stream transitions into a lake or pool; or where a murky, watery environment with lots of lily pad stems transitions into a lighter surface or “air” with big, round lily pads on the top of the water; or even where penetrating sunlight stops and darkness begins.
This last environment can be especially productive since predators can see smaller prey fish above in the sunlight, but they themselves cannot be seen in the dark depths.
Finally, if you combine multiple factors into one scenario, you’ve got an ideal fishing environment. For example, in a dark pool where a river enters a lake, there may be penetrating sunlight to a specific depth, and there may be a “walleye chop” on the surface just beside a series of submerged trees! WOW!
Tip #10 – USE A STINGER
To sting or not to sting? Many seasoned anglers don’t even know what a stinger is so it likely won’t be used. If you did use it, over the long run you’ll increase your chances of landing a fish.
A stinger is simply an additional hook that is attached to the last hook on a standard lure, whether it’s a plug, spinner or spoon.
Often, a fish will hear or briefly see your lure in murky water, but miss it when trying to grab it as it disappears from view in the muddy lake.
A stringer hook could also be called a “trailer” hook. It’s applied by sliding a hook (usually a single, barbed hook) over one of the pre-existing hooks on the lure. It’s held on with either a piece or rubber tubing to keep it from sliding off, or it’s possible to open the eye of a hook, place it over the barb of an existing hook, and then squeeze the eye so it can’t slip off past the barb of the lure’s original hook(s).
A treble hook is possible to use and it may increase your chances of hooking the fish, but it can get a bit messy with treble hooks everywhere catching onto each other during a cast.
Tip #11 – NO ROOM OR MONEY FOR A BOAT? GET A PONTOON OR FLOAT TUBE
While it is true that a fishing boat offers lots of conveniences like lots of storage, good speed with an outboard motor, motorized steering with a trolling motor, good mobility and more, boats are not always the most successful method of catching fish.
Boats will often spook fish with their large shadows, noisy bottoms (who hasn’t dragged a tacklebox along the sand floor of an aluminum boat?) and motors.
A great way to almost never spook fish is to wade. However, wading will limit your mobility in murky water, fast-moving or deep water, etc. However, an advanced method (as I see it) of wading is using a belly boat or float tube.
This allows you to act like you’re wading, but without worrying about water depth or clarity, or the consistency of the bottom (soft and gushy).
When you are wading or using a float tube, your legs (I’d strongly suggest full coverage with chest waders) look a lot like a pair of logs drifting by. That’s a lot less likely to scare fish.
Of course, the problem with using a float tube is that you cannot move around quickly to different parts of the lake. You’re basically moving very slowly and covering an area very well.
Float tubes and pontoons are excellent for smaller lakes and streams where you cannot get a boat, and you may hardly be able to access the lake at all if it were not for a very small package (the tube) that you’re carrying with you.
Float tubes are different than pontoon boats in that they submerge most of your body, while a pontoon boat may submerge only your lower legs or maybe nothing at all.
Essentially they are used in the same types of conditions, and they sure do cost a lot less than a Skeeter bass boat.
Oh, and did I mention how much room a deflated tube occupies? Well, I think you can guess … NOT A LOT!
Tip #12 – CHOOSE THE BEST DAY TO FISH
The saying goes that “any day is a good day for fishing” but it’s also true that some days are better than others.
I live in Southern Ontario and I can tell you from experience that lakes in Central and Southern Ontario get a massive influx of vacationers every weekend from May to October.
While it is wise to consider all the tips in this post about where to find fish and the best way to catch them, those issues may not be as important as the timing of your fishing outings.
If you can only fish on Saturdays and Sundays, that’s better than nothing! But if you can, weekdays are better. Why?
Big bass (well, any predatory gamefish) sees a lot of activity on the water from motorboats, swimmers, jet skis, partiers, and of course, anglers. With all this activity and noise, most fish tend not to actively and aggressively feed.
It’s far more likely you’ll hook into a keeper if you’re fishing on a weekday, but even so, some weekdays are better than others.
By the time Thursday and especially Friday roll around, any spooked fish probably have returned to their normal hangout spots where you can use your powers of observation and fish-locating knowledge to find them and catch them.
By the time Saturday rolls around with a virtual carnival on the surface of the lake, that trophy bass hiding under a submerged log near shore, will now be hiding in some unknown shelter in the depths of the middle of the lake.
It’s hard to summarize 12 fishing tips that are very different from each other, but the important thing is to keep an open mind about what you know and specifically, what you don’t know.
Fishing tips are endless and I could come up with hundreds, but these 12 are some of the least obvious, yet most useful tips I could come up with from my 40 years of angling experience.
Get out there, use the advice, and teach others when you get a chance!