There’s a general perception out there that fishing is a sport for the unskilled, the lazy or the not so adventurous. The image of a guy slouching in a deck chair on a beach, beer in hand and idly watching his pitched fishing rod may have a lot to do with this myth.
In South Africa there is a popular joke which goes something like this: “Do you like fishing? No, I prefer drinking at home!”
But, let’s be honest; some people enjoy fishing for exactly those reasons and more power to them, I say. There are a multitude of reasons why people go fishing and I am perfectly fine with most of them, unless they involve sheer narcissism or abuse of our natural environment.
Having said that, for me fishing has always been similar to hunting. Maybe it is because of my hunting background or the fact that, since my childhood, I have been fascinated by the tactics and strategies of military men throughout the ages. How during battles and campaigns the more successful soldiers always tried to read the terrain before battle in order to gain the maximum advantage over their adversaries.
One of the most satisfying aspects of fishing is to plan and prepare a strategy before embarking on a fishing trip. Taking into consideration all relevant factors including weather, water temperature, structure, currents, food items and time of the day just to mention a few. It is really a satisfying feeling when your careful plans are eventually vindicated by successfully hooking up your target species.
As far as I am concerned the most important factors are the availability of food and the right conditions for fish to be feeding.
That being said, there are a number of useful tips and tricks to think about when pondering how and where to find the best locations to fish.
In this article I will focus mostly on the former, namely where you can expect to find fish in different fishing locations, namely lakes, rivers, estuaries as well as from the rocks and beach.
How to Find Fish
Fresh Water Lakes
One of the obvious differences between fishing in the sea and fishing in a lake is the lack of tides.
Whereas you can visit your intended fishing spot during low tide at the beach to identify the various high potential spots for fishing at high tide. There is no such advantage when approaching a large lake.
Therefore a lake angler has to obtain a mental image of the underwater topography by finding ways to gain knowledge about the things that he/she cannot see.
One way of doing that is to trace the contours of the surrounding area and create a mental picture of them once they disappear into the water.
Take for instance a ridge. The logical conclusion of following a ridge is that it will continue in similar fashion once obscured by water.
Always keep in mind that most freshwater fish species tend to congregate around structure; either as a form of protection or to procure food. Therefore the focus of a diligent anglers should always be to look for those structures and concentrate his fishing efforts close to them.
As I have indicated the availability of food remains one of the main reasons why fish visit certain areas. When fishing a lake wind direction can play a major role, because the wind will blow small aquatic insects and other microscopic organisms to a specific part of the lake which, in turn, will force the fishing population to follow them. Logical, hey?
Also remember that inlets of rivers, streams and creeks entering the lake, deep water spots close to the shore and areas with aquatic vegetation are normally places where lake fish tend to hang out.
During the daylight hours, especially on bright, sunny days most fish tend to move to the deeper spots in a lake to avoid too much direct sunlight.
The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, it offers more protection than shallow open water and secondly the water temperature is markedly lower compared to shallower spots.
However, during early morning and late afternoon they are drawn to the shallows. During these periods there is heightened activity amongst aquatic insects with certain species like mayflies, dragonflies or caddisflies emerging from one stage of their life cycle to the next.
Not only does this present excellent feeding opportunities for most fish, the low light conditions also embolden them to leave their deep water sanctuaries in order to actively hunt in the shallows.
Rivers are vibrant, dynamic aquatic systems and their inhabitants are normally tough, resilient and wily. They have to be in order to survive in such a challenging environment.
The current is both their ally and their enemy, because it is simultaneously the source of their food supply and the force that drains their energy due to the fact that they have to battle constantly against it.
Therefore the logical conclusion, from an angler’s perspective, is to look for localities in a river where the current has the least influence.
Any obstacle in the stream will provide such cover and offers respite from the relentlessly moving water. Be on the lookout for such obstacles be they rocks, fallen logs or sand banks and try to get as close to it as is possible.
Depending on the size of a river, its gradient as well as its specific course it normally forms a series of holes or pools where the water slows down dramatically and which are obvious holding places for fish, especially bigger specimen.
Having said that it is important to keep in mind that a relatively big fish can find sanctuary near the river bed in a fast flowing stream provided there is ample cover. Even though a relatively big rock or similar structure is not visible above the water line there may be obvious indications of its presence.
Watch out for significant bulges on the surface indicating an obstruction under water. Try to float your bait through these areas for surprising results.
Estuaries are located where some rivers enter into the sea mostly on a sandy beach.
Because of the interaction between freshwater and saline conditions, the ebb and flow of the tides as well as the constantly changing sandy landscape, they are natural nutrient traps supporting a vast array of aquatic life which plays host to a multitude of different fish species.
Depending on the size of the estuary most fish species use the tides (both incoming and outgoing) to their advantage.
A classic estuary has one or more sandbanks close to the river mouth which dissects the flow of the current. These sandbanks naturally are the habitat of a multitude of organisms, mostly bivalves and crustaceans, which are the natural prey of resident fish species.
A good tactic is to check the time tables beforehand and start fishing an hour or two after low tide, casting to the edges of sand banks where the marauding fish will be looking for an unsuspecting prawn, shrimp or worm. Using fresh, natural baits is obviously of paramount importance because those are the kind of food your target species will zoom in on.
As a general rule fishing activity tends to slow down on full tide when the current subsides and there is not much water movement. However, as the tide turns and the current goes out to the ocean again, the same tactics can be applied.
Rock and Surf
Fishing in the surf or from the beach can be very rewarding especially on the incoming tide.
Normally the invertebrate inhabitants of the intertidal zone use the low tide as a time for either repairing their burrows or scavenging for some food.
As the tide rises opportunistic fish, honed by eons of evolution, follow the incoming tide ready to pounce on any exposed organisms that failed to retreat to the safety of their respective hide outs.
It is important to identify the productive areas before you start fishing and it is therefore prudent to visit your intended fishing site to identify and memorise the various holes and gullies before the ensuing high tide obscures them.
Due to the vortex created by winds, currents and water movement these deeper pockets tend to act as natural catchment areas for various food items and are the ones first to be visited by opportunistic fish on the incoming tide.
They can either run parallel to the beach or diagonally to it. If you get to the water after these areas are already submerged look out for the way the waves are behaving in order to determine where they are.
An incoming wave starts breaking once it hits shallow ground and as a result a wave rolling in without breaking clearly shows an area relatively deeper than it surroundings belying the presence of exactly such a gulley or hole.
Make sure you target these areas in order to maximise your chances of a successful hookup.
Fishing from the rocks is not much different from fishing from the beach in the sense that your focus still should be on holes and gullies.
The same principles apply here namely get to your target area at low tide to identify the different hot spots and, failing that, look out for the way the waves break during high tide to determine where the most productive fishing spots may be.
Just as an example, one specific day me and two fishing buddies were hunting silver cob (Argyrosomus japonicus) on the shallow reefs in False Bay. We were standing on a rocky outcrop about 300 metres from the beach and, because of the rising tide, all other normally visible markers were already submerged.
All three of us were casting out as far as possible with no success. Because I knew the area pretty well I was aware of the fact that only about twenty metres to our right there was another elevated reef and a nice hole right next to it.
I tried to visualise where more or less the hole was and gently lobbed my bait there. Within two minutes I had a solid hook-up and caught a good sized fish; the only one landed that day between the three of us.
To be successful at fishing one has to think like a fish. This involves imagining where the best feeding areas are, what the ambient temperature is and how to avoid any annoying predators.
This is not an easy exercise, especially for the novice angler. But, don’t despair – it is one of those things that gradually becomes part of you with more and more exposure to different fishing environments and conditions.
Nothing beats experience and with experience comes wisdom. That’s why fishing, primarily, is about patience. Unfortunately patience is a commodity that seems to be going rapidly the way of the dinosaurs in modern society.
Leo Tolstoy said: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time”. It was true in his day and I believe it is still relevant today.