Have You Ever Wondered Just How Some People Even Manage to Catch Fish?



OK, I know there are so many methods of fishing and about all of them will work if the conditions are right.  But when you see some people who put themselves across as fishermen and do things that are repeatedly nonproductive, or at least even marginally productive, it kind of makes you wonder are they doing these because that is what they have always done and have never stood back in someone else's shoes observing, or is there something missing in the gene pool.

Many times just observing someone else is educational.  If you are reading this and you may fit one of the categories, please do not take it personal as I am not trying to downgrade anyone here, but trying to point out that OK, maybe you do catch fish, but there may be ways or things you could possibly do different to increase your catch, or cut your time on the water or just burning fuel and come back with a clean/unused fishbox.   If you get invited on someone's boat and become observant, you might learn some new good things along with the not so good.  You may be able to add a page to your book that may help you catch fish closer to the port along with saving on fuel.


Yes, I am one of those who at times have thought that I knew how to fish.  Then after being exposed to, or talking to other fishermen, I later have had that light bulb come on a lot brighter, and another piece of the puzzle fell in place.   For years I have tried to catch river Coho with little success, it seemed that I was never in the right location or my timing was off, or I had the wrong boat (at least that is what I convinced myself was wrong).  Finally after MANY years, I added two and two together and just like someone hit me on the head with a baseball bat, HEY DUMMY, it's your method that needs to be changed.  The fish may have been there, but your method was not conducive of catching them as all salmon do not congregate in the same areas, or even bite the same. 


Remember, fishing is not necessarily catching.  I had been there and seen it, but had never really associated what was happening in front of me, actually pertained to me or my method.  Next time you are out, do some yoga or anything to allow your mind to be receptive, (like a sponge).  Ask those you are with, WHY DID YOU JUST DO THAT?  Ask yourself the same, pertaining to what you have done for years.  Try to think like a fish.  Remember, some nights you may wake up a 2 AM and add a peice the puzzle.  Then go out later and try or prove your new theory.

Years ago I decided that maybe I should take in as many fishing seminars as possible simply because I surely can not live long enough to learn/make recognizable mistakes to become even somewhat of a proficient fisherman on the many different aspects, and fishing locations out there.   I now plan my attendance at the sportsman shows around these seminars.  Included in these learning seminars has been hiring a guide at times, even though I have my own boats, and consider myself as a pretty good fisherman, but there so are many different styles of fishing depending on the specie and situation, even the location.  Keep your eyes open and your brain like a sponge.  If your guide washed off his lures before starting the morning fishing, what was he using?  In all probability it was not just a wet rag, but he may have had his secret sauce on this rag, letting you see him CLEAN it, AND he used it right in front of your eyes.


All of the examples listed below are real, again I am not trying to put anyone down here, as I am sure that I have been in the same situation at times of being stuck in a rut, (on one, it only took me 15 years to see the light on one style of fishery).   The sad part is that there are a few of these examples below were the same person.   At times we may need to have someone throw some ice cold water in our faces to wake us up to where we then get motivated to putting our fishing brain in gear.  AND it is a lot easier for an outsider to observe than for you trying to evaluate your own situation.   And unbelievably, there are people who go fishing having never read the fishing rules/regulations before venturing out.  There are also people who have poor reading comprehension, or are just plain dumb.  Or even worse, will ask another nearby boat (or a call on VHF radio) about the rules after they have a fish flopping on the deck.


(1)  I knew one person who was rather frugal in that he uses his hooks over from one year to the next.  Even salmon mooching tied hooks that are so rusty that he has a problem penetrating the herring.  He even bragged about only buying his tied leaders in the winter from mass merchandisers where he can get a super good buy on the imported cheap closeout ones.


He is not totally alone, as I have seen others buy the cheapest hooks out there, and then never even check them for sharpness.  OK, hooks all perform the same purpose of hooking fish.  But consider the dollars you have invested in your fishing machine, towing vehicle, then the small amount of time you have to be ON THE WATER, WHEN the fish may be present.   Then look at the small price of the ONE thing that may make the difference in whether you bring home a meal for the wife and kids or not, THE HOOK.


Someday I would like to do a poll of fishermen to see if they even have a hook sharpener aboard.


I have also found when using nickel plated salmon hooks in salt water that the points rust after being in the water for even a few hours, especially overnight, and if out of the water.  Sharpening will only work for about one day as the point gets worn back enough that a prudent fisherman should consider replacing them even though being stored overnight in a bucket of fresh soapy water.  Maybe spraying them with WD-40 may help, but I have never tried that, (maybe I should) but I just change them out.

(2)   Or the guy above who keeps running his sonar even though he can not figure out how to get it off the demo mode.  I guess he wanted to impress the fishing partners he invited along.  And when he asked me to steer while he was attaching his rod holders, kind of makes it hard on a foggy day to stay in the narrow Illwaco channel with the bottom showing at 40' while mud is being churned up by the prop.

(3)   Another who owns an older 20' fiberglass inboard/outboard who salmon fishes the mouth of a large Pacific Northwest river.   He never runs the boat fast enough to get on a plane.  The reason is that if he gets the engine RPM up, then there is a whining noise coming from the motor.  But if he keeps it below a certain RPM where it does not make the noise, so he feels there is no problem, kind of like sticking his head in the sand.   The real problem that he has not figured out was that the alternator belt on his I/O motor was loose and he hesitates to take it to a marine mechanic because of a possible cost.  So no noise-no problem ???

(4)  Or the guy who buys a new kicker motor, mounts it on his transom, but never has bothered to even try to start it.  Boy, he is either very naive or must believe he has an angel who is also a marine mechanic setting on each shoulder WHEN the time comes when he ever needs to put it into use in an emergency.  And the motor mount clamp screws were so loose that the motor was wobbling around.  The sad thing is that these first four examples are the same person.

(5)   I am amazed at at how many fishermen who when running to or from a fishing spot, turn their sonar OFF and use only a GPS plotter to get there.  Most of these units have the ability to split the screen so they can have BOTH the plotter AND the sonar on the screen at the same time.  OK if the unit is small, (say a 5" screen) maybe they feel they need a larger plotter screen, but most of these units, the viewing window for the plotter can be widened more than the existing preset 50% and the plotter can be made to track the boat's course.  The sonar screen can be made narrower as what is important is right under your boat NOW, not what you have already passed over minutes ago.  If they forgo the sonar under these conditions, they may well run over fish while trying to follow a radio fishing report.   No sense of running 5 miles chasing radio fish when there are fish arches a lot closer (like under your boat).

(6)   Then there are those who spend lots of money on a nice new 20'+ boat but still use an old small landing net for salmon.   Sure, maybe they have fond memories in using this net, or it came off his older smaller boat when he bought the new one, or a replacement net for the one that got lost, but even when you consider spending the time on the water trying to catch a fish, then potentially handicapping the most crucial few seconds by only having a 2nd rate smaller even holey net does not make a lot of sense to me.  This size net, or the handle length may be used under ideal situations, but what if the water gets lumpy and you snag a salmon in the pectoral fin.  Kind of makes the job of the netter rather interesting, if not near impossible.

(7)   Some people do learn, as the guy who fishes the west coast ocean for salmon out of his 20' boat, when I asked why he had only a 3.5hp kicker motor, the response was "that is all I need to troll my boat with".  Then a few years later when his main motor died a LONG way from port, and running this little kicker motor only took 7 hours for him to get back to his Westport dock.  He did learn, as now he has a 9.9hp like all of his fishing friends use.

(8)  Then there are those who try to reuse their bait for days.  Even though it is kept in a small cooler, (without rock salt) these herring may be the reason they are not getting as many hits as their buddy 100 yards away.  Sure I have saved old bait, and depending on the quality of the brine AND if it is kept cold during the day.   If it is kept iced and in a salt water brine, then refrigerated overnight after the first day's trip, I have caught fish on the 2nd day but beyond that it is questionable.   But we usually only use these as a back up or for Coho, which will hit about anything.

(9)  Some just don't listen when asking advise for a type of fishing new to them.  Different rod types do have a place in your rod room.  (a) A 7' heavy action Ling Cod rod may just cut down on your ability to tell if a 3# rockfish is hitting your curly tail jig.  (b) Then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who like to use light tackle, but are rather newcomers to downrigger fishing.  They do not understand that the rod needs to have enough backbone to match it's intended purpose which is being set pointing high with the rod tip deeply arched and with minimal belly in the line from the wire clip to the rod tip so that when a fish hits, then trips the clip off the downrigger wire that the rod's strength will automatically set the hook by popping up out of the arch. (c) Or the fisherman who gives his 10 year old son or daughter a 9' rod for salmon, but uses a diver 36" in front of a flasher and from the flasher then a 6' leader to the bait.   Here you have about 10' of gear in the water beyond the mainline snap.  The kid has possibly 9' of rod including their height above the deck.  Even if they hold the rod straight up with the tip being arched with a fish on at the final stages prior to netting, they will either run a good chance of breaking the rod on the fish's last runs under the boat, or can not get it high enough for the netter to do a good job, (or even a bad job) possibly loosing the fish as seen in the caption photo on the main start page of these "Ramblings".   Change the gear and/or shorten the distance to the hooks could be a solution here (but before the fish is hooked).

(10)  Or the guy who heads back to the GPS location where they caught salmon the last few days.  He shuts it down on the spot he left the afternoon before, starts his trolling motor and turns on his TR-1 auto pilot heading into the wind/current.  He then sits in his favorite location with his back to the cabin, and when his buddy calls on the radio that they are into decent fish 2 miles away (into the wind).  This guy is content to "troll their way", but never seems to make any headway because of the wind/current and then wonders he what happened to the buddy who picked up and ran in to the dock after limiting out his boat.  And the only fish he is catching are small undersize salmon.  Fish do swim, and in order to survive, need to eat, so they travel after and follow the food, and the ocean is a large dinner table.

(11)  Or the guy who when trolling for trout in a large lake will hook a night-crawler full length, hanging behind the kook.   Then he wonders why he is getting a lot of bites but not hooking any fish.   This might work for steelhead, bass or walleyes.   Or if he does change to shorter bait, but uses a # 8 hook and still can not hook any fish.  While his fishing partner is using smaller bait along with a larger #4 hook and catching fish.

(12)  One day at Westport when I was trolling near the charter fleet, there was one 18' sport boat that seemed to always be in my way where I wanted to go, and he kept trolling closer to me.  Finally I slowed down to allow him to get ahead of me so I could make a return pass behind him to troll back to where I wanted to go.  When we got close together I recognized him as a friend of a friend.  He hollered to me  "How do I tell a Chinook from a Coho?".  This happened to be early in the season and we could not retain Coho.  He had caught this fish 1/2 hour before.  It happened to be a Chinook, but if it hadn't have been, then he would have had a dead illegal fish on board.

(13) This one applies mostly to jet boat river fishermen.  They have made a drift or back-trolled thru some fishy looking water, maybe even caught a fish (either Steelhead or Salmon) and they want to run back up to make another pass.  However they run full bore with their jet boat right thru the fishing slot they just came down thru.  Do they not realize that this WILL spook any fish out of that area, especially if the water is only 6-8' deep.  There will usually be other water on the side of this slot that they could have motored up thru at a moderate speed, but apparently they do not come anywhere near thinking like a fish.


(14)  Another boat river fisher boat operator situation is when you meet or pass another boat that is fishing, SLOW SOWN.  Don't ruin his fishing spot by throwing a big wake.  Or worse, rocking their boat enough with your wake so someone may get thrown overboard by loosing their balance.  


(15)  If you are casting, either from a boat or shore, try to cast first closet to your location and upstream if in flowing water.  Then on your repeated casts (if you had no indication of a bite) then move into successively new water, downstream until it is all covered.  Do not just cast and reel, but reel, hesitate, reel again, or lift the rod tip occasionally.  You need to make the lure act differently than just have it move at one steady speed through the water.  You also need to reel at different speeds, allowing the lure to achieve different water depths.  If this is unsuccessful, move even a short distance and start over, which will make your presentation from a different angle.    On retrieving do not get complacent as you near the boat or shore as many times fish will follow right to the boat before they strike, and you (being asleep) will miss that bite right at your fee


(16)  Sure you may have that favorite lure, but do not get caught up with it being the only thing that will work day after day.  If you do not get a bite within a reasonable time, switch lures.


(17)  You have your favorite location and have caught many fish there, again do not get caught up in being lazy, but think about why you caught fish there and use that logic to find another location that may be even better.


(18)  Keep a fishing diary with, date, weather, water temperature, barometer readings,  tides, time caught and lure used/caught on.  Even record the distance from your home to the boat launch and time it took to drive there.  You might even consider taking digital photos of the boat launches and launch fees.  Over time, this will prove very beneficial.


Rod Holder Placement :  Downrigger fishing   

Some of you who troll for salmon, may upgrade your hit to hookup ratio by changing how you mount your rod holders.  Most of the fishermen know that when using downriggers that the rod needs to be set fairly high in the air or to the side and arced rearward under the tension of the release clip to the downrigger wire.  This arcing allows these special built downrigger rods, being under a strain, to snap UP when the fish hits pulling the line off the wire clip, thereby setting the hook.   If you are fishing a downrigger and miss hooking a number of fish, you may want to think about what I just said here.  And the tension on the rod needs to be enough to remove the belly in the line between the rod and the downrigger wire clip.  If when taking this slack out, you trip the clip occasionally, you are about right in this tension.


Reread the above where I mentioned  "special built downrigger rods".  Here you do not want a highly sensitive (EXPENSIVE) side-drifting graphite rod, but the older style fiberglass one that is tough.

Downrigger rod set in proper position

Normal trolling   

Now, if you only use normal rod holders that are mounted on the downrigger as a rod holder even when you are not using the downrigger for NORMAL salmon trolling like Buoy 10 or Grays Harbor/Willapa Bay salmon fishing, you are handicapping yourself.   Think about it for a non downrigger use, if that rod is pointed high in the air, the line is entering the water considerably farther back.  Unless you are using a pool que or sturgeon rod that is strong enough to set the hook in conditions like this when the fish hits the bait, but the limber rod (in this upright condition) has not got enough strength (unlike downrigger fishing with an arched rod) to set the hook when the fish takes your bait, where here the fish does not get hooked 90% of the time.  Here, when a fish hits, say the 9' rod moves in a arc and you can have a 5' spongy movement of the lure before the rod stacks to where it has any resistance to possibly set the hook.  And the fish is usually gone by the time YOU get ahold of the rod.  


When a salmon strikes, the biggest factor in sticking that fish and keeping it stuck (especially with barbless hooks) is MAXIMUM load on the rod… i.e. how much does the rod BEND before line peels from the reel when the fish is pulling?

There are two or even three, even four schools of thought on this however most will adhere to a somewhat moderate to low rod angle.  They all seem to work under the right conditions.  One is  use a regular 8' 6" or 9' medium rod and a moderately drag on the reel with the clicker on.   The other is to use the same rod but lighter drag again with the clicker on allowing the fish to pull off enough line to set the hook itself when it turns to go.  Then another thought is a longer 10' or 11' rod and again a moderate drag and let the rod's movement on the takedown to act somewhat like a downrigger setup.  Here we are however, as in the previous paragraph eliminating the downrigger type high in the air rod setting.


A low rod angle allows the angler to easily set the hook without dropping the rod tip when they remove the rod from the holder.  If your rod angle is high most anglers will pick up the rod out of a normal holder will dip the tip to gain leverage for the upcoming hookset.   So when you drop that rod taking it out of the holder, you have just given the fish slack, and you will likely lose a lot of fish.  The lower tip also allows the fish to get in to the backbone of the rod faster resulting in a better hook up.   Let the fish hook itself.


Rod placement on the boat also comes into play here.  If you look at a guide's boat where he has 4 or 5 clients trolling for salmon at Buoy 10, he will place the amidships (and more experienced clients) with their longer rods low and straight out and use a heavier sinker.  The rear quarter rods will be shorter and set a tad bit higher, with a slightly lighter sinker than the forward fishermen.  If he has a 5th person (who may be inexperienced that he can watch more closely) or is fishing himself that rod will be more straight off the stern and higher yet.  The stern rod needs to be higher to achieve the load on the rod.  This procedure accomplishes a couple of things.  It keeps the tangles down and at the same time sets up the ability to maintain the hookset.

A lot of this depends on the rod stiffness and along with the line (mono or braid) or even the rod holder .    You will notice I have now included mentioning a rod holder.   The new Folbe style clamshell type rod holders can eliminate this above mentioned dropping of the tip for the newbie.

If you are using monofilament mainline, the stretch also compounds the situation.   It can however work for, or against you.  If the rod is mounted lower and rearward even with monofilament line, your fairly solid lure movement may only be 1', and the fish is hooked before it can spit the bait.

For salmon trolling in conditions in estuaries like Buoy 10 or Willapa Bay, I like rods to be mounted low (almost parallel with the water) and slightly pointing sternward as seen in the photo below.   The same can apply to motor moochers, while regular moochers hold onto their rods.

I have a neighbor who went for years thinking of many things on how to increase his hookup ratio, like changing different style of hooks, going to braid mainline or a multitude of other trials.  And all the time it was simply how he mounted his rods being high in downrigger type mounting holders.

Normal trolling with low mounted rod holder



It may appear to some of you that I have written about you here, well that could be so, but I will be willing to bet that you AND I may not be alone.  If one of these may appear to be you, I thank you as I have learned some valuable information by watching others, as I am way too old now and will not live long enough to learn much more on my own, and I do like to catch fish.  The important thing is that at times we need to back off, look at ourselves in possibly a different setting/methods.  Insanity/stupidity is when you repeatedly keep doing the same thing with the same negative results and place the blame of these negative results on something else, as you are merely chasing your tail.


Now the real reason that this article is here is hopefully for me and you to improve our fishing skills.




Copyright © 2011 - 2018  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originally started 07-30-2011, Last Updated 02-15-2018
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