Paddle according to patterns, not places
By Jeff Little
"Patterns not places" is a phrase commonly heard in the discussion over sharing location information. It also goes hand in hand with the saying, "Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day…", with the "fish" being a specific spot where the bite is on. But that doesn't teach anyone how to find new spots. That comes with pattern development by the individual angler and time on the water.
I was naive to the idea of concealing where I caught my fish when I started posting trip reports on RiverSmallies.com in the early 2000's. A polite moderator of that site dropped me a message that strongly suggested that I tone down the location specifics. He happened to occasionally fish the water in question as well, and was perturbed. But he handled letting me know more delicately than most.
The Saturday following my Monday trip report, I understood his frustration completely. There were 4 boats and 3 shore anglers on the spot by 10 a.m. I had been fishing the area successfully, alone for weeks. A mob of anglers spread all over it, but didn't really do well and crashed the best spots in the process. One even paddled over, introduced himself and thanked me for sharing so freely.
I still share freely. But it's not location information that I intend on sharing. It's pattern information. I've produced four DVDs and amassed countless hours of online video detailing the process of pattern development and the seasonal patterns for many species. A pattern is simply a set of conditions and the presentation specifics in which a fish was caught. The process in which you develop an understanding of a pattern is as follows:
- Catch a fish.
- Go to the spot where the fish was caught and make observations about that location.
- Take note of the specifics of your presentation when the bite occurred.
- Find similar spots and replicate with the same presentation.
Focusing on item number 2, here are some questions to help you hone in on the location component of the pattern: How deep was it? How much current was there? What cover was present (grass, log, rock, dock, brush, etc.)? What was the bottom substrate (sand, gravel, clay, chunk rock, etc.)? What was the structure (drop off, channel, hump, open water, shoreline, road bed, point, etc.)?
Focusing on item number 3, here are a few other questions to hone in on the presentation component of the pattern: How fast was I moving the lure? Was it on the bottom, middle of the water column or on the surface? What forage did my lure represent? How large a profile was my lure? If I paused my lure before it got bit, how long was the pause? Was the lure occasionally contacting bottom or cover, or really grinding and bashing into it? And everyone's favorite, but sort of low on my list: What color?
I'm not sure why color ranks so high in most angler's books. Black, white or silver, translucent, green or brown seem to cover my needs. But tantalizing descriptions like "Cotton Candy" or "Roadkill Camo" make online shopping for tackle more fun. Right now, there's someone boiling over the omission of chartreuse from my list. It's not that I don't throw chartreuse, it's just that how fast I was moving the lure when it got bit ranks much higher than white versus chartreuse.
But what apparently ranks higher than everything else is location, specific location. I've been the recipient of a super generously shared set of coordinates before. I entered them into my chart, went right to them and caught fish. But the spot reminded me of a pattern that I had found on a previous trip: jigging soft plastic jerkbaits along a grass line adjacent to a channel through a vast flats area on the outgoing tide. That day, the weight of the jig head seemed to matter. A 1 oz jig head didn't get bit, but a ½ or ¾ oz jig head and jerkbait combo had the right rate of fall. It went right back to "How fast was the bait moving?" And no, it wasn't chartreuse.
So with a recent trip, the issue of location reared it's head again. I posted a selfie with the wide head of a striped bass next to mine, making mine look narrow. The pattern information is shared on my channel, but the messages poured in on location: "Dude! Nice fish. Where did you get it?" But mixed in the myriad of questions, asking for a specific location information was one question like those in the list above: "How deep did you get it?"
That one stopped me. I thought, "OK, here's someone who is trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together just like me, and he might have a few that I don't have yet!" He never asked for the location, but in the back and forth messages, he shared some things that answered a few of the other questions on that list that I didn't completely know yet myself. He got confirmation on my trolling speed and depth, and I found out that some fish are being caught at the same depth, but over deeper water. It may seem small, but the details of a pattern are cumulative and synergistic. The puzzle analogy works well here. The more pieces you have together, the faster it comes together.
Then there's the rest of the pack, still hungry for specific location information. Other anglers have figured this out as well, taking care to photoshop the backgrounds in photos before posting to social media. I understand the need to do that. I learned that a while ago. But I also understand that those who are too dominantly focused on the location probably couldn't catch fish there if they had a GPS waypoint and sight bearings.
So for those folks, I've left a specific marker in the photo for you to find the creek and shoreline where the last big fish was caught. Go out, cover some miles to find it. Chances are, that you'll find a new pattern before you locate the picnic bench. When you do find that piece of the puzzle, please let me know – I've got all four corners in place and two sides finished already, but need a few more pieces in the middle.