Jeff Little shows the results of watching the line while fishing for subtle bites. Photo Jeff Little

Jeff Little shows the results of watching the line while fishing for subtle bites. Photo Jeff Little

Language of the Line Leads You to More Kayak Fish

By Jeff Little

In Little League we are taught, "Keep your eye on the ball." Yet in fishing, much emphasis is placed on "feeling the bite".

In the quest for more feel, anglers spend more of their hard earned paychecks on the highest modulus graphite rods than they can really afford. Eyes are trained on the depth finder screen or on the next spot to cast to.

To really get in the game, though, your eyes should be focused on the fishing line.

By gazing intently on what your line is doing throughout each presentation, much can be learned about the cover and structure where your cast just landed.

The real payoff for line watchers, however, comes in strike detection.

Winter fishing is inherently difficult, and sometimes feeling the bite after hours spent without a nibble is a talent that eludes many anglers.

I recently spent two days on the same reservoir probing the depths with the same jig. The first day resulted in a few nice fish, and many missed bites. The second netted me the big fish I needed to place well in an online winter bass tournament.

The difference that explained why I could catch more kayak fish one day than the other didn't really present itself until some time later. I was organizing my gear and recalled not bringing the depth finder on the second trip. I had failed to charge the battery and decided to just go without sonar.

Line watching is made easier with a brightly colored line.

Line watching is made easier with a brightly colored line. Photo Jeff Little

What I assumed would be a handicap – not having electronic eyes on the bottom contour – was in fact the key to my success the second day.

Don't get me wrong. I highly value depth finders. When light tackle jigging for stripers on the Chesapeake, there are days that I won’t bother to drop a jig without marking fish on the screen first.

On this reservoir, with standing timber and depth contours that changed by 20 feet in half a cast, I found the best approach was to use the jig as the depth finder.

My eyes gazed at the waters surface, counting the number of seconds from the jig hitting the water to when the coils of bright yellow braided line come to a stop.

Cast after cast, I counted and was able to understand the bottom contour from afar – without running the depth finder's clicking cone of sonar over the spot first.

On the retrieve, the line would at times change angle as the jig hopped closer toward the kayak. This meant that there were no obstructions along the way. But when the line changed angle for a few hops then maintained the same angle for the next several hops, it became apparent that somewhere down there, the line was draped over one of the many branches of the deep standing timber.

Once the jig cleared that limb, the line would almost hiss in an arcing pendulum swing. On these, as soon as I noticed it, I would let out line so it could fall further into the jungle instead of swinging clear of it.

On one such freefall, I got bit. The super sensitive high modulus rod didn't tell me that the jig had been bit. My eyes did. They had grown accustomed to seeing the same jig fall at the same rate of fall.

When instead of a steady fall the line entering the surface of the water 30 feet in front of the kayak twitched slightly and then sped up, I reeled hard and set the hook.

Reservoir smallmouth don't take kindly to being dragged face first through an underwater forest, and that second day there were more than a few that wrapped my line on a deep limb and shucked the jig.

The lessons learned on how to see the bite instead of feel it meant more than placing the next big fish on the Hawg Trough in a tournament. That second day taught me the keep my eye on the line.