Years ago, one of my best friends was a professional bass fisherman who frequently fished with and competed against all the big name guys that you often see on TV. When he and I would go fishing on one of his “practice” days or in the off season, he would constantly stress looking for the fish pattern on that day. Some days it might be topwater baits in three foot of water in the back of bays or it might be crank baits in 10-12 ft of water off the points. Once he would find that pattern that yielded fish, he would stick with it until it no longer produced. We bowfishermen could learn a lot from these guys.
How many times have we hard-headed bowfishermen gone back to the same spot where we shot fish the last time out and continued to go over it and over it again only to find very few fish. A couple of years ago at the Billy Davis Memorial tournament on Rend Lake in April, I pulled such a bone-headed move. When the tourney started I and my partner zoomed off to what I just knew was going to be my honey hole for the evening. Why? Because I had taken a lot of fish the prior September there. Well guess what, mid April is not mid September. I spent way too long trying to find fish in an area that was not holding fish that night. By the time I finally gave up and decided to try and find fish elsewhere, like say in the shallows off the main body of the lake (which just so happened to yield a bunch of fish), it was too late and we had to head back in for the fish count. Needless to say, we didn’t place well at all.
Another example but how it’s done correctly came this past year when the winners of the 2007 Illinois State Bowfishing Championships found a pattern and stayed with it (gruelingly so) and made it pay off big. The Indy Boyz stumbled onto a couple of very large longnose gar in some timber that was standing in some fairly deep water. Did they immediately move on and go into the next shallow bay and continue looking for fish? NO, they stayed there and continued to comb that same water or similar type of water hour after hour and continued to bring in enough hawg longnose in order to easily win the tourney based on the big 25 format. By the way, it isn’t luck that the Indy Boyz and Slim Ewing continue to finish at the top of the standings, tourney after tourney as these guys are some of the best at finding a pattern and sticking with it. Yea, they are crack shots with their bows but if you can’t find fish, you can’t shoot them. I’ve heard Slim comment how in the spring he’ll often find fish in the buck brush on one of his favorite lakes but not in the grass/reeds, yet at the same time on another of his favorite lakes, he’ll tend to find the fish in the reeds/grass and not in the buck brush. These are the type of things you should be looking for.
Why are the fish where we find them? Well generally it’s because they have a food source near by or the surrounding water temperatures make them feel more comfortable (remember they’re cold blooded by nature). In the spring the spawning urge will probably over ride all other factors and move them into the shallows but of course this doesn’t last all that long. And then there are times that I’m not sure even the fish know why they’re located where they are. This past May was a perfect example. My buddy Dave Randolph and I were fishing Lake Shelbyville and after a few hours of trolling the shore in a place that had previously yielded fish but very few on that evening, we decided to head across the lake in order to work the opposite bank before heading back to the ramp. Because I was too lazy to fire up the outboard, I decided just to troll across this very deep bay in order to get to the other side. When we got near the middle of the bay ole Uncle Dave spotted a nice gar cruising near the top, and then another one and then they were everywhere. There they were, just swimming around in the middle of the lake over very deep water with not a shad in sight. Well even I realized it was time to make some figure eights out there in the middle and we soon began to fill the barrel. And when that area quits producing, what do you do? You go looking for similar water to that and you’ve now increased your odds of finding fish immensely.
So remember, the next time you’re out there bowfishing and the fish don’t seem to be where you found them in the past, don’t hesitate to quickly move on and explore other water and all the while keep looking for those patterns.