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Putting the Puzzle Together

By Nathan Coker
In Fishing with Kenny
Dec 1st, 2023


As I have stated many times over the years while writing my BayouLife “Fishing with Kenny” articles, catching fish is easy.  Anyone can catch fish if put in the proper area, using the proper lure and the fish are biting on a particular day.  The hardest part of angling is figuring out how to catch the fish you are after.   I have often compared bass fishing to deer hunting.  Even though one resides on land and the other in the water, the comparison between the two finds them both to be quite similar.  Both rely heavily on edges of cover, be it a wood line parallel to a cutover or a grass line found on the edge of a creek channel.  Both are most aggressive during the spawn or reproductive season (the rut).  Both tend to be heavily influenced by weather and feeding patterns.  Both, even when you know they are in the area, can disappear without a trace.  No matter if you are hunting a trophy buck or trying to prepare for your next tournament, success depends on your preparation and how well you put the puzzle together.

So, now we are launching our boat and we are hoping for a successful day on the water.  How do we find our first puzzle piece.  You can get a head start on putting the puzzle together before you ever get to the boat ramp.  The body of water, the weather patterns and the time of year can give you a good idea of what the fish should be doing.  For example, I always ask myself a few questions such as; what water clarity can I expect?  Is this a cypress tree lake or are there several types of cover the bass can relate to?  What is the lake level?  Is it a deep or shallow water lake?  The most important question for me, especially this time of year, does the lake have grass in it?

I will admit this seems to be a lot to digest in a short time, but really it’s not.  If I am going to Caney Lake, I know the water will be clear, there is an abundance of grass, there isn’t a presence of cypress trees but there are docks, there is a deep water population of fish and the main forage will be shad.  So, without even putting my boat in the water, I have given myself a starting point to my day, and you can do this with any body of water.  Our first puzzle piece is in place.

Once I get on the water, I start considering other variables.  If we have had consistent weather patterns, and the water temperatures are above 45 degrees, I will usually begin fishing shallow water.  One of the advantages of fishing in our region is no matter what weather you have had up until this point, regardless of the lake you are fishing, you can still find a good population of bass in shallow water.  However, on the other side of the coin, shallow water fish are more effected by a drastic weather change, making them more difficult to catch than deep water related schools.

Now that I have established where to begin my search, I am going to pick a large area that I can cover quickly, so if I am successful, and locate some fish, I can then try to expand my search to other parts of the lake.  The trick to doing this is to use search baits such as a Rat L Trap, a spinnerbait, chatterbait or even a cast and retrieve topwater such as a Spook.  These lures are good at catching bass but sometimes they are even better at helping you find them.

Here is a scenario…. While throwing a Rat L Trap, you hook a fish, and the fish gets off halfway to the boat on a long cast.  Instead of lamenting about a lost fish, immediately throw back into the area where you got the strike.  Many times, even in shallow water, fish will gang up and a Rat L Trap will help you locate their exact location, so the less time you take getting your lure back into the water, the better your chances are of a follow up strike.  As you are fishing you should begin to analyze what just happened.  Where did I get the strike?  What was I doing on the retrieve?  Was the strike a solid hit or was the fish just there when I was reeling the lure?  All these will lead you to the next piece of the puzzle.

Later, after we have had a couple of bites, now we have a general area to focus on.  The first question I ask myself at this point is, “why are those fish here?”  Is it a flat with scattered grass with an abundance of shad?  Is it a creek channel bend meandering through a large flat?  Or is it just a drop off close to deep water?  Bass always use an area for a specific reason, and this time of year it is usually to feed up for the oncoming winter.

By now, we have enough information to have a pretty good idea of why the fish are where they are, what they are doing and a few ideas on how to catch them.  The puzzle has come together quite nicely and there is a good chance you will be able to duplicate what you have done on other parts of the lake. Or does it?

One key thing to remember when fishing this time of year, you must be realistic about your expectations.  If you are fishing the day after a major weather event, a handful of bites may be all you should hope for.  I have won many bad weather tournaments getting only five or six bites in a day.  I have won three tournaments over the years just by catching a single fish.  Do not let your expectations override your common sense.

Well, it looks like we have run out of space and time for another month.  I hope we were able to share with you a few things that will allow you to have success on your next day on the water.  Since it is hunting season and we are sharing two of Mother Nature’s playgrounds, please be respectful to her.  Be safe and be sure to catch one for me!  See you next month!