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Why, not where, are the fish biting?

Opportunities abound for all of us to become better fishers every time we go to the water, but whether we understand what nature is telling us depends on how much we are paying attention and how keenly we analyze our experiences.

Many anglers miss the clues they encounter simply because they ask the wrong questions. We ask “where are they biting?” instead of “why are they biting?”

The waters I fished while in Florida recently delivered invaluable lessons, most significantly the role the wind plays in our daily fishing fortunes.

While we have opportunities every time we go to the lakes, some are especially good due to the chances to get reliable feedback in short order. “Feedback,” of course, means the fish are biting — or not.

My Florida test waters are compact enough that I can fish them thoroughly. Plus they have healthy populations of bass that ensure when I’m doing the right things, I’ll get bit.

One particular breezy and overcast day when most every mid-day activity was off limits due to coronavirus social-distancing guidelines, I opted to fish a pond where I was not in the proximity of other people.

It was 11:30 in the morning when I made my first cast. By 12:30 p.m. I unhooked and released the 18th bass of my high noon fishing excursion.

The hefty tally actually was a bit slow in starting. I fished for 20 minutes with only one fish to show for my efforts.

But the dinner bell rang loudly after I made my way to the downwind portion of the pond where the mild breeze was pushing ripples. The water was moving, albeit only slightly, but enough to stir the food chain and activate the predators.

My lure that day was an old Rebel Pop-R, which I modified long ago based on advice from topwater fishing guru Zell Rowland of Texas. An hour of sandpaper work changed the shape of the popping face and slimmed the body to meet Rowland’s specs.

A new coat of paint finished the job and the tweaked Pop-R remains one of my favorite topwater offerings. Now the 18 bass that day and the 9 more that ate it two days later have bruised the finish.

A battered lure is a small price to pay when the fish are attacking to kill. It’s also a sign you are doing the right thing in the right place — and powerful evidence you have figured out the “why” for that day.

I returned to the same pond a few days later to experiment further. Fishing the corner where the bass had blitzed my popper, I had little success. I went to the opposite side and found fish willing to cooperate.

The only difference in my approach was the direction of the wind. Fishing the windward shores produced good catches regardless of the wind’s direction. The lee sides were devoid of action.

Experience on waters from Mosquito, Berlin, Milton and Pymatuning to the lakes of Alabama, Florida and Louisiana all reinforce the value of understanding how to make the wind your ally in your search for fish.

So instead of cheating your way to success by basing your game plan on information provided by those who respond to your “where” question, chose to build a solid foundation by understanding the answer to “why” the fish are doing what they are doing.

Shortcutting to “where” may deliver for you today, but you will catch more fish in the long run once you truly have a grip on “why.”

Jack Wollitz is a writer and angler who tries to pay attention to the details every time he goes to the lake. He also appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to Jack at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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