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Crowded fishing conditions call for adjustments

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted our world in an uncountable number of ways, most obviously negative in terms of life-threatening illness, interrupted lifestyles and a stalled economy.

But the coronavirus also caused a surge in people who decided to go fishing to fill the downtime we experienced as social distancing and other protocols influenced what we do and where we go.

With more people fishing and spending more hours on the water, the fish themselves felt the pressure. As one might expect, the walleyes, crappies and bass have seen more than the usual tactics and lures, to the point where they might shy from biting the regular stuff.

Crowded water and pressured fish can still be caught, but success often requires adjustments. Those who want to up their odds against the fish that yawn in boredom at our usual offerings should consider downsizing lures and switching to lighter lines.

Veteran bass anglers will recall the 1990s craze over the finesse-style Super Do soft plastic baits. Marketed under the Hog Hunter brand by Rick Kovacs of Mineral Ridge and Dave Maurice’s Venom Baits, the Super Do was the hot ticket for those who believed the bass were conditioned to standard lures. A pee-wee bait was the way to go.

The four-inch Super Do featured a slim profile and shredded tail that pulsed and flared as it drifted into the cover where bass love to lurk. If a bass lived there, it was more than likely to judge the Super Do as the perfect snack.

Professional bass angler Denny Brauer once told me that a small bait dropping in front of a bass is too tempting. They cannot resist even if they have just eaten, much like a person will nibble a sweet little grape even if he or she has just finished dinner.

Fortunately, a number of downsized bait offerings are available today. The “Ned rig” is one example that has gained a great following by those who chase smallmouth and largemouth bass in pressured waters.

The Ned is a small mushroom or cylinder-style jig head — 1/5 or 1/6 ounce — with a straight-shank on which the angler threads a two- to four-inch straight stubby plastic worm. The rig literally does nothing as the angler drags it over the bottom, which actually perfectly mimics the movement of a Lake Erie goby or Mosquito Lake perch.

The slow, tantalizing wobble fall of a whacky-rigged stick worm is another finesse presentation that is popular among those who fish on highly pressured waters. The “whacky” name aptly describes the way in which anglers pin their worms: simply passing the hook through the mid-section of the worm so that it dangles in balance from the hook.

When walleyes, bass and crappies are getting a lot of fishing pressure, savvy anglers up their odds of hooking up by resorting to ultralight fishing lines. Today’s high-performance fluorocarbon lines in eight- or six-pound test work well in presenting lures effectively to finicky fish.

Pressured fish also are less suspicious of smaller-than-normal jigs and hard-body plugs and thus more easily tempted in high-pressure waters.

That there are more anglers is evident in the fishing retail business. Anglers shopping for essentials such as line, hooks and weights, along with the hottest new lures, sweep the aisles clean and pluck the best goodies, while the supply chain struggles to keep the shelves stocked.

For that reason, it may be necessary to visit several stores and online retail sites to get what you need for your time on the water.

The extra effort will be worth your investment in time, of course, when it results in fun times and more fish.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing, will be released May 11. He appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to Jack at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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