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Anglers learn something new every day

The adage “You learn something new every day” is not just a corny expression. It’s a fact in just about every aspect of our lives and holds equally true for the days we spend fishing.

Looking back on 2021, I realize I did indeed learn something new pretty much every time I went to the water. Some of my learning reinforced lessons from long ago; other experiences brought me new insights that I will build on in future fishing trips.

I have coached myself over 35 years of competitive fishing to always go to the lake with an open mind and to tune my senses to pick up on the clues that are revealed as the day advances. I don’t care about dock talk or Internet bragging. Instead, I lay out my own plan based on my knowledge of seasonal tactics that can be fine-tuned when conditions change and the fish alter their behavior.

Such an approach worked well this past spring, summer and fall. I fished with confidence, learned to sense when the sky, wind and water were changing, and shifted locations, tactics and lures accordingly.

Three particular experiences stand out. They happened on three fisheries as diverse as you will encounter in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Conneaut Lake in Crawford County, Pa., is a summertime playground with a shoreline dotted with hundreds of boat docks. By 9 a.m. on a weekend day, most of the boaters are already out on the water cruising, skiing and wake-boarding. The counterclockwise prevailing traffic pattern creates a maelstrom of boat wakes crashing against the docks and bouncing off the seawalls.

All of the commotion would seem to be enough to send the bass scurrying for the relative tranquility of deep water. Some do, as offshore anglers have proven. But many of the fish stay shallow and capitalize on the churning water to stir up the food chain around the shallow cover.

Fishing boat docks in three feet of shallow water can be a bouncy proposition on a weekend at Conneaut Lake, but I quickly learned the possibility of getting pitched off the Bass Cat’s deck was worth the risk as I wrestled up two limits of largemouths.

The day was a lesson in taking advantage of the sun and wave action to catch bass that replenished on docks fished earlier in the day. Three sets of docks that produced bass in the morning also yielded bass when I returned in the afternoon.

At Shenango one day in early October, the flipping bite that I’d enjoyed in the summer was not happening. I knew the fish were still in the vicinity, but they were not eating the beavertail baits I was pitching to the flooded trees and logs.

I resisted the temptation to run to new water. Calculating that the bass were roaming loosely off the cover, I picked up a rod rigged with a squarebill crankbait and soon found plenty of bass topping Shenango’s 15-inch size limit. The lesson was simple: If the water looks fishy, it probably is. You just need to zero in on the right combination.

I wrapped up a fantastic October on the Ohio River on a day that opened with fishing buddy Tom Rolland and I blurping topwater poppers and cranking sqaurebills for morning-feeding smallmouth bass.

The morning bite was productive for an hour or so, then faded under a dreary sky that seemed to make the smallies lose interest.

Rolland and I started dropping soft plastic worms along the vertical structure and plucked up a spunky limit of hard-fighting Ohio River bass.

The lesson was loud and clear. Smallies are more aggressive when the sun is shining, so when the clouds roll in, switch to lures that drop into their lairs where they can eat simply by opening their mouths without putting up a chase.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing includes lessons learned during a lifetime on waters across the U.S. He enjoys emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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