Tactics for Pressured Fish

By Todd Reed

September is upon us and nature is buzzing all around us.  Hunting seasons are starting to take shape and football takes center stage with many looking for entertainment.  September can also be a good time to get in a few more fishing trips before the weather turns cold. However, anglers must make a few adjustments to continue to catch fish in this month.  In a previous issue I wrote about making adjustments for pressured fish, today we will dive deeper into what exactly to do when faced with pressured fish during August and September.  We as anglers must make a few changes if we want to enjoy the day chasing our favorite fish. Let’s take a profound look at what we can do to catch these pressured fish.

Fishing pressure is like no other variable in the equation of catching fish.  Unlike weather, this pressure can last for weeks or months. It does affect fish and we have to make adjustments to be successful.  We cannot change the issues we are up against this time of year, we can only deal with them and adjust. Here are some ideas to take with you to keep catching fish throughout this month.

Boat traffic is one major pressure that fish are seeing and will continue to see as long as the weather stays nice.  Everyone is trying to get in that one last trip to the lake or river to enjoy some powersports. Not only are those boats and jet skis causing an issue for the fish but all the fishing boats too.  This is a pressure that we have to deal with if we choose to fish those bodies of water. A simple solution is to pick out smaller lakes around the state that do not have the boat traffic, a no-wake lake or trolling motor only lake will offer the fish a less pressured system, making fishing much more enjoyable and rewarding this time of year.  If you have your heart set on those bigger bodies of water you must combat the boat traffic. One way to do this is to use the wind to your advantage. The windy sides of the lake will counter the extra boat traffic. Yes, this will make boat control more difficult but the fish will be more cooperative too. A good trade if you want to continue catching fish.

Another technique this time of year to trick your favorite fish is to go into stealth mode.  Professional anglers use this technique year-round, their livelihood depends on catching fish.  It is a proven way to put more fish in the boat. Stealth mode takes electronics out of the game.

When you arrive to a fishing location and set up, whether using an anchor or landmarks to stay in that position then it is time to turn off all depth finders.  Depth finders send out hundreds and thousands of “pings” in the water column per minute, these can no doubt make fish aware that something is going on. Remember, these same fish have heard these pings all summer long and watched their friends disappear.  A simple thing as turning off the electronics will help you be in stealth mode and no doubt catch more fish. Obviously a good anchor system is a must in this situation and working with those fishing with you to stay in the location to keep catching those fish is a must.

Bait selection becomes key this time of year.  The fish have seen every bait manufactured in the last couple of months, it is time to think outside the box.  A simple thing to do is to downsize your baits. If you typically use a 1/8th ounce jig head, go down a size. Also downsize your live bait presentations too.  Smaller minnows and worms will consistently bring in fish this time of year. If you typically use larger crankbaits, knock them down a size too. Smaller shad raps or Flicker-shads are great tools late in the fishing season.  Lastly, especially those bass fishermen, instead of using seven and eight inch worms, go with a four-inch finesse worm. Downsizing your baits trick more fish into biting this time of year.

If you like to use bobbers for your live bait rigs, it may be time to give them a rest.  Fish can be so tentative this time of year that you will not even see your bobber move, yet your bait is gone.  “Bait-stealers” as my kids call them are those fish that are in their own stealth mode. They are so aware of their surroundings that the tension the bobber produces as they pull down turns them off and they can be very difficult to catch.  They have seen this scenario time and time again. How can we counter this? First, this only works if you are floating above your targeted species, it doesn’t work from land in most cases. Straight-lining your live bait will get those bait-stealers.  Straight-lining is simply dropping your bait over the edge of the boat/kayak and using your rod as your bobber. You must use a sensitive rod for this technique, actually most “kids” rods work very well for this, no need for anything fancy with this tried and tested technique.  A rod with a limber tip is all you need to see those tricky fish tap your bait, or gently pull the line down. Using a drop-shot line set-up is ideal for this technique, a small hook and small split shot is all that is needed. This technique is just like how many people ice fish in the winter.  Drop the line straight down and feel and look for that subtle bite. Those of you that do ice fish will have an advantage with this technique especially if you take your Vexilar with you. Drop the transducer over the side and “go icefishing” in September. This technique is great for panfish throughout the year, but especially when fish are pressured and become difficult to catch.

Again, the fishing pressure this time of year it at its peak, we must change a few things to keep those fish interested and allow us to have a good day on the water.  Experimentation is always valuable when the fish are not cooperating. This led me to trying a straight-line rig for bluegills some fifteen years ago. There are many ways to catch fish, sometimes we must think outside the box when fishing pressure is at its highest.