If you make your living catching fish, like Kevin VanDam and Bobby Lane, you've figured out a thing or two.
By Joel Shangle
If there's one skill that pros have honed to a razor's edge, it's the most basic of them all: how to locate fish quickly.
It's actually the most important part of their job, especially for those pros who fish the unique tournament format called Major League Fishing. MLF anglers compete in a hyper-speed format, where the sole goal every competition day is to rack up as many pounds of bass as possible in a 7 1/2-hour window against a half-dozen other pros trying to do the exact same thing.
Bobby Lane, 2017 MLF World Champion, said, "We're under the gun to find fish and figure out what they want that day from the word 'Go!' It's really just a test of some basic fishing skills that every angler should have, but put on fast-forward speed."
1) CHECK CONDITIONS
Rule No. 1 for Lane when he's approaching a new fishery — whether he's competing or just fishing for fun — is to pay close attention to general behavior patterns for the time of year he's fishing. All of the environmental factors that occur during the four seasons (water temperatures, water clarity, levels of sunlight) contribute to the type of baits he fishes and the pace at which he fishes them.
"I base almost 100 percent of my fish location on time of year," Lane said. "I'll usually have six rods on deck, each rigged a little differently: a flippin' stick, a Senko-style bait, a spinnerbait or Yo-Zuri Knuckle, a swim jig and some type of topwater. Winter and springtime would be more non-action baits — stick worms and so forth — summer or fall would be faster-moving baits like topwater, spinnerbaits, baits where you're fishing to more active fish."
2) GET TO THE BANK
No matter the time of year, seven-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam expects a fair percentage of fish to be on the bank.
His advice for locating them quickly: put your trolling motor on high and throw a search bait.
"The most efficient way to cover as much water as possible is to get on that trolling motor and throw a squarebill," VanDam said. "There are times and places where the best fishing is offshore, but it can take a little more time to locate them. Almost any new lake I fish, I'll go down a bank with a Strike King KVD 1.5, which covers the surface to about 3 feet, and make as many casts as possible.
"If there are fish there, I'll find them with a squarebill."
3) DOWNSIZE BAITS
Lane points to one critical adjustment he made during the 2017 World Championship as a major key to success on a limited time schedule: downsize or upsize baits according to what your first few bites are telling you.
"I started out the World Championship fishing a 3/8-ounce swim jig and had two or three fish strike it but no hookups," Lane said. "I immediately switched to a 1/4-ounce jig and a smaller trailer, and just wore 'em out after that."
Upsizing your bait might also do the trick, but change the size when there's a lull.
"You have to ask yourself 'How are the fish striking?' because they'll tell you what size bait they want. If you're looking to catch a lot of fish in a short amount of time, that's a critical piece of information."