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Pamps Outboard
Walleyes in a Crowd
By Jason Mitchell

The primary patterns usually attract the most attention. Some days, there isn’t much attention to attract in the sense that there aren’t many boats on the water. There are other times where there is significant pressure and there are no secrets. Fish location can be obvious especially this time of year and there might be plenty of boats bobbing around the area. Most of the time if the goal is just catching fish, we are better off joining the pack and either hope the fishing is so good that everyone catches fish or try to do things better than the boats around you.

Come mid spring on most bodies of water, the fish are concentrated and water temperature plays a big role. During stable weather especially when the sun is out, fish seem to be shallow or high in the water column. The warmth of the sun feels good to the fish as well. On Devils Lake, where I have made my living as a guide for several years, during the week is relatively quiet. I can generally go wherever I want and not have to deal with other boats unless the other boats are some of my guides. During the weekend however can be a different story. On the weekends, I get followed a lot or if people see me sitting somewhere, I soon have company. When boats cut in front of me and behind me, the fish I am targeting are going to be shared with the other boats. There is no way around it.

When I am out on the water however, I am not into confrontations or name-calling. I would prefer to take the high road and not say anything to people. Sometimes, the other boat that is right next to you might have fished the spot sometime the day before when you weren’t there or they could be on top of you for a number of reasons. But I do know this… my customers are out on the water to enjoy a relaxing and productive day of walleye fishing and aren’t impressed with screaming fits with other boats. My simple goal is for every customer in my boat to catch his or her limit of walleye. When I can do this every day, I am making a living. This is my only focus when surrounded by a mob of boats. In a twisted sort of way, boats following or looking for a particular boat is a compliment because there are many boats that people don’t look for. This event intrigues my customers as well as they feel pretty confident about being in the boat getting tailed all day. Nobody owns the lake and I try and use this to my advantage if possible

There are a few things that I believe can help a person fish in the pack and there are also some advantages you can capitalize on. I don’t want to come off as arrogant because fishing has humbled me just too many times but it does help to believe that you are a better angler than the boats bumping up around you. Believe in your abilities and believe that your abilities are better than the boats next to you. This psychological game is crucial in the sense that you can’t believe you are going to catch nothing because all of these boats are going to catch all of the fish before you. Be methodical and slow the gears down, pay attention to details and be thorough on the basic fundamentals. Don’t let fish getting caught around you rattle your cage. Keep you head in the game and wait for your turn.

One advantage to being in a pack is that you can see many presentations working at once. If nobody is catching fish and you know there are fish below you, you now know that the timing is off. Some spots take a little while to fire and don’t produce right away in the morning for example. Other boats can tell you a lot if one boat starts catching fish and they are fishing the same depth and pattern, you know you are on the right track. Also if nobody is catching anything and you can see what everybody is doing, you can quickly eliminate those presentations and experiment with something else. You can also come to the conclusion on whether the fish have slid in or out if there are enough boats around.

Often the pressure itself can cool a spot off. Say for example that you are fishing a shallow flat or shoreline. The aggressive biting fish move up on this to eat. These fish are obviously coming from somewhere perhaps deeper water or perhaps they are shallow the whole time but just move around and turn on for short periods of time throughout the day. I honestly believe that you can go in and check a spot, catch a few fish and come back an hour or two later and catch a few more fish and you will have the same number of fish as if you had sat their the whole time. When a crowd of boats gathers around and the hot fish have already been pulled off the spot. My best strategy is to leave. This obviously allows me to check another spot on my milk run but this also serves another purpose. When I leave and the other boats sit for an additional 15 to 20 minutes without catching anything, I have found that most of the other boats leave as well.

Your average anglers are fairly high strung and run around the lake like chickens with their heads cut off. After hitting a few spots and hopefully picking up a few more fish, I go back to the spot that was crowded and usually, the boats have cleared out and I can pull a few more fish out of there. Leave and come back is a very effective strategy that has worked well for me. There are some spots that I am very confident in where I might hit those spots a half dozen times in a day. As boats arrive on the scene, nothing pulls boats off the spot like leaving for another spot. The people in the other boats often assume that there are no fish to be caught because they see you leaving. This strategy sometimes backfires but more often than not, works.

The key for this to work is to spend some time in these spots so that you can learn the spots well. This allows you to cover the spot quickly yet thoroughly while maximizing your time so that you can either spend additional time in the spot waiting for the next pod of hot fish or hitting more spots. When you are not fishing these spots, it is crucial that these spots are getting rested so they can replenish or recycle. If every spot you go to on your milk run has boats sitting right on the sweet spots and they have been sitting there all day, your day has just become much more difficult.

You can obviously rest these spots yourself but you can also manipulate the crowd to some extent by trying to pull the crowd off the spot when you leave. If you can’t do either, you have a few options. Find new spots, hope there is enough fish in the crowded spots for everybody or fish the spots better than the boats around you. Often, a particular presentation, speed, retrieve or lure will be hot while nothing else seems to work. When the crowd figures out what the hot ticket is, the hot can sometimes turn cold and than catching fish might boil down to doing or showing the fish something different. Using minnows when everybody else is using crawlers or trolling at two and a half miles per hour when everybody else is trolling at two miles per hour. Most of all, plain fundamentals become so important in the sense that you might have to make every bite count. A little bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

Editors Note: The author, Jason Mitchell is a legendary guide, www.fishdevilslake.net on North Dakota’s Devils Lake. This article has been brought to you by: Yar-Craft Boats, www.yarcraft.com and Jason Mitchell Guide Series Walleye Rods, www.jasonmitchellrods.com.

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