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By Daniel Vinovich

This past winter, I had a little down time.  It seems the good people at Great Plains Sports Medicine decided it was time to rebuild my knee.  During this ordeal, I had some time to view a lot of televised fishing tournaments.  At the completion of each tournament, they interviewed the professional that had won.  After watching several of these interviews, something came to mind.  Almost all of the winners started their interview with the same phrase, I found a school of bait fish.  A lot of anglers get caught up in the hype of the new fish finding technology and the hot baits on the tournament trail, but it all narrows down to one thing.  If you find the food, you find the fish. 

All of North American sport fish have one thing in common.  They are all predators.  The prey can differ depending on the size of the predator.  When most people think of bait fish in this area, one always comes to mind, and that is shad.  Shad is indeed the main forage base here in Illinois, but it is not the only one.  Predators will prey on any easy meal that presents itself.  All you have to do to prove this is look at the different crankbaits that Bomber, and Smithwick & Rebel, etc. are producing.  There are bream, crappie, bass, and even walleye and pike color combinations.  Finding the forage means finding the source of food for the particular predator you are fishing is eating.  There are several ways to accomplish this. 

The first is to research the lake or river you are going to fish.  Doing your homework before you get on the water will greatly increase your chances of having a productive day.  The second is to pay careful attention to the surroundings.  Turn off the motor and sit, looking for any signs of active feeding fish.  These signs may be as subtle as a flock of seagulls or diving ducks feeding on bait fish being chased to the surface by predators or as extreme as actually seeing bait leaping from the water fleeing predators.  If I still do not have any clues to where the bait is holding, I will switch to my Lowrance electronics to locate them.  There is no greater thrill than spotting a cloud of bait fish with some large arcs just below them.  The reason for my excitement is simple.  Aggressive fish are easier to catch.  Once you find the food, matching your bait size and presentation to imitate the forage is the next step in the equation.  Tournament fishermen carry so many types and colors of baits for this reason.  Each body of water has its own flavor, if I may call it that.  In other words, color and size variations change with different bodies of water.  For example, in our Illinois mud and clay bottom lakes and rivers, our crayfish have a green to brown color.  The farther south you go, they can turn a bright red.  That is why there are so many color variations of that bait.  So by putting all of the variables together you too can solve the bait fish connection and hopefully put more fish in the boat.

See ya on the water,

Daniel Vinovich

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