February is the heart of the annual boat and sport show season across much of North America, a three-month period when I am booked nearly every weekend to lead fishing seminars at boat shows from Denver to New York. One of the most popular—and my favorite to offer—is a children’s’ program called “Kids Fishing 411.”
During the seminar, I show kids and the parents who take them fishing how to use a cane pole, live bait and simple techniques to hook easy-to-catch species such as panfish. I usually have an invaluable stage prop behind me in the form of a 5,000-gallon “Hawg Trough”-type portable aquarium designed for fishing demonstrations. Having live fish swimming around behind me takes some of the pressure off trying to hold the attention of 5- to 15-year-olds over the course of the 40-minute program. Plus it gives me the opportunity to show the audience how real fish react in different situations, around different structure, and to various baits and presentations.
One of the lessons I share includes why those fish are often concentrated in one part of the tank, while leaving other areas of the uber-aquarium void of anything with fins and gills. Over the course of my talk, someone usually asks why fish are in some places in the tank and not others, but I’ll be sure to bring it up regardless, because it illustrates an important factor when it comes to fishing success.
I begin to make my point by asking the audience what they do when the sun is too bright. The answers I get range from wear a billed cap, to donning sunglasses, squinting or shutting their eyes or simply moving inside or under some shade.
Taking an audience member’s cap and another’s sunglasses I use an anatomically correct stuffed largemouth bass to demonstrate that you need external ears to wear sunglasses and a fish’s head is not the right shape to consider a cap—to the laughs of the younger members in attendance. When I share the point that fish don’t have eyelids like ours, and therefore can’t even shut their eyes to shield them from the rays of the sun, they are left with the final option to avoid uncomfortable brightness—a method fish and man do share: they move “indoors” or to darker areas. Then I turn to the areas of fish concentration in the tank to illustrate my point, and note that the places where the fish are congregated are the darkest, shadiest parts of the tank.
I go on to explain that the same thing happens in the open waters where we fish, and that a key to finding—if not catching—gamefish is looking for places that offer shade. I suggest that, given the choice, they drop their baited hooks on the shady sides of stumps, rocks, docks and other structures that block the sunlight.
Next, I toss a handful of live minnows into the fish tank, and let the kids watch where the baitfish go. Most make a beeline for the same structure that harbors the gamefish. The minnows instinctively know that they have a better chance of finding a place to hide from the predators where there’s cover than trying to out-swim them in the open water. Again, the same is true in natural situations and another reason why gamefish often hang out in the cover (and darkness) of shade: to wait for unsuspecting baitfish to swim past.
That’s why on you next fishing trip I recommend you pull up to any bridges, docks or other structures that offer shade, and wet a line on the dark side. It can be tossing an artificial lure or casting a bobber suspending a minnow or worm. Just try to match the bait and its size based on what the gamefish you are seeking typically find there and feed on—and hold on.