Learn to Fish Soft Plastics- a beginners guide - Reading the water
Reading the water- Be more like Yoda...
So this article is not about any divine art, or natural talent, it’s a skill that can be learned over time. Learning to read the water is a skill that every fisherperson should learn. When you first start off, you basically just go to the water and throw in your line right, well that works too. But to get the most out of your time on the water let’s look at targeting areas that may be more predictable.
I say ‘may’, because you never really know until you have given it a go. What looks like a spot that could hold fish, can be barren one day and a hot bite on the next, there are lots of factors that effect this, but for starters let’s just look at the location.
So there are a few stages that you go through when starting out reading the water;
Stage 1- that’s the 'throw and hope' stage I mentioned earlier, and there is nothing wrong with that, but to be more consistently productive long term, its probably worth looking at stage 2.
Stage 2- Is the ‘I have half a clue stage’, were you begin to understand the tide movement, how the formation of sandbanks, rivers and weed-beds have occurred by looking at the water flow. You begin to notice baitfish patterns and where the surface and sub-surface activity is likely to occur. Take the picture above, from the ground it’s not quite as clear that the secondary sandbank is so extensive. So Tip number 1: check out the area at low tide.
You begin to understand that predatory ambush fish such as flathead, jacks and jew will normally sit into tide to watch what baitfish are being brought to them, expending minimal effort for a reasonable meal. So at this stage, you tend to have developed the eye for a ‘fishy spot’ but are not sure why.
Stage 3- The ‘I know what I am doing but don’t ask me to explain it’ stage. You begin to notice bait fish behaviour in more detail, where they are nervous coming off the flats into deeper water or which areas they seem to avoid. Tip number 2: you spot the eddies and structure that sit on the edge of the current flow. You know that predatory fish will take advantage of this water flow by positioning themselves to use minimum effort to maintain station and are ready to dash in and secure an easy meal. You’ve had a few wins, caught some fish, and are gaining confidence in you water reading ability, but you are not really able to explain it to anyone else. You just know.
Stage 4- The ‘Silent assassin’ stage, also known as the ‘I am killing it, but be dammed if I’m telling anyone else’ stage. By now, you have an idea of where to look and position yourself for catching fish, you even know how to explain it, but you choose not to, as people seem to notice how you instinctively find the fish and you kinda like it. You're able to plan your trips in advance, by looking at the tide charts and remembering when you caught fish at you favorite spots previously, what the water conditions were like and you begin to consistently apply this prior experience to build your catch rate. When you get there, you can judge water clarity and adjust your plastics choice depending on the water color. You can appreciate factors that make a particular spot more productive, like time of the year, water temperature and other factors like breeding season and how this effects your target species.
You have built a situational awareness to your fishing, one which pays off. Tip number 3: you spend a lot more time, just watching and observing a spot before you start casting, as you know it’s going to give up its secret. You just need to gain more information, like baitfish and predator activity in likely spots, speed of tidal run, as you know his will effect the position of the eddies. You look for debris on top of the water and where this forms backwashes and slack water out of the main tidal flow. You look for consistent disturbance, such as water swirling around submerged obstacles and where the bait fish are funnelled to run a gauntlet through a narrower pass. You get far less snags and lose far less lures. You are adaptable and nimble at adjusting your approach to the local conditions, you are the water reading ninja, silent but deadly.
Stage 5- You are the water reading guru, you have reached the ‘Yoda in board shorts' stage. You can take your water reading knowledge and ability and apply it to different types of water, from fresh to salt , ocean to river and you can instantly decode a location based on a few quick glances. You feel the ebb and flow of the water, like the Force, you feel its swirling lifeblood. You are able to factor in wind effect, season and temperature. You know your targets level of motivation, based on temperature and barometric pressure. You know their weak spots, you adjust retrieve speed to peak their interest, you know where they are, you know what they are thinking, they can run but they cannot hide, you are a predator.
Then you wake up.
Seriously though we all 'want to be more like Yoda' but we are human and there is a lot to learning this skill. But that is the key, you can learn it. You just need to open your eyes, close your mouth and just observe. Watch what is happening all around you and be in 'the moment', that's when you start to see things you did not before, that's how you learn to read the water. Plus the added bonus is you get to feel a bit more 'one' with nature and surely that can't be a bad thing. They call this mindfulness and it is one of the reasons we fish, it’s what draws us in and let’s the stress of modern day living fade to black while we truly live in the moment.
No, its not speed reading, and no you will not be an expert overnight, but the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so take that step the next time you go out on the water and...
Be more like Yoda...
Till next time, have fun, fish responsibly and remember take only what you need and post the rest to social media.