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Is Fishing About Luck?

“He’s just lucky,” they said.

“Why do you say that?”

 “He catches fish all the time.”

That’s an often heard conversation between anglers.  It only varies between how many, and how big of a fish. Is fishing success about luck?

While it may seem luck has something to do with it, let’s take a look at what constitutes luck; or being lucky at fishing. Consider fishing a competition. Not a derby or tournament kind of contest for the most or the biggest fish. It’s a competition between you the angler, and the fish.

Like winning any race, competition, or contest where luck, or lack of it, is said to be a factor…luck most often has nothing to do with it. Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.

In all competitions from gymnastics to auto racing to fishing, it’s about the “Rule of Five Ps”. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Let’s take a look at the factors that could be said to create luck, in the form of proper preparation for productive fishing.  Successful anglers practices all or most of these. Preparation includes: tackle and bait selection, knowledge through study, experience, investment of time, observation, experimentation, record keeping, planning, and information gathering.

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  • Tackle and Bait Selection: Match your tackle to the job and select quality tackle that will stand up to the job. Buy the right stuff the first time and save money in the long run. 

Bait can be in many forms. The greatest success (luck) follows this order, with the most effective listed first: live bait, fresh dead bait, frozen bait, lures – soft or hard baits depending on a lot of factors, and flies. Although, flies can up the ante of hard baits when teaser flies are used.  Proper bait selection narrows the odds. Find out what bait game fish are feeding on and what bait works best for the species you are after and during what season. Certain types of lures will work better at certain times of the day or year, or not at all.  

  • Knowledge Through Study: Soak up knowledge like a sponge. Read books and articles about fishing, watch on-line videos by the pros, and attend lectures. There’s an ocean of free information available from experienced anglers. You can learn things in a few hours that took them a lifetime to learn and are willing to share. 
  • Experience: There’s no other way to gain experience other than to go out and fish. Learn from your mistakes. Analyze what happened when something went wrong. 
  • Investment of Time: The more time you spend with a line in the water the more your chances of catching a fish improve. You will never catch a fish while sitting home in your living room watching TV. 
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  • Observation: Visit beaches at dead low tide. New moon and full moon low tides are best. See what structures are in the shallows that may not be visible when the tide is in. Make a mental note or make drawings of structure locations. Seasons change soft structures (sandbars). Winter storms will remove or add sandbars to the beach. What was there in October may be gone in April. Learn how to see rips in the water by watching the surface. See where birds are feeding. It’s a sure sign that baitfish are in the water. 
  • Experimentation: There’s the old adage, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results.”  If the fish aren’t biting they may not be around and you have to move to a new spot. Or, they’re not taking what you are offering. Experiment with different baits, lures, retrieve speeds, and techniques. 
  • Record Keeping: Keep a log and record your catch, bait and technique used, the location, weather, wind direction, water clarity and tide conditions when you caught it. Some anglers make the mistake of not recording information from trips that had no results. Big mistake. If you keep detailed records of conditions of what did and didn’t work, after a while you will see patterns emerge. You will know what to avoid by not fishing in conditions that didn’t work (or change strategies), and focus on times and tactics that work. Record your results as soon as you get back. Don’t rely on your memory. Fishing trips, and their details, blend together quickly. 
  • Planning: Because you’ve kept a log, you know what conditions work at certain locations to produce fish. You check the weather forecast and see that winds will be blowing in a favorable direction then check the tide-table and plan for an outing to that location at a time and tide that has had the best results in the past. That’s a plan – opposed to throwing your gear in the car and heading out, letting the god’s of chance rule the results. 
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Here’s another scenario. You’re a newbie. Your sharpie fishing buddy has offered to take you fishing, with a caveat, “I go out when the tide and conditions are right (record keeping and experience) . If I get word that they’re running, (information gathering) that’s a plus. I may not know until the last minute when I ‘m going,” he or she says. They have a plan – to fish when conditions are optimum at a time and place of their choosing. 

“Sure, I can be ready any time. I’d love to go. Call me at any time,” you reply. You’ve always wanted that invitation; you know you could learn a lot standing beside this expert. The first hard lesson comes early. 

Two days later your phone rings at 4:45 AM. “I’m heading out in 15 minutes. They’re taking big ones off the beach. 20 – 30 pounders. Nice fish. I want to be there before sunrise. I’ll pick you up,” the veteran angler says and hangs up.  

As you rub the sleep from your eyes you realize– fill in the blank: you left your tackle at your girlfriend’s house and it’s too early to call/ your reel is in the shop for repair and you never got around to picking it up/ after your last outing you never cleaned and repacked your gear, so now your waders are a moldy stinking mess, your lures are scattered all over the garage floor, and there’s a nasty bird’s nest still in your spool. 

Being prepared to fish at any time is having a plan. 

  • Information Gathering: Some anglers will happily share information; others will keep their cards close to their vest. Most who have been fishing for a while understand. They were in your shoes not long ago and are willing to teach you the ropes. Develop good relations with your local tackle shop and people that you can trust who have had success. Read the fishing reports in your local newspaper or weekly fishing magazine if available in your area.  Gaining information about (exactly) where to fish can be tricky. Ask, but be careful. Some wise guys will feed you false information to keep you away from their spot, or they figure you have to put in your time and learn the hard way like they did to become pro. Yes, it happens. If someone does give you a tip about a spot that’s producing -- keep it to yourself. Is that being selfish? After all, someone else told you about it. There’s an unwritten rule among fisherman. Their spot is theirs to share; it is not yours to give away. They have given you a generous gift and           it is up to you to protect it. This is one area of fishing where re-gifting is loathed. It’s called –  “burning a spot”.  If everyone knows the good spot neither you nor the person who told you about it will be catching fish there any time soon. The spot becomes overfished. Burning a spot  is not something you want attached to your name. 
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There you have it. Present preparation to opportunity. Follow the Rule of 5 Ps and get out there and fish! Your luck will improve. Then again…there’s also beginner’s luck.

 -- By Tom Gahan


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