You know for the most part, fishing is a simple thing to do. Pretty much all you have to do is put some bait in the water and wait for something to bite.
Yet, if you hope to enjoy a measure of reliable success, there are finer points to consider. Some of these points are obvious, but others are harder to discern and may take a lifetime to catalog.
It is not commonly understood that in the piscatorial world, the laws of natural selection apply just as with all other creatures. When a lion singles out the slowest and weakest wildebeest for dinner the loss of that animal insures the bloodlines of the wildebeest will remain strong. By eliminating that animal from the gene pool and keeping it from breeding, the lion has helped to keep the future bloodlines strong.
We may not think of this application in the fish world, but it is happening there as well. Whenever you are fishing and you see a pod of baitfish within casting distance, give it a try. Big predator fish may be lurking nearby just waiting to pick the weakest mullet from the school. Like all other animals, they want to eat without expending too much energy. This may not be visible, but it will pay you to assume it is happening and you should cast near the baitfish. We all see fish crashing into bait from time to time. That is easy to spot and you should always cast into that action. If you know what to look for you will be able to tell whether the feeding fish is alone or in a school.
Jacks like to attack in a posse. Many times they will push the bait to the shore or up against a wall before they charge in. Their ploy is to strike hard and confuse the baitfish. When you see that happening, throw into the melee but don't stop with one cast. After the initial explosion, jacks will fan out to pick up the stunned strays.
Large red drum, snook or sea trout will often hunt alone. On the flats, you may see the push of water as they approach a bait pod. When you see bait on a flat, check the surrounding area for that telltale wake from a big fish. In deeper water, the large fish will come up underneath to pop the minnows. That report can be as loud as a .22 caliber rifle. Gator trout are famous for the loud, cracking sound they make when attacking baitfish. After a big red, snook or trout makes the first hit, they will often circle back to inhale the wounded prey.
If you witness a big fish feeding on the surface, make several casts to that general area. Those big fish rely on that initial hit to stun prey, allowing them plenty time to come back to pick off the helpless.
Sometimes you won't be able to see a school of baitfish that is swimming below the surface. Always keep an eye out for any disturbance on the surface. I call that "nervous water." Remember if motion on the water is not caused by weather or current, it has to be fish.
If you have ever free lined mullet or shiners, you know your bait swims along in the same manner until it is spooked. You can always tell when a big predator is near your mullet. The baitfish will change its swim pattern and become frantic. It sees something that can eat it.
I began this piece talking about natural selection. When you use an artificial bait, it is your job to make your lure appear to be the weak victim the feeding fish seeks. If a fish is waiting for a meal, it will attack a bait that represents prey in trouble. For over a hundred years, a plug that imitates a wounded fish has worked very well. Practice making your minnow or shrimp bait seem to be injured and fishing success will be yours. One last thing. Always keep in mind that fish lie in wait looking into the current for food to wash toward them. Just like us, they want an easy meal.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.