Think like a fish

About a year before he died, Billy Westmorland gave me some advice that’s really helped my smallmouth fishing. I can’t say what he told me is any big secret, but it is something we should all keep in mind when we go fishing.

It was cold the day that we launched from Horse Creek — Horse Creek Dock and Marina here on Dale Hollow Lake — and the wind was blowing like the devil. Naturally, we were fishing with Billy’s favorite cold water bait, his Hoss Fly. He fished yellow. I fished white. When it was time to come in he’d caught nine smallies. I’d caught two.

I finally swallowed my pride and asked him what was going on. He said it was the color of my jig. I figured that was the problem, everything else we were doing was pretty much the same, but I didn’t understand why color made so much of a difference.

We were fishing deep, so I figured my white turned into a gray shade which would make it look like everything else down there. I was wrong. Billy said I should learn to think like a fish.

He went on to explain that the deep forage didn’t look gray to a fish. My jig looked unnatural. He theorized that the yellow turned into a more natural looking hue when it went below where most of the light penetrated.

He never explained exactly how he knew that. I can’t offer you much information beyond what I’ve already said. I can tell you, however, that yellow is a very productive color in the fall and winter when the smallies are at or below 20 feet. I haven’t forgotten that.

The bigger point he was making wasn’t lost on me, either. Whatever the deal is with yellow it looks good to the fish. That’s the test. We need to think the way they think. (I know that technically fish don’t think. Nevertheless, you get the idea.)

We can use Billy’s advice anywhere and anytime we go fishing. We know smallmouth bass do not like sunlight. Therefore, when we fish structure or cover we should think like the fish. Where would we be if we were living down there and wanted to get away from sunlight but still take advantage of the safety and feeding opportunities the spot offers? We need to do more than mindlessly throw into the shade.

Have you ever noticed that smallies will bite around a marina or launch ramp, even when there’s a lot of boat traffic, but they’ll swim away instantly if you bang a locker lid on your boat deck while fishing an isolated bank.

Think like a fish. The boat traffic is normal. They have no reason to fear it. They know from experience that it’s not going to hurt them. The same can’t be said about the lid banging on the deck out away from boat traffic.

We all need to look at the world through the eyes of our prey. Billy did, and look what it did for him.

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