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Deep Water Fishing Tactics
Every angler knows fish are not always to be found on the surface or in shallow water. Various factors contribute to this migration into deeper water — but two of the most important are water temperature and availability of feed. Once fish are at these depths, you must be prepared to either get your lures down to them or deal with the frustration of an empty creel.
Many lakes go through a transitional stratification each year. As spring turns into summer and the sun begins to impart its warming influence on the surface of a lake three distinctive water temperatures zones or layers begin to form: the epiliminion, the thermocline and the hypolimnion.
These layers are often fully formed by early to mid-summer creating a totally new environment for both the fish and the fisherman. The upper layer (the epiliminion), often too warm to support many cool-water species, now can become devoid of these fish. So where do they go? Well, some species, such as lake trout head right for the bottom — the hypolimnion — and if there is sufficient oxygen and feed will spend their entire summer there only returning to shallow water when the fall winds and colder temperatures break up this stratification. But others will spend their time in and around the thermocline, moving up or down as water temperatures or the availability of feed dictates.
Cool-water species such as pike and, in particular large pike or walleye, often survive the summer by moving to weed lines, deep-water structures or suspending near the thermocline. Or they will seek refuge off deep-water points, springs or creek inlets that are cooler than the surrounding water. Unfortunately, some anglers find these dog days of summer too frustrating to even bother venturing forth to wet a line, but why give up on what can be a very rewarding and fun time to fish?
Remember the fish are still there, you just have to know where to look and how to organize your fishing effort to maximize your opportunity for success. I think I have tried about every method of fishing deep-water known to man: downriggers, weights or sinkers of all descriptions to lead core and steel line, divers, jigging lures and sinking fly lines. All worked but each required their own technique and, of course, equipment. But where does one start? First, you need to find out just where and at what depth the fish you are looking for are at. A good quality fish locator is without doubt the answer to this problem. Secondly, a good GPS will assist you in marking these spots for future use. But if you don’t have access to a fish locator, don’t chuck in the towel just yet as you can still find these fish through trial and error. Initially it will just take you a bit longer to find these prime holding areas.
As for ways to get down — let’s start with the downrigger, undoubtedly my all time favourite tool for deepwater fishing. It allows you to very carefully control the depth you want to fish and just as importantly, you can run more than one line off each downrigger thereby fishing various depths at the same time; it’s just a matter of stacking your lines a few metres apart. Also, once a fish is hooked, you’re battling only the fish and not a bunch of weight.
With a downrigger, my favourite technique for bottom-hugging fish is to run my downrigger weight a metre or so off the bottom with my lure trailing back just far enough so that it is working within centimeters of the bottom. As I’m trolling, I carefully watch my sounder and raise or lower the downrigger weight as the bottom dictates. Don’t forget to vary your trolling speed and if the lure you are using isn’t working, change it.
My second favourite approach in reaching deep-water fish is vertical jigging. After identifying where the fish are holding, I then drift over the area, free-spool my lure or jig to the desired depth and begin jigging it to impart erratic action. Strikes will often occur on the free fall but will remain undetected until you begin to raise your rod tip so be prepared to instantly set the hook if you feel any resistance. While I prefer to drift fish these areas, if it’s too windy to keep your lure in their living room, try anchoring. If you do need to anchor, drop the anchor sufficiently high on the upwind side so that by the time your anchor takes hold you will have drifted back over the area you intend on fishing. Anchoring won’t provide the same coverage but it’s better than remaining onshore.
A couple of other factors to bear in mind when jigging are your line and lure type. If you are trying to reach considerable depths, line drift can become a real concern. So the smaller the line diameter the better — this is where braided lines come into their own. Not only are they small in diameter, but they also have a very high tensile strength to line diameter ratio. But even better yet is that at these depths they have virtually no stretch for an instant hook-set.
It is also important to select lures that can descend quickly as not only will they get to the desired depth more quickly but they can also be kept there longer. Lures such as the Buzz Bomb, Krocodile, Gator, Spinnow, Zzinger or a Crippled herring are some surefire bets. When it comes to jigs I would suggest a round head with a long shank. When this design of jig is pulled vertically, it will provide a cam-like action that increases the chances for a hook set.
Last, it’s also important to understand that depth changes colours. For instance, red filters out at about 10 metres whereas brighter colors such as white, pearl or chartreuse will gray out at about 20 metres. Blues and greens will last the longest and black is always black.
While the remaining methods for deep-water fishing such as divers, sinkers and steel or lead core line can be effective, they will require a bit more of a hit-and-miss approach. The reason is that often the depth you seek is not only affected by the amount of line you let out but also by the speed your boat is travelling. These two variables however can become manageable through trial and error — just let out line and vary your boat speed until you get into fish. Keep track of this depth by ether monitoring the how many full rotations your level wind makes as it lets out line, or by counting pulls. (Or purchase a reel with a depth-counter.)
I then use the speed indicator on my fish finder to keep track of my boat speed. If the fish are right on the bottom, I usually like to feel my lure bounce bottom and then retrieve just a bit of line so that I know my lure is working within that last meter of water. With this technique I also like to impart additional action to my lure by moving my rod tip ahead a few feet and then quickly dropping it back into place. It’s sure to generate additional strikes.
So don’t let those mid-summer days keep you off the water. Have a go with one of or all of these deep-water tactics and you won’t be disappointed.
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