Fishing In Pressured Waters

Not what you’re looking for? Find more general fishing articles!

The popularity of fishing continues to flourish each year. This growth is fundamental for the future of the sport we love, but can also spell competition and congestion on some of our favourite waterways.

Increased angling pressure often equates to a tougher bite, as fish become conditioned to resist our favourite baits, are apt to move to less intrusive areas or simply develop the dreaded ‘lock jaw’ affliction.

Adapting and changing your mindset can help put the odds back in your favour – and give you the edge when casting a line in the community honey hole.


1. Pressure points

Fish pressure can originate from a variety of sources. The number one cause is by anglers themselves. This is best illustrated by busy, popular fishing lakes, during weekends or holidays and while tournaments are taking place. The more anglers or boat traffic, especially targeting favourable spots, the greater the chance for a fishery under pressure.

The working angler is often limited when it comes to choosing fishing days. For most, hitting the water on a weekend is often the only option. Unfortunately, many are in the same boat. Weekends are consistently the most crowded, and angler pressure is at its highest.

Tournaments have become a fact of life on many of our more popular lakes. With most coinciding on weekends, an additional 100-plus boats is often thrown into the already busy mix. Keep in mind this pressure begins during pre-fish and continues right up until tournament time.

The age of technology has also contributed to crowded waterways. Hotspots are routinely splashed across message board forums and now, with the advent of social media, tapping in to those red-hot lakes or bites is as easy as turning on the computer.

So how do you combat the all-too-common case of angling pressure? Quite simply, a change in tactics and going against the grain will give you the edge you need.


2. Deliberate downsizing

Pressured fish are smart fish. On the strength of their highly tuned senses, fooling these now wary adversaries becomes that much more difficult. One proven way is to literally lighten up.

Light line and downsized baits appear more natural and enticing to overly cautious fish. Think of it as that after-dinner mint. You always eat one, no matter how full or uninterested you may be. Downsizing is also advantageous as it gives the fish something different to look at, as opposed to the norm that most folk will be throwing.

Fluorocarbon leaders offer low visibility. Braid and monofilament can’t touch them in this department. A six-foot section tied to your main line should do the trick. Choose a tensile strength that is adequate for the technique, but that is downsized from what you routinely tie on.

Drop lure size accordingly, but don’t be afraid to go small. Mini crankbaits, micro plastics and baby spoons are all worthwhile choices. For jigs, drop a size or two in the weight department for a slower decent and increased action. Think snack instead of meal.


3. Seek non-pressured waters

It may seem obvious, but if pressured fish are unwilling to bite, you need to set sail for greener pastures.

Times like these call for using what resources you have, including your electronics and topographical maps. Pinpoint likely looking structure that is off the beaten path – and far away from the boat traffic and anglers that are beating the lake, and fish, to a pulp.

A proven area to seek out is an underwater hump. These offshore magnets attract fish for the structure and food sources they hold. They are also invisible to the naked eye. When times are tough and competition fierce on the resident honey hole, move away from the crowds and plunk yourself down on one of these fish factories.

To fish these humps effectively, use both your electronics and marker buoys in conjunction, to graph out the entire area.

Waypoint humps, and other productive offshore structure, whenever you are out on the water. That way you have a detailed list of spots to head to when times get tough, especially when your one day of the week to fish happens to coincide with a large tournament.


4. Go off the grid

If you favourite body of water is getting too beat up, turn your attention to those out-of-the-way water holes that get little or no attention.

Back lakes are a great start and there are many gems to be found if you are willing to go off the grid a little. Non-pressured fish and minimal to no angler interaction make these all the more promising.

Some have motor restrictions or are only accessible by kayak or canoe, meaning great news for those anglers looking to truly get away from the crowds.


5. Work on your night moves

One sure-fire way to counteract angler pressure is by going against the grain. Changing your fishing schedule can easily accomplish this. Once darkness falls, the lake, for the most part, is devoid of angler attention. With this comes a return to normalcy and a more willing fish to catch.

Fishing pressure subsides during the night shift. Many fish that were unwilling to bite, or be found, during the busy daytime hours, are now more susceptible to angler attention.

Keep in mind that not all fish species are willing night time biters. But if your quarry includes walleye, bass or trout, the graveyard shift might open your eyes to many new possibilities.

Night fishing is a productive pattern for those popular lakes that get hit particularly hard. And if weekday fishing isn’t an option, casting at night on the weekends is your next best bet.

Safety is paramount when heading out in the dark. Respect the water and always take the necessary precautions.


6. Feed them live bait

When times get truly tough, offering fish the most natural of baits can be a good bet. Pressured fish may turn their noses up at artificial bait, and even the downsized versions you offer, but put a crawler, minnow or leech in front of them and nine times out of 10 it spells game over.

Even though live bait (where applicable by law) works in most instances, downsizing and lightening up, as previously discussed, is the best way to fool these wary fish. Light line and hooks, tidbit-sized bait and finesse patterns get the nod.

Present your bait naturally to get the most attention. One of my favourite patterns is to use a slip float. Light shakes or jigs can easily be achieved with this technique and bait can be set at the desired depth.

Bottom bouncers and spinner rigs are also a great option for presenting live bait to non-conforming fish. This tactic will also allow you to efficiently cover more water.


7. Go vertical

Pressured fish are often less inclined to move far for bait. Most in this neutral mood prefer bait to come to them, and then they make their mind up whether to bite.

Although horizontal presentations (think crankbaits) cover a ton of water, baits are seldom in the strike zone for more than a split second. For this reason, when I fish heavily pressured waters, utilizing a vertical tactic (think jig) will often pay the biggest dividend.

Vertical presentations can be worked extremely slow, an important triggering factor for pressured fish. A jig can remain in the strike zone for as long as you allow it, meaning fish have more time to inspect and hopefully bite.

Horizontal baits certainly do come into play for pressured fish. But, if they aren’t getting the attention they should, make the switch to an up-and-down lure. The fish should be more apt to take notice.

8. Butter them up with something new

Fish should get more credit than we give them. When it comes down to it, they are pretty smart. After seeing everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them, fish become conditioned to ignore certain lures or baits. Generally, these can be the most popular thrown.

Give the fish something that will make you stand out from the crowd. A good option is a new lure, fresh on the market. By offering them something they have never seen before, the likelihood of getting bit goes up. Even tying on an odd-ball colour of an often-thrown bait can have the same effect. I liken it to when a brand new shiny sports car passes me on the highway. I always stare and take notice.


9. Got scent?

Turning to fish attractant when dealing with finicky fish can be a productive move. Whether it is to mask repulsive odours, or attract fish with pleasant scents and taste, an extra bite or two is often possible when dousing your baits with fish attractant.

Crowded water is a common predicament for today’s angler. Pressured fish can be tough, but there are ways to make them bite – if you’re willing to adjust accordingly and add a few new tricks to your angling arsenal.

Join us on Facebook!

Do you like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Western Sportsman print edition today!

Find more general fishing articles!

This entry was posted in Fishing, General, Pike/Walleye, Trout/Char and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.