Articles & Tips

By Legendary Angler, Gary Roach - Mr. Walleye

Articles and tips are provided by Legendary Angler Gary Roach. Known to all as Mr. Walleye, Roach has spent his life teaching anglers the art of catching fish.

There are only two reasons a fish doesn’t bite. They’re not hungry, or you haven’t provided enough of a stimulus to get them to react. You see, there are two reasons a fish bites. They are either hungry, or they are reacting to a bait by striking it.

Fish don’t have arms, so if they want to inspect something they have to grip it with their mouth. A fish might strike out of irritation, like when a lure is on their spawning bed, or they might perform a territorial strike if the lure is in their sanctuary. The result can be that fish getting hooked.

I recall a fishing trip on a muskie lake, where during a break a fishing buddy of mine pitched a crankbait out and let it sit while we were taking a sandwich break. The lure had only sat there for a couple of minutes when a muskie swam up to it and just sat there looking at it. Instead of a swirling crush that muskie just slowly opened its mouth and gently gripped the lure. This fish wasn’t hungry, it was just curious.

I always set up my initial game plan with the assumption that the fish will be hungry when I get there. I’ve always figured that if you get a bait in front of a fish and keep it there long enough they will bite. It works for me most of the time.

Of course I have had a lot of practice with a live-bait rig. The Roach Rig is a live-bait rig that allows you to easily adjust the distance between the weight and the bait, which comes in handy when trying to find the right formula to generate a bite.

When rigging, your goal is to put a piece of meat, like a minnow, leech or nightcrawler right on the nose of whatever species you’re after. If they’re hungry they will eat it. The Roach Rig is the ultimate technique for presenting a bait to a hungry fish.

Jigs are also great lures to attract hungry fish. Tip a jig with live bait or a scented plastic trailer and get it into the zone where the fish are and if they’re hungry they’ll hit it.

Crankbaits now, they’re duel-purpose lures. They will not only get hungry fish to react, but you can also generate those curiosity or reactionary strikes. That’s the beauty of crankbaits. Fish will hit these lures, even when they’re not hungry. With a slow presentation that is typical for live bait, if the fish is not going to eat, it’s not going to take that bait.

Some anglers think that a crankbait has to be screaming past a fish to get it to react. That’s not true. That lure just has to be moving. The key to getting a fish to hit a crankbait is to make sure you’re getting that lure into the fish.

Speed is a factor. When trolling or casting a crankbait the speed that lure is moving is going to be one of the variables as to whether that fish will strike. Other variables are lure color, shape, action, and if the lure has rattles or not. You have to experiment with all these variables to find out what the right combination is to generate a strike. With a crankbait you never really know if the fish are hungry or if they are just reacting to the bait.

That is true with spoons as well. I have been in situation where a big pike would swim right past a sucker and hit a spoon. Spinnerbaits are reaction lures. So are in-line spinners and some topwater lures. You never know if a fish is taking a crack at these lures because they’re hungry or they’re curious or mad or just wanting to play with their food.

I would say that much of my fishing is done with the emphasis on targeting hungry fish. I use the Roach Rig often and I tie on plenty of jigs. But when those fish just don’t seem to be hungry, it’s time to tie on a lure that will get them to bite, even when they don’t have eating on their mind.

When that muskie lipped that crankbait that was sitting on the surface, my buddy was pouring a cup of coffee and getting ready to finish his venison sandwich. I picked up the rod, set the hook and handed it to him. He spilled the coffee, choked on the sandwich and fell over to get to the rod. He finally just told me to land that “dang” muskie before he kills himself. It was a forty incher. A nice fish that got caught because he was curious. That curiosity didn’t kill the cat, I mean muskie.. We took a picture and let it go.

Thinking Like a Pro

Professional anglers don’t really fish much different than the weekend anglers, we just think differently. Here’s an example. When a pro-angler takes to the water they know where the fish should be and they go there. We’ve been patterning a particular species of fish for so long we have confidence in the spots we go to because, through experience, that’s where those fish should be.

The twice-a-month angler doesn’t get to spend as much time on the water so they must rely on information from the bait shop or join a group of boats. Some look for their own school of fish, but without the assurance of a bite or two in the spot they pick, it’s tough to put much effort into a location that isn’t producing, and much easier to hang with the crowd.

The only way you will ever gain confidence in your search for a school of non-pressured fish is to get good at finding productive spots. Since you can’t spend a lot of time on the water you need to substitute that lack of time with some equipment. That would be a top-of-the-line sonar.

By researching the period and the species you’re targeting you can get a general idea of how deep and what kind of structure the fish are on. Then it’s just a matter of going to spots like that on the lake and performing your search. Searching is faster and easier with a high-end sonar.

I find that most anglers have a tough time deciphering what they see on their sonar screen. If that’s your situation consider an underwater camera where you can actually see what you’ve got on that sonar screen. This sure shortens the learning curve. It won’t be long before you will be at a master-class level in sonar reading and finding fish, your own fish that aren’t being harassed by a bunch of other anglers.

Another area where pros think differently is with lure choice. It seems that the weekend angler tends to get stuck on a technique and they use it whether it’s producing or not. It’s easy to get locked into one presentation because it’s the technique you’ve used enough to get good at, but techniques are only as good as the conditions that make it a good or bad choice.

Here’s how the pros think. It is in fact more detailed than this, but if you understand the basic program you can fine tune as you gain experience.

When fish are tightly grouped you use techniques that target them, like a vertical jigging presentation or a Roach (live bait) Rig. If the fish are spread out you need techniques that allow you to cover some ground, like a crankbait or a spinner rig.
An example would be walleyes that are spread out and suspended over a deep hole next to a sunken island. A Roach Rig would keep the bait on the bottom and the fish are suspended, but a crankbait trolled through the scattered fish would work great.
Here’s another example. Largemouth bass are in the lily pads. The best pads are those that are shallower and surrounded by thick mats of milfoil. Time for a topwater lure. Even a spinnerbait would be no match for this heavy cover, but a floating topwater bait will generate some bites. If those bass were on the deeper pads that had sparse cover on the edges I would tie on a jig and just make short pitches to the edge of that cover.

We pros are always thinking about how we can tailor our presentation to match the condition of the fish, not the structure. Let the fish dictate what you tie on.

The average angler tends to not only use the same technique whether the situation calls for it or not, they also fish at the same speed no matter what the mood of the fish.

I’ve witnessed anglers continuing to put live bait on their jigs when the walleyes were biting like crazy. I switch over to a scented plastic trailer to tip that jig with because when the fish are aggressive I can catch three to one if I don’t have to rebait after every fish.

When the bite gets tough you just have to slow way down and add a whole new dimension to what you qualify as finesse. When the weather shuts down the fish I’ll use the liveliest bait, because lively bait catches fish, dead or lethargic bait won’t.
I will also sit right on top of fish. On a tough bite you have to coax bites. That can mean leaving a struggling minnow in front of a fish’s nose until it decides to commit. Once you understand that a negative bite requires determination and concentration you’re thinking like a pro.

Finding fish is the first priority of the pro-angler. We use our sonar to make sure we are putting the bait in front of fish. Then we look at how the fish are positioned, stacked up or spread out, to determine the lure choice and if the weather or some other factor has put the fish in a negative mood we modify our approach to compensate for that. You can all fish just like we do, but if you start thinking like a pro, you will not only be fishing like we do, but catching like we do too.

Tips for Choosing Line

1 – There are so many varieties of fishing line these days you have to read a book to decide what to buy. First, remember that there is no need to switch to a different style if what you’re using is working fine. The majority of anglers still use monofilament because it works well for most situations.

2 – The superlines are low in stretch and very sensitive. These braided lines are small in diameter with high strength and work well for trolling and live-bait rigging. Use a rod with a “soft” tip when using superline because of its low-stretch quality.

3 – Fluorocarbon line is completely invisible underwater and works great for leaders on live-bait rigs. I also like the lighter diameter for spinning reels and small jig presentations. Make sure you wet the knot well before cinching or it will break there during a good fight.

4 – There is a new fluorocarbon line that is highly visible above the water and invisible underwater. This is the perfect line for plastic-worm fishing and Carolina rigging.

5 – Learn the Palomar knot for tying on lures, hooks, and terminal tackle. This knot is easy to tie, never slips or breaks and is recommended for the braided superlines. Use a search engine to find it on the Internet.

Tips for Better Boat Control

1 – Boat control is easy when the current is slow or the wind is calm, but that is only about 10 percent of the time. During much of the open-water season, when fish are concentrated on structure it is imperative that you keep the boat right where the fish are if you want to be successful.

2 – Any boat over 18 feet long should have at least one drift sock. I carry two. On those windy days when you could drift a reef or a weedline you can maintain a productive drift speed and control the position of the boat with a bow- or transom-mounted electric motor.

3 – Trolling has become a simple process with the introduction of the GPS and map chip combination. With this handy tool anglers that like to weave a snaky weedline can do it with ease just by following the contour map on the GPS screen.

4 – On the river I often use both my gas and electric motor. The gas motor is set to keep the nose of the boat into the current with a slight slip downstream and the electric motor positions the boat wherever it needs to be in the channel.

5 – The ultimate boat control is an anchor, actually two anchors. When you find fish concentrated in a spot an anchor off the bow and transom to hold the boat in position is as good as it gets.

Tips for Topwater Bass

1 – Topwater anglers always set the hook too soon and then cuss when the lure comes flying back at them. Count to two after you see the boil. I tend to reel in the slack and drop the rod tip when I see the fish strike the lure, which takes about two seconds. Hesitate and every time you set the hook there will be a bass on.

2 – After casting a topwater always wait a few seconds until the ripples are gone. Then twitch the lure a few times before starting the erratic retrieve.

3 – Always be prepared to set the hook immediately after that lure hits the water. It’s amazing how many anglers are so surprised that a topwater lure gets struck as soon as it touches down that they almost always miss the fish.

4 – If bass are just bumping the lure and not opening their mouths to inhale the bait, tie a three inch piece of red yarn around one of the hooks. This can trigger a fish to grab the bait instead of just nudging it.

5 – Some anglers like to burn a topwater buzzbait over slop and around lily pads and if a bass takes a whack at it, and misses, they grab another rod rigged with a topwater floater and they pitch the lure right out to that spot and let it sit until that hungry bass hits it.