These days, it seems as if all companies are selling the world on food that’s non-GMO, preservative-free, contains no artificial colors and is all-natural, in an attempt to hook consumers on a “better-for-you” option. If it looks like it came from a pristine garden, is minimally processed, or would be something you’d eat right off the tree or from the ground, their bet is that you will buy it and more importantly, feel good about it in this age where the Big Mac is still a top seller and most of us could afford to shed a few extra pounds.
The key to catching fish is the same, though without all the social psychology behind it; keep the presentation of bait and lures natural and exhibiting the same behaviors that prey would give off in the wild. While there are instances where vertical or diagonal movement and alignment do occur in nature, a horizontal presentation is key to turning fish on at this time of year. Sure, while “junk” options of aggressively ripped spoons and other active presentations trigger a response – like fast food advertised on the side of a bus – and pay off in limited hot moments at midseason, aligning baitfish and smaller morsels like waxworms and maggots in a natural way can better convert those neutral fish that roll through under the hole this time of year.
In summer, you may have seen minnows schooled up under a dock or in the shallows of a lake or river. Rarely do they zoom straight up or straight down. More often than not, they rest horizontally, flitting their fins to keep balance and stay in line with the school. Under a bobber or on a deadstick in winter, presenting baitfish in a similar manner requires a light connection with a hook to match both the prey and the predator being targeted. Smaller hooks in size 6 work well for crappies and perch, and bigger hooks in sizes 4, 2 and 1 will connect better with walleyes and pike and handle the upsized bait they require. Typically, hooking the baitfish through the back in a manner that provides a firm enough connection but doesn’t go too deep so as to allow the small fish to swim normally is the best bet under a bobber.
When jigging or presenting more active options, keeping the hook and the bait on a horizontal plane is preferred. Discerning fish like bluegills will often spurn an angled offering, so check to make sure the lure is aligned. The knot should be set at the 12-o’clock position on the jig eye and should be adjusted back to that point each time a fish is caught or new bait is added. Make sure to monitor line twist that would cause the presentation to spin unnaturally, and cut and retie after a few fish have spiraled their way up the hole if the lure doesn’t sit still when you lower it into the water. While there are times when insects and microorganisms rise in a non-horizontal manner, 95 percent of the time, setting the hook to convert a take that’s in line with the fish’s mouth should be the default.
The same can be said for predators like walleyes. Having a jig tipped with a minnow, by hooking the baitfish firmly, but not disablingly, through the lips provides for some natural swim and flitting tail action while the offering is directly worked through the depths. Checking the bait from time to time to make certain it isn’t sliding around the hook will also assure a natural, horizontal presentation.
In the end, fish are subject to the same instincts humans are. From time-to-time at midseason, a reaction strike is possible, like your unplanned detour through the drive-thru. But for the most part, fish are focused on something natural and don’t have to do a whole lot of product comparison to make their decision. Making sure your presentation matches their mood and keys in on the subtle forage cues they look for will help you connect with more fish…in our outdoors.