By Nick Simonson
In every water where fish swim and survive, there’s something for them to eat. Knowing what’s on the menu and how to imitate it – whether on the fly, with standard tackle or through the ice – is a great first step to success. Creating or purchasing those lures which imitate available forage for gamefish will help increase the odds of catching them.
Scout It Out
In open water seasons, it is easy to get a first-hand view of what fish might be feeding on. Simply by looking in the water, forage can be detected. It may be a school of shiner minnows or young-of-the-year bluegills congregated around a boat launch dock which provide an easy clue as to what predators are eating. Flip a rock in the shallows and watch what scatters in the light to get another idea. It could be scuds, crayfish, caddis larvae or aquatic worms that panfish and bass are picking on for sustenance. Look to the water’s edge to find other sources of food, including small morsels like mayflies for trout, or bigger options like frogs and mice for bass and pike. By simply observing the prey items in and around the water, an idea of what’s there for dinner can be determined. Don’t forget to check in the mouths of fish as they are caught – sometimes they’ll regurgitate recently-devoured prey. When saving a few fish for the table, check their guts during the cleaning process as well to get a helpful clue.
In winter, it is still possible to get an idea as to what bigger fish are eating by simply looking into a sampling report. These surveys, usually done by an agency with mesh nets or an electro-shock survey, will provide not only the kinds of fish in the water, but oftentimes will include the size and density of those species. Thus, in a lake survey that shows a few larger bass and a bunch of smaller bluegills and perch, it’s easy to take the next step and venture a guess as to what the largemouth are dining on. Use these resources to prepare lures and offerings, especially on new waters to be visited next spring and summer.
Once the preferred diet items are determined, set out or create those lures that match up to what’s on the menu. If a strong perch population is present in a water body, lures with patterns that match the forage should be at the ready for an adventure. For lakes with lots of small bluegills, but bigger predators as well, have crankbaits, spinners and other offerings in blues, purples and similar darker hues prepared. Even smaller species, like bluegills, will key in on offerings that match what they eat – if it’s red chironomids (a/k/a “bloodworms”) a small red jig tipped with a red spike or piece of bait such as Berkley Gulp! will provide a suitable alternative to the real thing.
By considering the color of natural forage, it is easier to determine an offering that will likely have an allure to game fish that are feeding on what already lives in the water. In winter, when crafting lures for these varied flows with their different levels of certain food items, take these colors to heart. Tie jigs with green, orange and white for lakes with perch populations at the base of the food pyramid. Streamers tied up with gold-white-and-black bucktail will assist on pike and muskie waters where suckers are prevalent. Crankbaits painted in oranges and browns will help imitate crawdads crawling on the bottom in spring and summer. If tackle-crafting isn’t part of the cold weather plan, don’t worry. Lures that match what’s swimming can be found at a local fishing shop and retailers in the know can help provide more insight as to patterns that work and what they represent.
This year, level up in the game of fishing by focusing on forage. The clues which the natural world provides, along with the information presented by agencies and those who know what’s swimming away from those lunker predators, can help with lure creation and selection which will in turn increase success many times over.
Featured Photo: In lakes where bluegills are present with walleyes, try crafting spinners that match the color of this forage – hues in deep blue, purple and green will help connect with fish. Simonson Photo.