Often the best fishing tackle isn't what's on the end of your line, it's what's holding up your hat.
Fishing may not seem like a mental game, but ever notice how some anglers consistently outfish others?
They probably don't have any superior physical attributes, or use some secret tackle that magically attracts fish.
It's possible they may be incredibly lucky, but here's the tough love - they probably have more fishing smarts and experience than you, and they know how to apply those to whatever they're fishing.
But here's the good news: You can be smarter, too.
Let's step back for a second. Fishing is supposed to be fun, right? Let's not turn it into work.
But fishing also is more fun when you're catching fish. If you're like me, it's no fun to watch others catch fish when you're not.
Nothing I write is going to guarantee you a fish on your next trip. But if you pay closer attention to the details, you will find your success can quickly increase.
Here are some things to think about and learn on all your fishing trips.
RESPECT THE SEASONS
Fish have a seasonal life cycle that affects their diet, location and activity level. All of these factors affect your ability to catch them. Knowing differences in seasons is critical to finding fish and deciding how to catch them.
Here's an example: Years ago I fished with pro bass angler Nick Young during winter. He was able to locate, cast to and hook largemouths in frigid water because he knew where they wintered and how they fed.
He also knew the bass would be sluggish from the cold water, so he barely moved his bait and kept his line in his fingers to feel the subtle takes.
It worked, and he landed several big bass.
His knowledge of their seasonal habits enabled him to catch bass when I didn't think it was possible, or at least, extremely unlikely.
This is different from making seasonal adjustments to your technique. Winter is always going to be colder than summer, but there are slight variations throughout each day and from day-to-day that affect fish. Weather, barometric pressure, turbidity, angle or intensity of sunlight and moon phase are just a few.
Knowing how fish react to those conditions, or how it may affect them, is another valuable bit of intelligence.
For example, you may already know largemouth bass spawn in the spring. Biologists also believe a full moon triggers females to spawn. Having that extra layer of data lets you fine-tune your fishing strategy and even plan your trip when you're more likely to catch fish.
LEARN YOUR QUARRY
Top tournament anglers have an encyclopedic knowledge of bass, which is one reason they can consistently catch fish from different bodies of water in different states even if they have no experience fishing there.
They know what habitat the fish like and what's likely to catch them. These anglers simply apply what they know to the conditions they confront.
Trout anglers, especially fly anglers, are no different. They often know the insects a trout eats as well as or better than they know the fish.
Anglers know trout become aggressive feeders during certain hatches or phases of a hatch.
That knowledge clues them into when the fish will be feeding, and on what they'll be feeding. When you know that before you get to the river, half the battle is won.
TRUST YOUR TACKLE
Some anglers search in vain for the magic lure that's going to land one fish after another.
Remember, fish typically eat lots of different things, so if they're in a feeding mood, or you present something that looks like an easy meal, they will often take it.
Sometimes the lure, bait or fly is less important than the presentation. Having confidence in your tackle means you've learned exactly what the fish wants on a given day or particular time of day.
You should probably spend as much or more time finding fish and making the right presentation than trying to find the magic lure. Remember, the time you spend switching tackle is time when you don't have a hook in the water.
That doesn't mean you should blindly stick with what you're using. Vary your presentation, including the depth you're fishing, the speed of your retrieve and where you're fishing, for example. Go through that process of elimination before you switch to your next lure, bait or fly.
The flip side to that is if you lose confidence in what you're using, you will lose focus. If you start going through the motions of fishing, switch to different tackle or bait. Hopefully, it will renew your focus.
BUILD ON SUCCESS
Any time you catch a fish, pay attention to everything you can and write it down. Look at time of day, water temperature, weather conditions, season, location, depth, type of water and what you are using.
If you record those things throughout a season or multiple seasons, you're likely to see patterns. That knowledge will help you on future trips, and also will help you understand what conditions are likely to produce good fishing.
LEARN FROM OTHERS
Remember the old saying about the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish? Consider that lesson when you're with a successful angler.
If he tells you what to use and where to fish, ask detailed questions and try to learn why. When you start catching fish, it's easy to just enjoy the moment, but try to learn something from it.
For example, I was float tube fishing for trout next to my friend Brent Gould. He was out-fishing me about three to one, even though we were fishing with the same flies and right next to each other.
Gould had spent thousands of hours float tube fishing, and at the time, I was relatively new to it.
I asked what he was doing differently. He said I was probably missing strikes. After he showed me how to better detect strikes, my catch rates picked up.
Before he showed me that, I was ready to change flies, which wouldn't have been the correction I needed. Instead of asking yourself, "What am I using?," the better question may be, "How am I fishing?"
For years, I almost exclusively fly fished for trout in streams, but I branched out. I still mainly fly fish, but in addition to trout, I fish for steelhead, bass, crappie and occasionally saltwater fish. I even ice fish.
Everything I've done, other than trout fishing, made me a better trout angler because I was able to relate each new lesson and experiences to fishing for trout.
Regardless of how you fish, make it your goal to try different styles of fishing or target a different species.
When you become a rookie all over again, you're forced to change and learn. It can be frustrating, but it's also rewarding when you figure it out.
When I learned to fish in saltwater, I learned to set the hook by stripping the line rather than raising the rod. Now I strip strike anytime I am using a heavy, sinking fly line, and it usually works better than a traditional hook set.
USE ALL TOOLS AVAILABLE
Back to float tube fishing. One of the reasons I avoided big lakes and reservoirs is they are harder to read than a river.
I bought an inexpensive fish finder that I use on my float tube. With it, I can figure out where the fish are concentrating, and equally as important, if I'm fishing where there are no fish.
Even though I don't always catch the fish I find, I learned I was wasting my time in many places I fished.
It was a small investment that has helped me become a better stillwater angler.
You don't have to be a gadget freak. Even just adding a thermometer to your fishing vest may improve your fishing.
Anything, from a fish finder to a cellphone app to a website to a thermometer may help you become a better angler.
And remember, you don't have to be on the water to improve your skills. There are libraries of books, DVDs, websites, etc. that will teach you how to become a better angler.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors