I guided fishing trips for many moons in my life.  Over the years, I considered my position as guide to be more of a teacher and consultant than a fishing guide.  That’s what guides do and so do retailers.  I’m also a retailer of many things and I spend a great portion of my time with canoes, tackle, fishing gear, camping gear and techniques and imparting information to customers and clients.  I also get a lot of exposure to many different people whose goals remain the same but their techniques vary widely as they attempt to arrive at the same result.  Being in retail, I get to see and hear it all.  Having guided for over 20 years, I understand the end result for most people.  I’ve also had a lot of exposure to common mistakes made in fishing.  Here are a few:

1. Slack in the line with a fish on:     If I had a nickel….  When you have a fish on your line, it is your job to keep the line tight against the fish at ALL times.  That doesn’t mean you need to pull and drag him around in the water, but  it does mean that your fishing rod needs to always be “loaded” with tension and there can be no slack in the line – not even for one second.  That means that your rod needs to be bent whether the fish is coming or going.  If the fish is going,  it’s fairly easy to maintain a loaded fishing rod.  If the fish suddenly turns and it is now coming at you, then you need to crank your reel and fast.  If the line goes slack for one second, the fish will detect this and shake his head to knock the hook loose.  I’ve witnessed a lot of fish losses like this over the years.  Depending on how the fish is hooked in the lip, you don’t always lose it, but you certainly increase your chances when you go to a slack line.  That is one reason for a fishing rod and reel.  It acts like a big shock absorber and allows you to keep the line tight while playing a fish.

2. Cranking on the drag:  This is a huge one.  Everybody does it as some point.  You set the hook on a fish and as he runs with your lure pulling line OUT of your reel.  You are cranking furiously on your spinning reel handle while that line is playing out.  Cranking causes the reel’s rotor to spin as it tries to wind the line around your spool.  If the line is going out and you are spinning the rotor, you are putting a twist on your line that all the king’s horses and men won’t be able to take out.  With a spinning reel and and a spincast reel (closed face – Zebco 33 type), that screeching noise is the sound of your line being pulled out of your reel.  If you turn the handle on your reel while it is screeching, you are making a mess for yourself.

The proper way to reel in a fish is to keep the line tight, the rod loaded, and let the fish run.  Be ready to crank, keeping the rod loaded for when the fish slows down and turns.  The desired maneuver for you is to crank your rod down to the water with the line tight and the drag not screeching.   That screeching (or pinging) sound is your  line being pulled out.  Then, pull up steadily and crank down again.  You are pumping the fishing rod and the fish is tiring out.  Take your time and maintain a loaded rod.  Minutes will quickly turn to hours with a large fish on  so fight the urge to get it in the boat immediately.  Netting a tired fish is easier than one that is not tire and a whole lot neater.  Nothing says huge mess like dropping a 1o pound northern into the bottom of the boat on one’s open tackle box.  It does make for very exciting times, however.  If you have a dog in the boat or a jumpy woman – I’ve had both – , that is “fun”, too!    I’ve witnessed abject panic.  I’ve also witnessed people completely freezing  (locked onto their rod and staring into the water) while becoming unresponsive to any and all words.  I also had others cranking so hard and fast that I thought their reel would catch on fire – while the line was being pulled out.  It’s only a fish.  Enjoy the fight.  Concentrate on  keeping your line tight, rod loaded, and not cranking on the drag.  Please understand that I’m not intending to criticise or make fun of my clients because moments like I’ve described make for a lifetime of awesome fish stories.  However, if you would like to improve your fishing technique, these are things you should not do.

3. Tightening the drag to full stop:  I’ve always been amazed at how many kids and adults do this.  We’d be in a boat, they’d hook a fish and while cranking it in, their drag wouldn’t sound for at all.  Their fishing rod looks like we are at the time when we should be putting on safety glasses for when it explodes.  Many times,  I would reach over and decrease the tension on their drags.    Then their line would play out and the  proper shock absorption of the rod would begin to function again.   Funny thing was that in many cases, I personally adjusted the drag prior to the start of the day.  When questioning the adult/little kid later, they would express their concern about losing a fish because the line pulls out of the reel – so when I wasn’t watching, they would tighten it up properly.   Then, I’d have to argue with them even though we JUST proved their hypothesis about losing a fish with a appropriately-set drag to be completely wrong.

Your drag is the most important part of your reel.  If you have a reel that has a drag that tightens up while you are cranking under load of a fish (Zebco 202, 33 and various cheap/old/wornout spinning reels) you need to get rid of the reel.  In fact, set it on a train track so no other member of  fishing-kind could ever touch that thing again.  Drive over it with your car or heavy equipment and unceremoniously discard it.  A lot of spincast (closed face) reels have a really loose drag wheel with numbers on it and just brushing against it can cause it to loosen or lock up very easily.  This would describe about 70% of all Zebco reels.  If you own one of these, you should make is a habit of checking your drag throughout the day – and at the end of the day, go find a train.    Check your drag by grasping your line with one hand and pulling it out of the reel.   Do not open the bail (spinning reel) or push the button (spincast or baitcast reel).    If it doesn’t pull out, your drag is locked up – loosen it.  If it pulls out super easy, then tighten it.  You want it to pull out smoothly with about medium pressure.  If, while you have a fish on, the line plays out insanely for like a 3 ounce bluegill, tighten that drag up a tad.

4. Tyng a decent knot: Tying a good knot is a lot simpler than it sounds.  An improved clinch knot should be your go-to knot for tying any hook or swivel to your line.  It’s a simple knot and will do well for the majority of your fishing knot kneeds.    Just stick your line through the loop of the hook or swivel and twist for 5 or 6 turns.  That’s the hard part.  Follow steps 3, 4, and 5 and you are good to go.  It always help if you lick the line or at least wet it right where the know is going to go.  It will tie a better knot.


5. Too much/not enough line out:  When trolling, you want enough line out that you are following the bottom.  If you are in rocky water, that can be a difficult task so here’s a rule of thumb.  If you get a lot of snags, you have too much line out.  If you get no snags when everybody else is getting snagged on occasion, you have too little line out.  If you get the occasional snag, that’s about right.  I used to remember to check on some of my guiding client’s lines and could see their lure 2 feet under the surface about 10 feet from the boat.  If I didn’t catch them and say to dump some line out, they would have dragged it around all day like that.  On the other hand, I’ve had both adults and children who continually let line play out until their reel spool is almost empty.  When they finally hang up, we have to back up the boat to the other side of the lake.  If I’m rowing or paddling, I’m not a happy camper when this happens.  So, as  guide, I would keep my eye on everybody’s lines through the course of the day.

6. Casting the shoreline:  To break up the day when the walleyes have turned off for a while, some of us would troll and one person would cast the shoreline.   I’m speaking in past tense – you can actually still do this today.   Many of my clients were not expert fisher-people and whenever having someone cast, if you are trolling backwards, have that someone sit in the bow and cast – away from everybody else.  You can forgo the hardhat and safety glasses usually despite the fact that not all of their casts will be perfect.    Trolling backwards will slow the boat to a crawl with a gas motor – you really do not need all the toys like iPilot to catch fish.  Back-trolling  keeps everybody’s lines away from the prop.  Many people think that a stead, even, tapping on their rod is a fish and will actually feed it line without mentioning it to the guide.  That’s really special.  When they finally run out of line, and it’s all on the motor prop, then they mention it.   (“I thought it was a 10 minute bite.” )   Back-trolling also provides  a really accurate reading of the bottom with your fish finder because the transducer is on the transom right next to the motors lower unit.  If the bottom suddenly comes up, the guide can respond immediately and do whatever he needs.  Front-trolling with the transducer at the stern is pretty useless if you are trying to follow a particular depth the old school way by watching the depthfinder.

Here’s the biggest mistake people make when casting the shoreline:  They don’t quite make the shore with their casts.   If they are within 10 feet of the shore, they figure that’s good enough.  It’s not.  One needs to drop the lure about 2″ to 12″ (inches) from the shore to be effective while casting.  If you are looking for smallmouth in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or other parts of northern Minnesota, landing your plug further out from shore is a completely wasted cast 98% of the time.    I cannot emphasize that  enough.    All your fishing activity for smallmouth bass in the summertime will be right on shore.    If you want a great casting lure that is easy to use and effective, use a Bomber Type A Crankbait in Crayfish pattern (and others).  Fun to cast, rarely tangles, and a smallies and largemouth will clobber it in the BWCA and all over Minnesota.    The other advantage is that it floats.  If you put it right up against shore, you can make it dive to follow the shoreline.  Also, if you take a second to swat a bug, your lure sits on the surface and waits there for you.  It doesn’t drop to the bottom and hang up instantly.  That is why I like floater/divers crankbaits.   There are lots of other lures that come to mind for this type of fishing , but this a great place to begin.

So there you have six points that may need correction or at least attention.   None of them are insurmountable but it does help to pay attention because most of them are critical if you would like to have a productive day of fishing – or at least not stick out too hard.

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walleye fishing , northern pike
Good day of fishing