First fish nothing to overlook

As bass go, the first fish of the morning was nothing special.

But the fact is, that unremarkable 11-inch largemouth was a hint of good times coming. It sent a signal, and it was up to me to recognize the message and tweak tactics accordingly.

Five casts into my fishing day, the little bass nipped the 5-inch Yum Dinger I’d rigged whacky-style. As the unweighted bait wiggled and wobbled, the fish pecked and I pulled.

It’s always good to have a fish show interest so early in a fishing trip. Even a little bass like the one last Sunday provides clues on which the observant angler can formulate a game plan for the bigger fish that we hope to entice.

Trips that start fishless and drag unproductively for an hour, and then two hours, also are days when the fish are providing information – but we fail to get clued in.

For the anglers who are paying attention, every fish provides a piece of the puzzle that can lead to the next fish. But equally as telling are the results of each and every cast.

The little dink that bit first Sunday responded in predictable fashion based on the conditions. The weather was cool and crisp. The sun was bright in a cloudless sky. Nary a ripple ruffled the surface.

Under circumstances like that, experienced anglers know a big clunky bait will do more harm than good. When it is still and bright, a fish can pick up on every stimulus in its environment. So unless it’s feeding on big ol’ turtles – very unlikely, of course – it’s better to put a subtle bait to the test.

As Sunday advanced, the tactics that worked all involved stealth and finesse. I finished my day before the afternoon wind fully developed, so the food chain was in its typical high-sky, bright sun state of relative inactivity.

So the clue that I grasped as that first bass pecked my plastic worm was well heeded.

Some anglers will guess right on a day like my most recent fishing trip, then shift gears even when the fish haven’t indicated the need to do that.

It would have been easy to put down the spinning rod and weightless stick worm and pick up the crankbait rod or try any of a dozen other lures designed to provoke reaction or feeding strikes from aggressive fish.

But the bright sky and relatively still water would have made such presentations come across as overpowering and unnatural. The fish were in a middling mode, so finesse was the play of the day.

Attentive anglers can pick up new clues as the day ticks on and conditions change.

Had I started to notice bass following my worm to the boat or darting up from the murk to take a pass at a sinking bait, I’d have changed tactics. Aggressive moves like chasing or charging indicate the fish are in the mood to eat and will respond better to lures that look like fleeing food.

Sometimes the fish will tell us that working a topwater or burning a spinnerbait will be the best way to get them hooked.

Likewise, anglers who pay attention to every cast, who vary depths, angles and retrieve speeds will soon figure out the best way to get bit.

That first fish, even if it’s a bit on the short side, is nothing to overlook. That first bass or walleye or crappie can be a beautiful thing for the angler who recognizes everything that fish has to say.

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