Schooling fish require common sense and etiquette
Last updated 10/18/2022 at 6:12pm
The sun has just broken the horizon to illuminate a relatively smooth lake surface, the temperatures are mild and the forecast is in the anglers favor. A short boat ride into the wide open expanse of Sabine is stopped so one of the anglers in the boat can glass the area with a pair of binoculars in hopes of finding a set of working birds. The glassing pays off and the boat of hopeful anglers speed off in the direction of the birds with visions of speckled trout busting shrimp racing through their mind. The boat driver pulls back on the throttle, kills the motor, and steps to the front deck to drop the trolling motor in the water so the boat can be better positioned and everyone on board can reach the fish. Just as our anglers reach the perfect distance from the flock it happens, a familiar roar comes from various directions and the perfect scenario is about to go wrong in a big way. Within minutes our anglers are now surrounded on all sides by half dozen boats and some very over zealous anglers.
The wakes from the boat traffic turn the calm surface into a rolling unstable affair. The birds and fish are now surrounded by an “armada” of lure chunking, boat banging, would be fisherman who cannot understand why the fish and the birds suddenly disappear. This scenario will play out again many times as the over anxious anglers refuse to learn from their mistakes and turn what could have been a memorable day on the water into one full of frustration and few fish.
Now if the truth were really known most anglers have been on both sides of that example, we have been both victim and villain. It’s tough for the average fisherman to have the patience to come into a situation like the one above and not get antsy or in a hurry. All it takes is one boat to start crowding the school or moving fast and before you know it the whole herd is in stampede mode.
“That guys not beating me to the fish” or “if we don’t get there we won’t get a shot at the fish” are common remarks that most fisherman make, truth be known that’s not the case at all. If anglers would come off plane earlier, use more trolling motor, approach from the upwind side, and work with other boats instead of against them everybody would catch more fish. If you want to ever see the
look of surprise on somebody’s face just watch another angler when you ease up to a school of fish and ask them if it’s alright to fish near them, most people are floored that anyone would even offer to do that. I promise you if you ask politely and use common sense that on the next bunch of birds you fish that angler you spoke to earlier will do the same for you, courtesy is contagious.
As good as the fishing gets during the fall you can certainly expect increased traffic on the lake from both local and out of town anglers. The last thing you ever want to happen is to have a confrontation with someone while you are on the water. I have witnessed some very heated moments on Sabine, there have even been some altercation at the boat ramp if you can believe that. There is no fish out there worth that kind of behavior. Please remember a few simple rules while chasing the birds, approach slow, watch your boat wakes, be courteous, do everything possible to find your own school of fish, work with other fishermen, and by all means keep your cool. Follow these simple rules and you will certainly have a memorable day on the water.
Let's talk about exactly what you should be doing if you find yourself with the opportunity to chase schooling fish under the birds. First, if possible, determine the direction the school is traveling and get in front of them or along side of them. I see so many fishermen try to chase these fish from behind and it usually ends up as just a frustrating exercise, especially when it’s a herd of redfish on the move. Once you have the direction figured out stay just inside of your casting range in order not to spook or break up the school. Getting too close or pressing these feeding fish is perhaps the biggest mistake most anglers make in this situation. By staying on the outer edge of the school you can follow them as they move and increase the odds of the school staying active for a longer period of time. It’s not uncommon to stay with one group of schooling fish for an hour or more if you don’t crowd them or break up the school.
Now after the schooling activity slows down, or even comes to a stop, don’t just take off in search of the next group of birds because you may be leaving too soon. I can’t count the times that I’ve watched other boats around me leave only to see those fish begin feeding again before those boats wakes settled out. Usually what happens is the school of fish loses the bait they had been chasing and it takes a few minutes for them to herd it back up to the surface again. The angler who is patient and gives those fish a chance to gather up again may be rewarded with a school all to themselves while those other boats are leaving for parts unknown.
Some of these little tricks and helpful hints will certainly help you put more fish in your boat this fall. A little common sense and courtesy along with some fishing knowledge will go a long way toward your success on the water this month. Keep a cool head, a good pair of binoculars, charged up trolling motor batteries, and a healthy supply of patience on hand because it’s going to be a great fall season.