Planning: “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.” Sun Tzu-Art of War
Some trips are better than others and few trips ever go as planned. But one common rule stands true: better-planned trips generally go better overall. One thing that could make so many outdoor adventures more tolerable and even pleasant for more people is something as simple as better planning. Some people plan for trips with potato salad in mind. I plan trips for optimum fishing.
Many of my co-workers, friends and associates plan a trip with everything in mind except great fishing. Fish planning comes last for most of the weekend urban fishing crowd. Then they get there and wonder why the fish are not jumping in the boat. The answer may be as obvious as fishing a river during the peak runoff period or fishing a lake that simply has very few active fish. In some cases the two water types are right next to each other. They simply had to transition from one to the other (of course I am assuming the lake would be better to fish than the river-actual conditions may vary). A little bit of homework would have showed them that.
A lot of my trips have gone awry even with meticulous planning. Fishing conditions can fluctuate so much that it really can be hit or miss even when you plan well. To help add some visualization to my “Philosophy of Trip Planning” I have added an illustration of one trip that started out great but fell apart quickly even with some of my best efforts.
(Above: Red marks indicate days of the week. The blue line indicates the fishing action and how it fluctuates from one day to the next. A high blue curve is optimal fishing conditions whereas a low blue curve is dismal or nonexistent. The catch ratio is realistically 100 fish versus zero.)
The trip was a run into territory off my usual target range of 5 to 30 miles driving distance. In fact this was 80-90 miles away. Considering the extra drive time we opted for hotel rooms in order to focus all of our time on great fishing. Monday things looked great. By Thursday we were writing down emergency phone numbers and filling out donor cards. Weather was UGLY. Roads were closed and we ended up scratching the whole damn weekend of fishing (of course I ended up fishing some no name creek with 10”trout…must fish).
Now the trip is in “backpeddle mode” and we scrambled to shift things a week down on the calendar. Luckily the reservations could be moved and days off work didn’t mess up the weekend. With some smooth talking, late shifts and good old-fashioned elbow grease the trip turned from red to green. We were all set for next weekend.
And wouldn’t you know it…bad weather rolled in again. Another storm front and 20 degree drop in air temperature. The snow wasn’t nearly as bad as the previous week and roads were open. We fished through it this time and held our own. Warm water species lake fishing on Brush Hollow was scrapped early and we hit the Ark River for “always active” brown trout on the coldwater scene instead. The point I am trying to make is that you plan the best you can and your trip will be better for it. There are so many things that you can’t control. Plan for everything that you do control. Throw in a Plan B or even C if possible.
Now let’s take a look at a few things you do control in regards to fishing. Focusing “good planning” on these elements will put more opportunity in front of you. Potato salad is optional but you have to pack it. I barely have room for extra tackle and water. Let’s begin.
Planning the species is very crucial if your primary focus of this trip is to do well in the “catching” department. Nearly every species that I can think of has periods of high activity and periods of lesser activity. Planning your trip during the peak times within a certain fish’s natural cycle can mean everything for some fish like tiger muskie or football shaped perch. Some species have naturally aggressive feeding periods at certain times of the year so targeting these periods often results in better catch. It may be as basic as timing the ice-off on certain lakes or even during fall when fish try to put on that feedbag before winter.
Other key factors to look for in the species are it’s spawning cycle. Most fish are at their peek activity levels right before and after the spawn. Rainbow trout spawn in the spring while brown trout spawn in the fall. Anglers find more activity from one trout species as opposed to the other, on the same stretch of water, simply depending on what time of year it is. It is also crucial to know when certain species are nesting/rearing as to allow optimum conditions for next year.
Location is another major factor as not all water is “good fishing”. Once you learn a little about the species you are targeting, the search for good water should follow next in your thought process. There are many resources at your fingertips via the internet but also look to books, videos, anything you can get your hands on. Mining through it takes time but worth every second. My best fish often come from secluded waters that have been found through research and scouting. Find the good spots yourself and make others do the same. That is part of the lore of fishing. Sharing with friends is good but coughing up your best fishing spots to the shameless masses is utterly foolish in my opinion.
Weather and seasonal factors are huge for safety, comfort and fishing results. Some fish will favor certain seasonal conditions that may come with perils. Mackinaw prefer those drastic temperature drops during ice off and late fall. The worst weather may fall into this time frame so extra precaution is not just advised but required. Make sure you have the right weather gear and items for these trips. Consult professionals if needed.
Moon phase is something I factor in but is not absolute. This means that I will try to aim the planning in this direction but if work and other elements don’t all properly align, the trip can be moved a few days or even a week or two one direction or the other. Some trip planning can fall apart completely if you try to cram every aspect into one particular day. Being a bit more flexible with one eye on the moon phase is how I keep most trips on track and closest to optimum.
Checklist and mental walkthrough is excellent follow up for any trip plan. Go over that list several times to make sure you have the essential items. Mentally walking through your trip and fishing day will reinforce that list.
Setting expectations is more important than people might think. Nothing kills a ride home from a trip more than deflated expectations. Not every trip will contain trophy fish or buckets upon buckets of fish meat. Being optimistic is a good thing. Expecting a glorious fishing trip of epic proportions every time you walk out the door is setting you up for a letdown. Being more realistic and hoping for one great fish or a few good quality fish will keep you more properly focused.
Lastly, don’t over think things. Even the best planners can over think a trip during the planning stage. You know you have gone this route when you spend more time packing, unpacking and then packing again only to unpack all that stuff once you get home. Set your priorities for the outdoors and focus on the items you will need and use. Once again the walkthrough should solidify what you need and that extra stuff that might make things a little bit more comfortable.
That pretty much covers all of the elements and things that roll through my mind before a big trip or a tip to that special spot when you want the very best action that water can provide. I hope this tattered piece of material will help you plan better to fish better unless what you really wanted all along was potato salad.
My name is Matt and I’m a fishaholic.