by Bob Jensen

It's the beginning of yet another open water fishing season and anglers have high expectations for fishing over the next few months. Many have new rods, reels or lures that they're anxious to try, and some have new or new-to-them boats, motors, depth finders and electric motors. Some of the products that are new to the fishing world are truly amazing, but one thing remains the same: if you're not fishing where the fish are, you're not going to catch anything. It really is that simple-you can have all the best and newest equipment, but if you don't put your lure near a fish, you're not going to get a bite. Read this column for tips on how to find the fish.

Keep in mind that fish have two things that influence where they'll be: they reproduce and they eat. That's it. They'll be either getting ready to spawn, spawning, or finishing with the spawn. The rest of the time they'll be looking for something to eat. If you can identify which phase the fish are in, you can narrow your search for them substantially.

Successful catch

If you want to catch more fish this year, you've got to fish where the fish are.​

Let's say you're after walleyes and it's early in the year. They're probably in spawn mode. In most bodies of water, the walleyes spawn in shallow water close to shore. That narrows our search quite a bit, but when you take into consideration that they prefer a hard bottom area with some current for spawning, that narrows our search even more. Find an area that has a hard bottom and a little current and you're probably going to be close to walleyes.

Same thing is true with, say, crappies or bass. They're nest builders, so they need an area that has a sand bottom where they can build their nest. They like to have some cover nearby, maybe reeds, a log, a dock or even rocks. Again, if you find an area that is conducive to nest building in the early part of the year, you're probably going to be where the bass and panfish are.

After the spawn, the fish will be wherever their food is. Walleyes are often thought of as bottom-feeders, and they are if that's where their food is. But if their food is off the bottom, they'll be off the bottom. I've caught lots of walleyes that were fifteen feet off the bottom feeding on mayflies or high running baitfish or whatever. I've also caught lots of walleyes that were hugging the bottom feeding on perch, crawdads or bugs. Predator fish will be wherever their food is, anytime other than the spawning season.

Once we've determined, or at least think we've determined where the fish are, that's when those new rods, reels, lures, and electronics come into play. Especially later in the year when the fish are deeper, pay close attention to your depthfinder. Modern sonar units will show you where the fish are. In deeper water, it usually doesn't pay to fish an area if you're not seeing fish on your sonar. However, just because you can see them doesn't mean they're going to bite. But, if you can see them, you can try different methods, or you can come back to them later. Eventually, you'll get them to bite. Just remember, you're not going to catch 'em if they're not there.

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