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Versatility the Key to Success


On a trip to remote waters along the Hudson Bay coast to fish brook trout last summer, I went well-stocked with traditional brookie wet fly patterns – Parmachene Belles, Colonel Fullers, Trout Fins, Montreals, McGintys and the like. They’ve stood the test of time for more than 100 years and I was confident they’d serve me well. The literature is chock full of tales of wet patterns producing when cast down and across. Well, apparently the Sutton River’s squaretails don’t read the same fishing stories I do, as after two hours in a river teeming with fish I’d managed to hook but one. Fortunately I’d arrived well stocked with options, so I clipped off my #8 Silver Doctor and tied on a 2/0 mouse pattern. On my very first cross-current cast a 4-lb. Brookie hammered the fly on the surface. Needless to say, that signalled the end of the “traditionals” on this trip.

a 4-lb. Brookie hammered the fly on the surface

a 4-lb. Brookie hammered the fly on the surface

The lesson that was reinforced to me was that the successful angler is the one who’s willing to forget their preconceived notions about what presentation “should” work, and experiment until they find one that actually does work in the current situation. Two subsets of fishermen come to mind that exemplify a dedication to versatility in their strategies, tournament anglers and ice-fishermen.

They simply can’t afford unproductive fishing hours when their reputation

They simply can’t afford unproductive fishing hours when their reputation

Among the many benefits that competitive walleye and bass fisherman have introduced to the rest of us is a certain lack of patience. They simply can’t afford unproductive fishing hours when their reputation, stature and livelihood might be on the line. As such, many of the strategies anglers accept as standard fare today emerged from the creative minds of tournament anglers not that long ago. Similarly, successful ice-fishermen have long recognized the value in mixing it up when the action slows down. In their case it’s often not the bait or presentation that they adjust, but rather the location. Everybody may have been nailing whitefish in 16 feet of water yesterday, but if they’re not finding them there today, experienced ice anglers are not at all shy about moving in or out to locate fish.

experienced ice anglers are not at all shy about moving

experienced ice anglers are not at all shy about moving

In fact, the average spin angler is probably the most guilty of “dying in the hole”, covering the same water the same way, over and over, despite a lack of success. You know what they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Well, I suspect a lot of us could be rightfully accused of being insane more often than we care to admit. Fish are subject to a vast array of variables that influence their behaviour. Water temperature, air pressure, water level, current velocity, precipitation, surface disturbances, sunlight, water chemistry, prey distribution and availability, wind direction, plant growth and numerous other environmental factors can all impact how fish are going to react at any given time. The astute angler recognizes that these factors are at play and comes prepared to adjust his tactics accordingly.

Fifteen years ago friends and I were testing our prowess on the channel catfish of Manitoba’s renowned Red River at the Lockport dam. The most common presentation at the time was a stationary bait, usually cut goldeye, shrimp or chicken livers, on a three-way swivel from an anchored boat, using a pyramid sinker to hold the bait in place. We’d barely begun fishing when our anchor rope broke, making it impossible to hold our baits steady in the Red’s strong currents. With no other obvious options, we motored up into the quiet waters of the spillway, rigged up with slip bobbers and began drifting gently through the spill waters. We were completely surprised when we hooked up a double on our first pass. For the next two hours we repeatedly motored up to the spillway face and drifted down, seldom getting more than 100 metres downstream before connecting. We had several more doubles and even one triple before calling it a day. I guess it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention, as we’d never heard of anglers slip-bobbing for cats before, but on our best day we’d never previously enjoyed that level of success. In fact, we hadn’t even heard of anglers fishing the spillway for cats, but it underscored the importance of experimentation when things aren’t going according to plan. We went back the next day and repeated the performance just to prove to ourselves that our success was no fluke. I won’t claim that we were the first to use the technique, but slip bobbers have become a popular option for Red River catfish since then.

We were completely surprised when we hooked up a double on our first pass.

We were completely surprised when we hooked up a double on our first pass.

Developing a mindset for versatility requires attention to two primary components – where you fish, and how you fish. Where you fish is all about keeping an open mind about where in any given body of water actively feeding fish can be found. Walleye are notorious for using different parts of a lake in their search for prey. At times they’ll hold fast to bottom structure in deep water, while at other times they’ll chase baitfish in water waist deep or less. On other days they’ll key in on suspended prey, meaning they’ll be found mid-column. Electronics can certainly help locate fish, but you have to be actively seeking them in a particular part of the lake to find them. How you fish refers to your presentation. Slow or fast, live bait or not. From jigs bounced and bait-rigs retrieved steadily along the bottom, to slip-bobbers presented mid-column, to crankbaits cast or trolled at depths from the surface to chugging through the mud. All will produce at times; the challenge for fishermen is to experiment with a number of different locations and varied tactics to discover where the fish are and how aggressive they are at any particular time.

From jigs bounced and bait-rigs retrieved steadily along the bottom

From jigs bounced and bait-rigs retrieved steadily along the bottom

This willingness and preparedness to experiment has long been a staple of the pros; have you ever wondered why they have half a dozen or more rods strung up and ready at all times? For most of us, a vast array of rods all set to go at a moment’s notice is not practical. What is practical and productive, however, is the ability to admit when we’re not catching fish, the willingness to search for them, and the diversity of tackle that allows us to put the right lure in front of a fish when, where and how they want it. At the end of the day, versatility may be the most important lure in your tackle box.

Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator

(2) What to expect when fishing the West Coast

(3) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing

(4) There’s No Place Like Home

(5) A Golden Opportunity

(6) The Observational Trout Fisherman

(7) Un-matching the Hatch

(8) Alberta Super Bugs

(9) Glass is Back

(10) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca

(11) Speed Kills

(12) Entering the Twilight Zone

(13) Old Man River

(14) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(15) Small stream BT fishing

(16) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(17) In The Walleye Zone

(18) Zoo Trout

(19) Fly Selection for Beginners

(20) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(21) New Waters

(22) Big Bad Burbot

(23) Looking Back

(24) Out of Africa

(25) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(26) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(27) The Browns of Autumn

(28) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(29) Walleye Town

(30) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(31) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(32) Going With The Flow

(33) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(34) Swinging The Fences

(35) A View From The Aerie

(36) Dixieland Delight

(37) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(38) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(39) Montana's Cool Missouri

(40) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(41) Toothy Critters

(42) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(43) Top Ten Flies

(44) Northern Exposure

(45) Home Water Lessons

(46) Chicken Of The Sea

(47) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(48) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(49) Keep It Up!

(50) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(51) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(52) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(53) Hawg Holes

(54) Saltwater Salmon

(55) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(56) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(57) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead



(60) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(61) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(62) Fall Walleye

(63) Wet Flies

(64) Versatility the Key to Success

(65) Grayling of the Boreal

(66) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(67) Size Matters

(68) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(69) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(70) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(71) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(72) The Point Of It All

(73) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(74) Fall Fly Fishing

(75) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(76) Big River, Big Fish

(77) Bottom Bonanza

(78) Fishing Small Flies

(79) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(80) Four Seasons of the Bow

(81) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot


(83) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(84) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(85) Edge Walleye


(87) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(88) Four Corners – Four Waters

(89) Chasing Pothole Trout

(90) Springtime Stoneflies

(91) The Torrents of Spring

(92) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(93) Bust Them With Bait

(94) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(95) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(96) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(97) Terrestrials

(98) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(99) Rocky Mountain High

(100) Reading the clues

(101) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(102) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(103) Fly Fishing 101

(104) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(105) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(106) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(107) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(108) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(109) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(110) Trust Your Electronics

(111) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(112) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(113) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(114) Walleye can be Humbling

(115) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(116) Winter Flyfishing

(117) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(118) Hot Fall Pike Action

(119) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(120) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(121) Frequently Asked Questions

(122) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(123) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(124) Deep Water Perch

(125) Post Spawn Brookies

(126) A Fisher's Life

(127) The River's Last Stand

(128) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(129) Coho on the Coast

(130) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(131) Summer in the Mountains

(132) Peak Walleye Season

(133) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(134) Last Ice Rainbows

(135) The Burbot Event

(136) Tackle Matching

(137) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(138) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(139) The Lure of Brook Trout

(140) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(141) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(142) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(143) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(144) The Vesatile Plug

(145) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(146) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(147) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(148) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(149) Daily Fish Migrations

(150) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(151) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(152) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(153) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(154) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(155) The Fun in Ultra Light

(156) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(157) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(158) Never Stop Learning

(159) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(160) Jigging through the Ice

(161) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(162) Rainbows on Ice

(163) The Season of Ice Begins

(164) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(165) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(166) Facts On Cats

(167) West Coast Adventure

(168) June Walleye Frenzy

(169) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(170) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(171) "Northern Exposure"

(172) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(173) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(174) Man Overboard