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Keys to Sight fishing

Very few fish catching techniques cause as much of a debate as sight fishing. Opinions frame both sides of this topic, but for this article the focus is keys to sight fishing on Table Rock. Two names are synonymous with sight fishing on Table Rock: Herndon and Dodson. Larry Herndon was the original master of sight fishing, and he passed his skills to his son, Bryan. Robert Dodson built the foundation and his son Robbie has taken the craft to another level. Robbie Dodson is the best sight fishing angler on Table Rock Lake. Four characteristics are key elements to understand sight fishing on Table Rock Lake. They include vision, nesting behaviors, positioning the boat, and working the baits.

Vision
This is the most important characteristic for sight fishing. One is born with this skill. Stories circle among touring professionals that Shaw Grigsby could see fish through a concrete wall. While the vision to see fish is something the great ones are born with, it is also a trait you can develop to spot fish. The ability to pick up fish beds that are not obvious to other anglers is essential, yet spotting the fish on the bed and scanning what is happening around the bed provides an advantage.

Understanding the Nesting Behaviors
If bed fishing is how an angler wants to catch fish on a given day, then understanding in what phase of the spawning process the fish are in matters. If a fish is locked onto its position, it is catchable. The male fish will build the nest, spending far more time than female at the site. A female may be in or on the nest for about a 24-hour window of time. Before the male is locked into a position, he will quickly skirt out of the nest then dash back in. This skittish fish is not worth trying to catch. Certain areas within the nest are protected more so than others. The fish are more aggressive to bait placed in those spaces. Target those areas to trigger the strike. How the fish reacts to the bait in or around the nest signals the catchable fish. These behaviors are indicators of how catchable the fish are and clues to the angler to keep casting or move on.

Positioning the Boat for the Fish
The fish and the boat are the two keys to positioning. A fish will suspend in a position on the nest to defend the nest except during the actual spawning process, when both fish are on the bed. A tree, dock cable, or even a rock help protect the nest. These structures increase the difficulty in catching the fish or placing the bait to trigger a response. Spending a few minutes to see how the fish positions in the bed can make it easier to catch the fish. Place a bait in or around the bed to gain insight and test the fish’s level of aggression to defend the bed.

Once the fish’s position is understood, position the boat. Ease the boat as close to the fish as the fish will allow. This maneuvering helps to see the fish and may help to see its behaviors toward striking the bait. Set the boat in a location to reduce the glare from the sun and navigate to the correct angle. In this situation, angle matters. These movements with angles and among structures over the beds position one to present the bait in a manner to cause the fish to react.

In these moments, deploy the shallow-water anchor if the boat is equipped with one. Use caution to prevent trolling motor prop-wash in the bed. If the fish is very shallow or in a tricky location it is advised to not use position-holding trolling motors in these situations. Securing a boat to a tree or dock if you have permission, this method is also a reasonable option to gain proper positioning.

Working the Baits
This is the one time of year when color or type of bait is not as critical as other times. In most cases, anglers want baits with high visibility, using white as a standard color. On Table Rock, a natural-colored bait may work great. Use smaller, more compact baits so when a fish eats the bait, the chance of a hook-up is higher. Some of the best sight-fishing baits on Table Rock are tubes, small craws and finesse worms. These can be either Texas-rigged, a drop shot rig with only a couple of inches of line to the weight or on a jig head. Selecting the bait is a personal preference, but the aggressiveness of the fish and the location of the bed also inform this decision. For example, it may be more effective to use a Texas-rigged tube on a fish bedding around wood.

Additional Tips

  • Tag-team with a partner to catch bedding fish. One person can use one bait and leave it in the bed while the other person uses a different bait to catch the fish. When a fish is locked on the bed, Angler One holds the fish to the bed with one bait and Angler Two casts for the strike.
  • Use a tandem-rig to trigger a strike. Tandem-rigging sets a drop shot using a jig or jig head as the weight then having a finesse worm rigged on the drop shot hook. Use multiple baits and colors to test what works.
  • Experiment with baits. A unique bait that works really well on bedding Table Rock fish is the Jewel Bait Company sculpin. Rig it on a jig head and hang on.

Time on the water and on the boat sharpen sight-fishing skills. These characteristics hone one’s sight-fishing skills on Table Rock Lake. Knowing the lake’s terrain and seeing its landscape, understanding the fish’s nesting behaviors, positioning the boat in relation to the fish, and knowing the baits for this application are keys to improving sight-fishing results. One final thought to ponder. While sight fishing and catching these spawn fish is fun and challenging keep in mind this is the another generation of Table Rock bass. Consider releasing this fish quickly and back close to their bed.

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