When I am in the mood to fish, and I’m at the lake, I pay special attention to the water.
I notice things moving or splashing. I notice the behavior of the terns, the herons, the bald eagles, the loons, and the mergansers. Those fish eating birds are watching the fish and have a better view than I do, and more incentive as well. But mostly I watch the surface of the water.
And here is what I’ve learned: Most of the time you can’t see below the surface, out any distance from the shore. You can’t tell what is going on at the surface because waves, or ripples caused by a light breeze, obscure any fish-spoor that may be present. When the surface is flat you can see things, but it is hard to tell the difference between a few quick moving insects and some minnows or blue gills feeding on the surface. And when something breaks the surface, it is very difficult to tell if you are seeing a small fish clear the water in a splash or the tail or head of a large fish sticking for a fleeting moment from above the surface.
Every now and then a whopping big fish … and it is the whopping big fish that I’m after, of course … clears the surface and leaves no ambiguity about its presence.
When it comes to thinking what might be there, I consider the possibility that there are big fish cruising around beneath the surface, or laying in ambush at one point or another, and I use these surface indicators to guide my thinking, but I know this is highly unreliable. If I’m going to go fishing, I might well cast the lure somewhere. When it comes to saying to someone else what I think is there, I usually keep my mouth shut. Every now and then I’ll say “Oh, I saw a big fish jump three times just over there, I think I’ll see what I can do” and head over there with my gear and a top lure. Sometimes I catch a fish when I do that, sometimes not. Or, very rarely, I’ll say “I believe the Northerns are feeding on the perch by the dock. Get the camera if you want a picture of a Northern” and I’ll go over there, and cast once, and BAM I’ll have the fish on the line and if I land it we get the picture. That happened, like, once, in four years. The rest of the time I keep my mouth shut about what I think is going on beneath the surface because I can’t really tell and if I blurt out statements about the fish based on the vaguest of half-investigated suspicions or poorly formed thoughts, I’ll be thought a fool.