The Teachin Fishin System - 8 Steps to catching more fish
By Captain Lance Valentine
When I first started doing fishing seminars in the 1990’s I needed a format to teach fishing that made sense. A formula that would help anglers prioritize factors, make better decisions, analyze information and make it easier to zero in on a pattern. I settled on the 8 steps in the early 2000’s and have taught it countless hundreds of times to countless thousands of anglers. The system is the foundation to EVERY decision I make on the water, from where and how deep to fish, to how fast to run and what my presentation should look like.
Take a few seconds to look over the System. The items are listed in order of importance to catching fish. The higher an item is on the list, the more critical it is to be right. Items lower on the list are irrelevant UNTIL all the items above it are correct. Now ask yourself a simple question; Are you fishing backwards? Also notice the yellow line that separates the “location” factors (above the line) from the “Presentation” factors (below the line). I am going to make a bold statement that I believe with every bone in my body to be true…if you do everything above the line right, you can do everything below the line wrong and still catch some fish. Conversely, if you do everything below the line right, but do ONE thing above the line wrong, you will catch NOTHING!
The seminar we do now is entitled “The Lure is Last” and after reading this, hopefully that will make sense. Try it next time you are out fishing, and I am positive it will help you catch more fish too.
1) Location: Ask 100 anglers how many fish they could catch with the right lure if they were fishing where there were no fish. The answer is simple…NONE! You can’t catch fish UNLESS you are fishing where the fish are (Walleye 101 calls them Catchable Fish, but that is another article). Now ask the same 100 anglers how many of them FIND fish before they fish and very few will answer that they do. Why is this? If we KNOW we can’t catch fish where they aren’t WHY are we not spending the time to FIND fish BEFORE we put a lure in the water? Remember, the wrong lure, the wrong speed, the wrong size and shape, the wrong color in the RIGHT place will catch more fish every time than the right lure, the right color, the right speed, the right lure depth in the WRONG place.
2) Depth of Water: the first step to dialing in a good pattern, fish will show a depth of water preference almost every day. I see it every day on the Detroit River. I will talk with several anglers who have fished all 32 miles of the river on both sides and everyone will have been successful in, for example, 20-22 fow. It is the FIRST factor I want if I am getting a fishing report from someone, because I can duplicate the depth of water multiple places on the river or lake and have a good shot of catching fish!
3) Depth of Fish/Depth of Lure: I have combined these two factors because they work together. Again, finding fish is absolutely critical BEFORE putting lines in the water. Take a look at most gamefish. Their eyes are high and forward on their head, meaning they are the most productive predator when feeding on bait that is ABOVE them. Fish are basically blind at their level or below them. The White triangle in the slide is a generalization of where fish can see the best. Basically, the fish is “blind” outside that cone. So again, the wrong lure ABOVE the fish will catch more fish than the perfect lure BELOW the fish will. Find fish first, then set your baits 2-10’ above their level to start determining where fish wants baits each today (another topic for an upcoming article).
Let’s go below the line now and look at presentation. I believe most anglers make too big of a deal about what lure to use. My experience has shown that on a very high percentage of days that fish can be caught with multiple presentations and lures IF the location and depth are correct. But, there are a lot of “right” answers every day (presentations that will catch some fish), but there is usually only one “best” presentation every day (the presentation that will catch the largest number of the biggest fish). Our job is to find a “right” answer then continue working, changing, moving to find the “best” answer. Lots of anglers find a right answer, very few ever work long and hard enough to find the best answer.
Earlier I stated that the seminar we use to teach our system is titled “The Lure is Last”. As we move through the presentation steps it will become obvious why. Most anglers open up a tackle box and ask “What should I use?”, when in fact if you follow the 8 steps, you will eliminate lure choices at each step, leaving at the end, a small selection of baits that are “right” for the current conditions. Again, are you fishing backwards?
As we progress through the steps of picking the right presentation, you will notice that one word will appear in every step-baitfish! Other than a few weeks during the spawn, all gamefish are driven by their need for food. Fish will live in places that are too warm, too cold, too deep, too shallow, too weedy, too whatever IF that is the best option to be close to their food source. Remember that when picking your presentation!
4) Lure speed: Now we start the process of getting a productive presentation, and the easiest place to start is speed. Speed is also the easiest variable to change. I have seen speed differences of as little as .1/mph be the difference between great success and utter failure. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SPEED! It is a detail, that when paid attention to, will increase your catch significantly on many days. In simplest terms, your speed should generally imitate the speed bait are moving through the water in the area you are fishing. Some basic rules; the warmer the water and higher in the water column you are fishing the faster you should go!
Speed also has a lot to do with which lures and lure types we should begin with. Every lure ever designed has both an optimum speed and a speed range it will perform in. Picking lures that fit in the speed range we will be trolling is the first step to eliminating “wrong” lures and getting to the “right” lure for the conditions. In simplest terms, the longer and thinner a bait is (especially crankbaits) the better it performs at slow speeds. The shorter and fatter a bait is the better it usually performs at high speeds. Avoid mixing “high” speed baits and “low” speed baits in the same spread.
5) Lure Size: Now the “bait factor” really starts to come into play. The size of bait the fish have been feeding one is my first clue when trying to determine the correct size lure for a particular time. Again, by figuring on a size range that imitates what the fish are eating, we can eliminate many of the lures in our tackle box and get one step closer to the right lure.
Some basic principles on bait; the colder the water, the BIGGER your bait should be. Once again, we need to slow down and think about what is happening in the lake. Most bait fish spawn in late spring-early summer (late April – June in my part of the world), so in early April, there is VERY LITTLE small bait left. Heck, the walleye hasn’t been eating small bait for 7-9 months! BIG lures look right to them! Same applies in fall, especially in late fall. Remember, a walleye’s preferred forage size is ¼ to 1/3 his body length…..they routinely eat 5-9” bait!
My rule of thumb is this; Before Mother’s Day I use big lures. Mother’s Day to Father’s Day I use small lures. Father’s Day to Mid-July I use both-the fish will show a preference most days. After Mid-July to the end of my open water fishing I use big lures and keep using bigger the further into winter we fish. It is not unusual in November and December for me to fish a spread of 5-9” lures!
6) Lure Shape: another factor based on the baitfish in the area, lure shape does not get enough attention from anglers when picking a lure. While the size factor should focus on the “length” of a lure, the shape factor should focus on the “depth” of a lure; the thickness and profile from top to bottom. In my experience, the PROFILE (size and shape) of a lure is more important in catching fish than the color is!
Think about this; I have invited you to a picnic and tell you we are serving hot dogs and filet mignon. Unbeknownst to you I go to the butcher and have him grind up the fillet and stuff it in hot dog casings and have him form the hot dogs into small, hockey puck sized pieces colored like steak. You want a fillet….which one do you pick off the table? Simple, the one that LOOKED right (I would love to see your face when you tasted the hot dog thinking you were biting into a fillet!)…apply the same reasoning to your lure choices! After eliminating lures from our box that are too fat or too skinny, our choices for the right lure are getting smaller still!
7) Lure Action: We added lure action to the list because that is how most anglers think of lures. Basically lure action is determined by the lure size, shape and speed it is designed to work at. Some lures are designed to be slow rollers (minnow baits) and some are designed to be “zingers”, while still others are in between (shad baits). Having a good selection of each is important.
8) Lure Color: As I write this I am smiling remembering all of the “passionate” discussions I have had over the years regarding color. I personally put very little stake in lure color most days. That is not to say lure color is not important, because it can be. But, it is only important AFTER all the other factors are correct. The right color in the wrong place, in the wrong size or shape, at the wrong speed or depth is not going to be as productive as the wrong color in the right place!
Earlier we established that fish, especially those in open water, feed looking up, so we should be paying more attention to the color on the BOTTOM of our lure instead of the top. The color on the bottom of the lure catches fish, the color on the top of the lure catches fishermen! Check your tackle box; see all those bait of the same model that are silver/blue back, silver/black back, silver/green back. You know what a fish sees in open water when each of those baits swims above his head? SILVER!!! Pay attention to the bottom and the lower part of the lures side. I prefer these two colors to have a lot of CONTRAST (light vs dark). Everything in nature has contrast; some light and some dark. Your lures should have the same.
If you are asking, I have 4 colors that I fish almost exclusively, and they have been productive everywhere I have fished for walleye. I want one (or a combination) of these colors on the bottom/side of my cranks, on my spoons and on my spinner blades. Those 4 colors are: Purple, Red, Orange and Pink (think PROP). It is a very rare day that a lure with one of those colors is not my best producer.
Some of the authors favorite crankbait colors have purple, red, orange or pink on the bottom!