People always say “find the bait and you’ll find the fish” and sometimes that isn’t too difficult when bluegills, shad, and shiners are all bunched up. Pelagic bait can be fairly easy to find as it readily shows up on electronics and there can be obvious visual cues like birds diving or predator fishing blowing up on the surface. However, there is so much more going on down towards the bottom that isn’t as obvious.
There is an extensive list of prey items that are mostly bottom dwellers. Crayfish are definitely one of the most common and desired prey items. Gobies are another big one if you are in the Great Lakes or connected waterways. But there are many others we might not think of so often sculpins, darters, logperch, mudpuppies, and insect larva (some are big enough to be a sizeable meal) just to name a few.
But how do you know when some of these less obvious prey items are around? An educated guess is a great start. Some research into what potential prey items might be prevalent in a certain fishery and what their habits are is an excellent source. That works well when putting something together quick is necessary. You can often guess on likely habitats and you will end up finding some active fish.
A lot more can be learned by looking a little more in depth. If the water is exceptionally clear the naked eye can be extremely valuable in detecting movement along the bottom. A FishSens SondeCAM underwater camera is another great tool for getting a much closer look. It particularly has a knack for identifying areas rich in gobies because they are often attracted to the camera movement. Size and color of the prey items are other important details the SondeCAM can uncover. Lastly, hop in the water and turn over a few rocks. You’ll get a better handle on what the crayfish are like in a fishery and realize they aren’t the only thing scooting around down there.
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and hooked fish will give you a little clue. Always try and identify anything a fish regurgitates during the fight or in the livewell. Also if I am fishing for a species of fish to eat, I never pass up an opportunity to find out what’s in their stomach. It may be a little gross but you would be surprised at what they key in on sometimes.
Studying this less obvious stuff takes a little more time but it can really help piece together one of the most important questions in fishing. The why? The more pieces of the puzzle you can put together the easier it will be to answer that question and the more prepared you’ll be to take advantage of a similar situation in the future.