​​​​The Five Ws of Fishing

The five Ws (Who, What, Where, When and Why) are the basic questions that can be asked to get a complete story on a subject. If that subject happens to be fishing, asking these questions may help us with our ultimate goal – catching more fish. Let’s break them down…

Who? This one is pretty simple, who is doing the fishing – you, your kids, your guiding service clients? Who will also refer to the target species of fish be it bass, walleye, musky etc. “I’m taking my son perch fishing” lays out all the pertinent characters in this scenario.

What? What technique am I going to use? What is the primary forage? What line will I use? What reel speed? What you do is closely tied to the other Ws as in “I’m using a high speed reel (what) because it allows me to retrieve my bait quickly (why) while flipping grasses (where)” or “I’m using a small white grub (what) to mimic tiny baitfish (another who) that the perch are targeting (why)” or even “We troll at higher speeds for musky (who) because they are more aggressive (why) in the warmer water of summer (when).”

Where? In fishing, where is without a doubt the most important question. Where are you fishing and where are the fish? This covers not just “I’m fishing in Lake X or River Y” but “I’m fishing isolated laydowns over 5-8 feet of water” or “I’m working the deeper rivers sections behind isolated larger boulders”. The key point here for success is that you must be fishing where there are fish! You could have every other factor dialed in but if you are not near the fish you will catch nothing. Some people get what I like to call “Spotitis”. They pull up a lawn chair on shore or anchor their boat, cast a line and wait. Now if the fish are there it can be a good day, if not – sucks to be you. When these people don’t catch anything they generally say the fish aren’t biting, they blame their bait or the weather, or just attribute it to bad luck when really the only problem was that they just weren’t fishing where the fish were. Years ago (before the age of really good electronics) a friend and I while walleye fishing would set time limits on how long we’d stay at a particular spot without a bite before moving again. This method really helped us get into the “hunting for fish” mode as opposed to the “waiting for fish to find us” mode and subsequently really improved our catch rate and skills at looking for new areas to fish. With the advent of high quality electronics it has become easier to know if where is the issue for lack of success. If I’m seeing a blank screen on my fish finder I know it’s time to move. If I’m marking fish then other factors (technique, lure, fish activity etc.) may be off.

In fishing, where is without a doubt the most important question.

When? Seasonal and daily patterns play a huge role in fishing as do changing weather patterns. The when also correlates strongly with the where and why. For example, pike head to shallow bays (where) in spring (when) to spawn (why). Walleye tend to move shallower (where) to feed at dawn and dusk (when).

Why? Thinking about why can really help nail down a fishing situation. If a sentence contain a “because” than we are answering the why. For example, “Bass are holding tight to cover because the water is heavily muddied” or “The pike have moved to deeper water because the shallows are too hot and oxygen levels are low”. Trying to understand why a fish behaves a certain way will always pay dividends – think like a fish. The why can also refer to the techniques you use. I’m throwing a frog because the bass are hiding deep in the lily pads. I’m using a 1 oz. weight because with it I can maintain bottom contact while walleye fishing in heavy current.

Trying to understand why a fish behaves a certain way will always pay dividends – think like a fish.

As you can imagine having answers to all five Ws can significantly increase your chances of success. I suggest taking a few minutes to go through these before a trip and again while on the water as you gather information as the day progresses.

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