Getting Bit During a Blow
Once you learn the ins and outs of boat control you’ll catch more fish than ever
By Mark Martin
As I sit in my office, fingers tapping away at my computer’s keyboard, the wind is howling; enough so that the siding shakes and a low rumble can be heard resonating throughout my home as Mother Nature tries to pry it loose from the house.This is not a day to be on any lake, reservoir or river.
However, if there was a much lighter breeze blowing instead of gale-force winds, you could bet your favorite crankbait I’d be in my Lund, either casting or trolling the day away in search of fish. That’s because more often than not, when the wind blows, fish of all species are feeding and easier to catch than ever.
In fact, it is the shoreline taking the blunt of the waves where you want to be fishing when the wind’s up.
But many anglers have a tough time catching fish on windy days. What’s the main reason for fishless days in a blow? Boat control, or more so a lack thereof; once you learn the ins and outs of boat control you’ll catch more fish than ever. I promise.
Be the one in charge
There’s quite a difference in how I control my boat nowadays over the ways my grandfather and father did it. In their era, anchors and oars were used to keep a boat steadfast along breaklines and cover. Now it’s not to say the aforementioned are not still great ways to control a small boat, but these days there are devices to make boat control easier than ever, and your focus on fishing and catching priority number one.
By far, the device I use most for boat control is my bow-mounted MotorGuide electric trolling motor. Bow-mounted motors pull a boat rather than push it, which make for the best maneuverability, especially in wind.
Anytime I’m fishing from the bow of my Lund, my MotorGuide’s deployed — whether I’m casting Rapala crankbaits, jigging Northland jig heads tipped with Berkley Gulp! or pulling Northland bottom-bouncers and spinners.
There are even times I have my 9.9-hp four-stroke Mercury kicker motor pushing me along for power while I steer with my bow-mounted electric. I utilize both during the rare occasions I must troll crankbaits into or across the direction of the wind. (Hint: Any time you can, always troll with the wind. When you are done with a pass, reel in, start up the main motor and power back upwind and start the process over again.)
Besides the MotorGuide up front, there’s another one mounted on my boat’s transom. I mostly use this one when back trolling Northland Roach Rigs and the like at a creep.
Of course, if you fish from a small rowboat, more than likely, a transom-mounted trolling motor is the type you’ll be using. It’ll work fine, even in breezy conditions. For best control in windy conditions, however, you’ll want to use it in reverse rather than forward, as wind has a tendency to catch the bow of a lightweight aluminum boat and point it in the wrong direction.
And no matter what, a trolling motor is only as good as its power source. That’s why I only use Optima marine batteries for all my electronics, electric trolling motors and starting needs. Just make sure you use the correct battery for the task. This means using a marine battery made for “cranking” (that’s a “boost” of power all at once) for starting your outboard, and one (or more if using a 24- or 36-volt system) for long, continuous use with trolling motors.
Drift socks, too, are an essential boat control device.
I’ll use two small ones—one on each side my Lund, tied to the cleats nearest the bow—when trolling in larger or steep (not dangerous) waves. With drift socks (aka: sea anchors) I can control my speed better as well reduce the surge created while surfing down the front of the wave.
Overall, some surge is okay; in fact, the stop-and-go motion created to lures in this situation can induce strikes when crankbaits or spinners are being trolled. But too much can detract fish from biting. The double drift sock ploy really helps reduce it to a manageable, fish-catching heave-and-slow-go action.
I also take a medium-size drift sock to the fly-in trips I take with my family to PK Resort in Ontario, Canada. I tie it on at the bow of the 16-foot Lund boats they have for their clients, allowing it to deploy under the vessel about midway, all the while making sure there’s not too much rope out allowing it to get tangled in the outboard motor’s prop. This allows me to control my speed when the wind kicks up, even while out amidst the remote Canadian Bush.
Change in the weather
As you may have gathered from my first paragraph, there are times you should never go out in any craft, like when the wind’s howling or storms are forecasted for the near future. But there are times a sudden unforeseen storm can brew out of seemingly nowhere and kick up wind and waves that can turn a fun day on the water into a nightmare if you’re not prepared.
Lifejackets are a must, and so, too, all the essential safety items such as flares and other distress devices you should have onboard no matter what waterway you are on (check out the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary websites for more details). There have been times this tournament angler’s found himself in tricky bad-weather situations and been very glad he had all onboard.
But knowing I have all the right equipment onboard and taking my time and not panicking when foul weather arises has always gotten me back to the boat ramp no worse for wear.
One of the apparatuses I’ve had onboard all my Lund boats the last 20-plus years, and that’s helped me get back to shore tenfold during high wave moments, is the Smooth Moves seat mounts installed between the boat seat and floor.
Smooth Moves mounts take what used to be a joint-jarring impact when hitting a large wave and turn it into a cushioned ride. Not only has this kept me on the water for years without injury, but in intense moments when concentration on taking every wave just right is crucial, my focus is directed towards driving the boat rather than the pain of a back-bumping hit into a steep wave.
And no matter what type of waterway you fish—be it big, small or any size in-between—you should always have a marine radio on board. While handheld radios for the small boat anglers on little waters are okay, fixed-mount VHF marine radios, such as the Lowrance LVR-880 DSC - VHF+FM marine radio and full-size antenna, are a must for anyone fishing the Great Lakes or larger reservoirs.
Next time you’re on the water and the wind’s up, don’t head yonder for the calm side of the lake where bites are less likely to occur, but rather get into the waves and catch fish.
Utilize equipment made for proper boat control, like electric trolling motors, drift socks and the like, and take control of your day. Once you learn the ins and outs of boat control you’ll catch more fish than ever...I promise.
Mark Martin is a walleye tournament pro who hits the water wherever fish roam in the United States and Canada, and who lives in the southwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Check out his website (markmartins.net) for links to all his sponsors, as well for more information on his Fishing Vacation/School, which takes place throughout the Midwest.