Fishing Success blog by George Krumm
Some anglers have the uncanny ability to consistently out fish everyone around them. I have had the great fortune to fish with some that definitely fall into that category. I’ve observed keenly as I fished with them, and I’ve fished with some of them many times. I’ve noticed things that the best anglers all seem to have in common. In most cases, these anglers have specific traits or habits that nearly guarantee success.
One such angler, with whom I’ve fished with many times in Washington and Oregon, is Jason Hambly of Pro-Cure Bait Scents. He fishes with intensity that few can match, and it starts with preparation. He goes out every day with the attitude that he’s going to be the top boat on the water. His gear is always dialed and ready. His boat, whether it be a drift boat, pontoon, or powerboat, is always completely ready the night before. Rods are rigged, leaders are tied, plenty of herring are perfectly brined, or perfectly cured eggs are ready, as the case may be. He always takes plenty of bait to ensure he never runs out and can always have fresh bait on the hooks. Knots are perfect, gear is clean, he doesn’t take a boatload of gear—just the stuff he knows works for the specific fishery he’s fishing. He always has a selection of Pro-Cure’s finest, pertinent to the fishery he is pursuing. He is never late, and he almost always launches in the dark, unless there is a reason to launch later such as a specific tide. He always has a game plan in his head regarding tidal conditions, water conditions, weather, angling pressure and so on. He fishes frequently—virtually every week, often three times a week and more if he takes vacation. He doesn’t chase reports; he makes reports. He fishes aggressively yet is courteous on the water and humble about his success, and almost every guide in his neck of the woods (he lives in Oregon) as well as serious anglers in Washington and Oregon know who he is. It’s hard to not notice when someone catches limits early and often. “Oh, there’s that Pro-Cure boat again…going home already, again.”
Another angler with many of the same characteristics and abilities is my friend Francis Estalilla, M.D. who grew up in Alaska but now lives in Aberdeen, Washington. He fishes Alaska as well as Washington every year and I’ve fished with him in both places. In addition to the characteristics he shares with Jason in the previous paragraph, Francis is uniquely innovative in his approach, especially regarding terminal tackle. His intent with innovation is often to improve hook-to-land ratio while at the same time reducing hooking mortality for fish intended or required to be released—a key consideration in many fisheries. He is at the tip of the spear regarding the use of “hangback” hooks, and “hangback” circle hooks for salmon, whether it be for sockeye in the rivers, trolling for Chinook or coho in estuaries or the salt, or backtrolling or backbouncing for Kenai kings.
Any angler can do many of the things mentioned in the 2nd paragraph and still not achieve Jason’s and Francis’s level of success on the water. Why is that?
They both possess years and years of hard-earned knowledge about their quarry and the locations they fish. Their experience surely helps put them in the right place at the right time, sometimes in the specific part of a river, estuary or in the salt where fish are likely to be at that moment. Likewise, their situational awareness of where boats around them are fishing is sharp. They see where the top guides are. They notice if the crowd is fishing a specific contour or line and will move to fish a different contour if they think undisturbed fish may be there. It’s akin to a sixth sense; their experience level is so high, their understanding of fish movements and behavior so complete, that making the right decision about when to be where is second nature to them. Maybe first nature.
Though their preparation and this sixth sense surely contributes greatly to their success, in fishing with them many times, and by paying as strict attention to their execution on the water, I think I know what puts them not in the top 10 percent, but more likely the top 3 percent. It is something anyone can do if they are willing. They are hyper-focused on making sure the gear they are using is fishing effectively 100% of the time. I’ve had conversations about this with both of them, and to paraphrase, they both say that the angler whose gear is fishing right for the most time during the day is going to get the most bites (assuming all else is equal). Simple. More bites generally mean more fish. But executing this doesn’t happen through a casual approach.
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It takes an unusually high degree of vigilance and paying attention to what is happening with the gear. They check bait frequently, especially if the rod tips indicate something may have hit the line or bait. Was it a bite that mangled the herring, rendering it ineffective? Did a piece of debris find its way onto the gear? Has the bait been in the water long enough that most of the scent is gone, requiring a new bait or application of scent? Are the line angles right while trolling (meaning is the boat speed correct)? Is the boat sliding down the river at the right speed while backtrolling? Why is that 360 flasher not thumping correctly (debris)? Why is that Kwikfish rod tip not wiggling (debris or fouled)? Any of these will prompt an immediate response from them. Check it. Fix it if necessary and get it back out there. When the bite is on, they ensure the hooks are re-baited and the gear re-deployed immediately after landing a fish. They are not guides, but they fish like guides and they pay strict attention to all the rods on the boat to ensure everyone’s gear is fishing properly, not just their own. Again, they ensure all the gear is fishing properly, for as long as possible during the fishing day.
Their results undeniably, irrefutably speak for themselves. These two are among the finest anglers I’ve ever seen on the salmon grounds. Now you and I both know one of their secrets to consistent fishing success, and it’s something we can do, too.
George Krumm is the Editor of both Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines. He can be reached at George@FishAlaskaMagazine.com.
This blog originally appeared as the Creel column in the December 2019 issue of Fish Alaska.