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DITCH THE PACK MENTALITY

By nature, most fishermen are pack animals. Break away from this mentality and you'll likely find yourself in the best bite of the tide!
By Capt. Joe Wenegenofsky
DITCH THE PACK MENTALITY
To consistently catch large striped bass, you can’t always play follow the leader.

To their own disadvantage, the majority of fishermen are pack animals. Take stock of your personal observations and experiences and tell me this isn’t so. How often does the sight of frothing white water and diving birds of a blitz not send a lineup of surfcasters into a chaotic stampede? Time just how long that lone head boat sharpie is afforded breathing room before their railmates begin converging on his or her flanks. Marvel at how one or two isolated boats magically multiplies into a ragtag armada after just a few drifts. Bottom line, no matter how you fish or where you fish, anglers are almost instinctually drawn to one another as if an ironic parallel to the very schools they chase.

We’re all guilty of exhibiting this drone-like behavior at one time or another and sometimes it’s warranted based on situational necessity and prevailing circumstances. More often than not, however, particularly when striper fishing from a boat, pack hunting fosters bad habits and limits catch potential.

What pray tell are these bad habits? The biggest one certainly has to be classic ‘monkey see, monkey do’ behavior. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re an inexperienced angler or new to an area there is no shame in shadowing a knowledgeable skipper to learn the bite, pattern the fish and acquaint yourself with the water so long as you aren’t hindering their activities. Following the leader, however, becomes counter productive when fishing tunnel vision corrupts common sense and leads otherwise competent anglers to follow along with boats making classic googan mistakes. As a charter captain spending a great deal of time on the water, this is something I see constantly and it never fails to make me cringe.

Perhaps the most heinous blunder I observe with astonishing regularity is boats running directly over a school of bass in order to return to the starting point of a drift. This is a tremendous no-no since bass, especially big bass, are far from foolish, nor oblivious to cacophonous disturbances in their environment. Run over their heads once and they’ll be on alert. Do it multiple times with a procession of boats in your wake and the fish will become exponentially gun shy. Such wariness directly correlates to a notably diminished bite right down to the fish developing total lockjaw or their mass exodus in extreme cases. Deny it all you want, but whether you’re in 15 or 50 feet of water this still holds true. The problem is many anglers rationalize these consequences by formulating other excuses. We’re marking them on sonar but they just haven’t turned on yet. They’re finicky because they’re keyed on small bait. They fed heavily last tide so they’re appetite is suppressed now. We missed the “magic window” or that window is starting to close. I could continue but the lines are endless. Yes, all of these excuses can actually be scientific truths at times so fishermen have a tendency of pawning off their own ineptitude/negligence on these natural phenomena. With all that being said, how does one approach a school of trophy linesiders?

Perhaps the most heinous blunder I observe with astonishing regularity is boats running directly over a school of bass in order to return to the starting point of a drift.
First off, never prospect an area you’re serious about fishing by motoring through it. Take a wide, up-tide approach to your waypoint and then kill the engine(s) once in line with the drift. At that point you can check the sonar for signs of bass, bait and attractive contour changes. Should you see fish on the screen, don’t jump the gun and immediately go racing up ahead of them. Employ some restraint and wait till the marks thin out or disappear entirely. Hold off just a tad longer beyond that point before cranking the ignition. Then put the engine in gear and slowly motor perpendicular to the drift track. Use your best judgment as to how far you stray from the track before cutting the wheel to port or starboard and running parallel back to your starting point. Consider sea conditions and the depth the fish are in and proceed with discretion.

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