Leaving a hot bite too soon is a mistake!
Catching fish with consistency, especially big ones, is often boiled down to fishing patterns, identifying opportunities that are being presented, and executing on them to the fullest extent possible. For this reason, once I have a good spot and a solid pattern, I try very hard not to leave early even if the bite is poor. Put another way, if I’m at one of my good spots fishing a specific parameter (e.g. tide, wind, weather, etc.), I know I need to stick it out and fish the entire pattern no matter what.
For example, if it’s a three hour tide window, then I won’t even leave 15 minutes early, even if I haven’t had a bump for two nights. For me, this is a fundamental, core belief and one of my top tips for anglers of all levels. It can be tough, but if you believe there is a reason to be there, you can’t fall short on your effort or commitment. You might as well skip the tide entirely, rest up, refocus, and come back when you’re prepared to really commit to the spot.
Along the same lines, one mistake a lot of anglers make is leaving too early when the fishing is good. Anglers will get on a body of fish, catch for a couple hours, and at the first sign of it starting to die, they’ll leave. In truth, when you’ve been hooking up every 3 minutes for 2 hours, a gap of 20 minutes can feel like forever. Many anglers will assume that based on the previous fast action, that the fish have moved on and it’s time for them to move on as well. I think this is a pretty significant mistake, especially if you’re fishing a specific pattern of tide or condition. If things haven’t changed – the tide didn’t switch, your depth hasn’t drastically dropped, the wind didn’t die – then it’s smart to stick it out until something dramatic like that does occur. The fish can (and often do) come back, or might just require a slightly different plug or presentation. This is especially true if you’re targeting that one special fish to make your season: the biggest fish can sometimes come after these painful lulls.
I think these larger fish often come at the very tail end or after a lull for a couple of reasons. First, big stripers are extremely opportunistic, and they prefer to not compete with younger, highly energetic siblings. For this reason, they often either avoid or tail a school of smaller fish; hanging out at the fringes and waiting for an easy meal. As the smaller fish clear out of the area, they will swoop in and scavenge or attack the bait the smaller fish have missed. This may not be immediate, they may push through the area a substantial amount of time after the smaller fish have vacated.
Taking it one step further, trophy-sized fish are also excellent at identifying the exact tide stage or conditional window that will give them the utmost advantage. For example, large fish will often move through an area right at the moment the current dies off, cleaning up injured or confused prey. They’ll also roll into a spot right at the peak current period when prey is overwhelmed and being flushed from hiding spots. In both cases, smaller fish may have already left, preferring to move on to patterns that were more conducive to their smash-and-grab predatory style. They may have left, but there initial presence suggests there is enough food around to perhaps warrant the attention of a larger fish. Don’t leave just because the slot fish did.
For these reasons, I think it’s smart to hang out on a spot and continue to fish it hard through an entire pattern, even if the fishing suddenly tails off. Numerous times I’ve finished the night on a large fish when previously I only had fish into the 20s, and perhaps hadn’t even had a hit for more than an hour. It can be really difficult to force yourself to stay through these periods, but the reward at the end will make it worth it. It’s also why I believe strongly in the idea of “not leaving fish to find fish.” It often makes more sense to stick around through a lull then mosey on to someplace else at the first sign of a cool-off, especially if you have a good spot you know well, and understand the pattern you’re targeting.