Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.
-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
The fish is not a very intelligent creature, but if there’s one thing it knows very well, it’s how to be a fish. Because fishing is an attempt to outsmart the fish on its sole area of expertise, it can be very difficult. You can buy a reel that will overpower the fish. You can pick a lure that will trick the fish. But the fish, by virtue of being a fish, knows a very important thing about itself, and that’s where it is. If you don’t know where the fish is, it will outsmart you every time.
Kent Yancey, the expert angler of Big Muddy Guide Service, knows where the fish is. He began fishing with his father since before he could remember, and spent his youth exploring the Missouri River in old boats with his friends. “I’ll always remember those good old days,” Kent reminisced. “We always kept moving, kept checking, kept trying new things. Trying new things is the key to fishing. That’s how we learned to read the river.”
I explained to Kent that when I go fishing, I can almost hear the fish laughing at me. He sympathized, and offered me some much needed advice.
“River fishing is a lot about seams, where a slower current meets a faster one,” Kent explained. “These areas are where fish most like to feed. Considering factors like depth and cover is important, but you should prioritize fishing in seams if you want to maximize your success.”
“Of course, river fishing is a lot different from lake fishing,” he continued. “Whereas the river’s surface offers visible cues for where fish are likely feeding, lakes only give you that information in their shallower areas. That’s why bottom bouncers are great for lake fishing, because they let you control where you place your line in depths where you can’t see it.”
“The style of bottom bouncer you use is not as important as its weight. I prefer a much heavier bottom bouncer than most people use, usually two or three ounces. That helps keep your line closer to your boat, which means you’ll be able to much better tell where your bait is. With that knowledge, you can put it right where the fish are biting.”
“Try to balance your bottom bouncer’s weight with the lake’s depth and your trolling speed so your line maintains a 45 degree angle to the water. That way when you catch a fish, you will have a pretty accurate idea of how deep it was when it struck. This lets you fine-tune your presentation to get the best results, an especially big advantage to have on Lake Sakakawea with its fast-dropping bottom profile.”
“You can’t be afraid to troll at speeds faster than you’re used to,” Kent advised. “Particularly for walleye. They’re predators, so they’re inclined to use sudden bursts of speed to catch prey. I see a lot of people trolling really slow, and that can work well at times. Going between 0.8 to 1.2 mph works better, though, especially around late June through August when fish are most active. I like to switch it up when I’m trolling, even going as fast as 1.5 mph with spinners. The fish will tell you what they want when they bite.”
“There are no set in stone rules, of course. Sometimes, just a plain hook will work like a charm. Then a few hours later, they’ll only light up when you use something flashy. Just keep experimenting, and you’ll inevitably figure out what works.”
I asked Kent to share his favorite fishing story.
“My best fishing story? Man, I don’t know. That’s hard to say. I’ve caught thousands of fish by now, but nothing sticks out as much as when someone else catches one. Just the other day, I had a girl and her family out on the river. She kept saying that she never catches anything, so I told her ‘Well, that seals it. You’ll probably catch more fish than the rest of us.’ Sure enough, she outfished everyone else in the boat three to one that day. The look on her face when she started landing fish…the smiles and laughter I get in my boat are my favorite thing about fishing!”
If you would like to go fishing and want to rely on a seasoned angler’s 30 years of experience on the Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea, and Lake Oahe, then Kent is your man. He’ll take you in search of anything that swims, and has the boat and all the equipment it takes to land the big ones. To learn more, visit bigmuddyguide.com.
By David Scheller