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Troubled waters

1/13/2005

Just when you thought catching fish was tough, Mother Nature serves up a big plate of bad weather. Not only is getting there a problem, but so is the suddenly much more important dilemma of getting back.

Frank Scalish can vouch for fishing tough conditions.

Living in Cleveland, 100 yards from Lake Erie, the 2002 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year has seen his share of unfavorable fishing conditions while plying the big water there for the lake's fabulous smallmouth bass.

"Where I live, you had better have respect for the water and the bad weather. I certainly do," Scalish said. "Here, the guy you hear saying he is not afraid of Lake Erie today might be the person you will be reading about in the paper tomorrow.

"I have a huge respect for these waters and what weather can do. Other anglers should, too, and that goes for wherever they fish."

Navigating rough water

For starters Scalish offers the following tips for running a bass boat in less-than-favorable conditions:

  • The first and most important thing to consider is having plenty of fuel in your boat. When you are fighting rough water, you are burning twice as much fuel.

  • Is the lake you are fishing small enough and safe enough to run the lee, or sheltered, side of the lake?

  • Before you even try to run rough water, you should know the wind speed, direction and wave size. You have to know your limits and have a strategy.

  • How far apart are the peaks of the waves? This is more important than how big they are. If they are 10 feet tall and 15 feet apart (not uncommon on Erie), you can run in the trough on plane. If they are 5 feet tall and only 2 feet apart, it will beat your brains out.

  • Keep the boat at an angle so the hull takes the wave, utilizing the trim. Figure out how much trim is needed to keep the waves breaking under the hull. If the nose of the boat is burying into the waves, you can get in trouble.

  • Never, ever try to race a wave and always tack at a slight angle in the troughs, between waves. You can't run on top of waves.

  • Don't be fooled into thinking a bilge pump can keep up with incoming water via waves. One wave can put 500 gallons of water in a boat in a second. A bilge pump can never catch up.

    Fog

    With the advent of Global Positioning System units, fog is not seen as much of a problem anymore for anglers, or is it? Don't be fooled.

    "Don't take anything for granted, even when running with a GPS in fog," Scalish said.

    "A GPS shows where you going, but it doesn't tell you what is in front of you. There could be all kinds of obstacles drifting out there in front of you, perhaps even a boat tied up. Use caution. Use common sense."

    Obstacle-laden waters

    Foul weather is not all that makes for an interesting and/or risky run in a bass boat. There are all sorts of obstacles — rocks, timber and sudden change in depth, among others — out there betwixt and between some of the best bass waters

    Scalish offers this advice:

    Remember if you are running at 30 mph or more and using a locator, by the time you see it on the locator you have already hit it. In some cases, at that point, you have no choice but to keep the trim up and keep moving forward in hopes you find the channel again.

    But before you get in such a situation, the smart thing to do is idle around in unfamiliar water until you find a safe route. Use a GPS to mark these routes.

    It is never recommended to put a boat in unfamiliar water and simply begin running on plane.

    Fishing in rough water

    If the wind is that strong in open water, you may want to consider a drift sock to slow the boat down and make fishing possible.

    The go-to bait in high winds could depend on a million different factors. Where are you fishing? Offshore? Grass beds? Shallow or deep? Are you flippin' or what?

    But also consider that often in big waves, bad-weather fish exhibit an aggressive feeding pattern. This translates to fast baits like spinnerbaits, lipless cranks and the like.

    You also are going to have to ponder the seasonal patterns when forming a strategy for rough-water basin'. Do you really need to fish the rough stuff, or are you fishing a time of year when you are apt to find some fish tucked away in a calmer cove?

    When to call it off

    There comes a time when the smart angler knows the risk of facing treacherous waters is too great. And, bear in mind, with ever-changing weather this decision can be made in the midst of a fishing trip … as well as before it ever starts.

    "Once, the weather changed when I was fishing (the forecast was wrong, too) and I had to make a decision about getting back," Scalish said.

    "I found a safe place, tied up and went and called a friend to come get me. If it really gets bad, find a safe harbor and ride the storm out in safety.

    "As for the question, 'When not to risk it?' That is any time that you have a doubt. If there is any question in your mind, it is not worth it."

    "Uncertainty can cause panic in tough situations and result in bad decisions. No matter what your skill, bad weather is always dangerous and should be taken seriously," Scalish added.

    "Always take your time. Boats are made to float. Make good decisions and take your time. Driver error is what causes problems 99 percent of the time."

    Acquired knowledge

    Learning how to run a boat in rough water is basically something you have to do hands on, Scalish said.

    Take this learning process in small steps. Go out to the lake and run your boat on a day when the waves are 1- to 2- footers. Gradually, you will feel more comfortable about it.

    Later, you might try some 2- to 4-footers, close to harbor. You will soon get acclimated and have a better knowledge of what to do should you ever get caught in the really bad stuff.

    Also, always take someone with you, let others know where you are going and, of course, wear those life jackets.

    Taylor Wilson is a free-lance writer and editor for Bill Dance Publishing in Brownsville, Tenn. He can be reached at taylorwilson@billdancefishing.com.