By Nick Ruiz
For those of you that regularly read my articles, you know that I am from the northeast, specifically New York. The land of traffic in every form. Be it foot traffic at the mall, the globally infamous vehicle traffic on our roads, or even boat traffic on the Great South Bay, unfortunately, we have it all. The latter of which is what this article will focus on. If not by now you are probably asking yourself, what does traffic mayhem in New York have to do with bass fishing. Well actually quite a lot. Before I get into a rant on how it took me 20 minutes to get to a store five miles from my house, I will elaborate on how traffic and population pertains to your cast-to-catch ratio each and every time you hit the water in search of bass.
As we all know, recreational anglers have a massive amount of variables to take into account when searching for bass. For those of you that fish tournaments, you can rest assured that the number of variables only grows. Water temperature, clarity, frontal systems, light conditions, as well as countless other variables all contribute to make up an overall pattern that directly affects your fishing action each day. Though in all the variables that are out there, very few anglers I know take boat traffic into consideration. See, I told you there was a connection!
With the sport of bass fishing, as well as recreational boating growing in popularity almost exponentially season to season, recreational and tournament anglers are forced to share the lake with more and more water-going vessels. These range from other bass boats, to cruisers, and, the always popular jet skis. Individually these are not that threatening, but when you realize on any given summer day there can be hundreds if not thousands of these water crafts on the lake, you then realize that as a whole boat traffic is quite the force to be reckoned with. When I personally begin searching for a pattern on a lake, I take boat traffic into consideration just as I would water temperature, or water clarity. After all, it has a direct effect on where you can fish, and when you can fish there. I will cite some examples here for the purpose of instruction, but only you know the water you are fishing, and should always plan for and around boat traffic.
A great example of taking such aquatic traffic into account would be Candlewood Lake, located in western Connecticut. By far one of my favorite bass fishing lakes in the northeast, it too has its share of boat traffic, in fact I call it the "bass fishing freeway". On any given day, you can see boats and water craft of every shape, size, and color on the lake, making for quite a bit of pandemonium for anglers. I, however, plan for this, and work my game plan around it, just as I would any other variable.
For instance, and this applies to any crowded body of water; if I have one or two main lake hot spots that I know will produce fish, I will always make it a point to hit those spots as soon as the tournament begins. This is because at 6 am, you can count the number of boats on the lake on one hand. There is absolutely no recreational boating traffic, and aside from not having my fish disturbed, there is also the safety issue. The last thing I want to do around noon time is try to hold myself on that spot with my trolling motor while having boats whizzing by on both sides. I essentially become a stopped car on a high-speed motorway. Not exactly fun or safe for that matter.
So once again, I treat traffic like any other variable, and simply incorporate it into my overall fishing plan. If I know certain coves are popular with recreational boaters to anchor up and enjoy the sun, I will get there first thing in the morning and fish there before traffic becomes an issue. This enables me to capitalize on any fish that spot has to offer before it becomes disturbed, or becomes impossible to fish because of the sheer number of watercraft in there. Candlewood again is a great example of this, however I'm sure right about now you're thinking of a spot on your lake that is similar to the coves and bays that I just mentioned.
The same applies to the shoreline. Main lake shorelines are the ending point for the wakes of every boat that passes. I think it goes without saying that we have all been rocked back and forth until our heads are spinning by the constant boat wakes that deflect off the shoreline as well as those directly from passing boats. This again is something to take into consideration, and perhaps it may be a good idea to fish shorelines exposed to highly trafficked areas first thing in the morning before such wakes and waves become an issue.
This is not only for convenience, as it is hard enough trying to catch bass period, never mind while holding onto a pedestal seat for dear life as the boat is rocked by the three foot high wake of a passing cruiser boat, but also for safety.
Some larger bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, the Hudson River, the Potomac River and similar bodies of water also have water craft whose wakes can literally vaporize a bass boat. A great example of this is the Thousand Islands / Lake Ontario region located in upstate New York. Because of the size of the body of water, and the commercial traffic that uses it, the bass angler, as well as boater in general must be on constant lookout for container ships and barges that can be as long as five city blocks. The wakes from such ships can be nearly ten feet high, and pack a wallop that can pick up a bass boat located near the shore and literally deposit it rather roughly on the shore! This again is why one must take boat traffic into consideration for all aspects of fishing, for both fishing success and overall safety on the water.
However, fear not, there are several things one can do to ensure that the day will not be ruined by heavy marine traffic.
The first thing I like to do is on practice days of a tournament, is to first try to find spots that I know will not be heavily trafficked by boats. These include weedy bays, shallow back coves, and anywhere that recreational boaters might not deem "scenic" or pretty enough to take the time to visit. Once found, I like to save these spots for midday where the boat traffic is at its height, provided other variables do not make it a spot that relies on time of day and such.
In addition, we as bass anglers have a rather distinct advantage over the rest of the boating set. Generally speaking bass boats have a rather shallow draught. This means that we can go where others in larger, deeper draught boats that reacquire more water can't. This is something that should always be used to your advantage. Those in aluminum or flat bottom boats can capitalize even more on this fact. By trying to find fish where others can't go you literally eliminate the problem in it's entirety, which is just a great thing if you ask me.
For those of you that prefer to fish docks and man made structure, I always make it a point to try to locate such items in no-wake zone coves and channels. This ensures that I will not have to fight battering wakes from high-speed boats all day. I also won't have to worry about becoming road kill on the aquatic superhighway, because a boater doing 60 was not paying attention to where he or she was going and failed to notice me at a dead stop.
Another interesting observation I've discovered, is that it seems the further back into no-wake zones one goes, the better the fishing gets. Initially I could not figure this out. However I think now after a year of experimenting, I have finally got it. It's not a secret of the state that most bass anglers are rather fond of speed. Why else would there be a 225 on the back of a boat that could as easily be pushed by a 125? It turns out, and once again this is my hypothesis, that a lot of bass anglers will not take the time to idle 15 to 20 minutes back into a no-wake zone cove or bay to fish. This leaves the fishing rather unpressured other than from dock anglers. I have used this to my advantage many times and the more I see it work, the more faith I put into such an approach.
Finally, as far as boat traffic goes, assuming you will be fishing a body of water more than once, make mental notes. Make a mental note of when the traffic really gets started. Make a mental note of where most of that traffic is, or is going to. And make a mental note of where boats anchor up and such. You then can begin to plan around such things, and as a result put more bass in your wells.
I hope this has given you a bit of insight on a fact of life that we all have to live with but usually just complain about, myself included on some days.
Catch ya' on the water...