April 2008

Now’s The Time To Try Sight Fishing

With Some Pointers From Carol And Aaron Martens

By Margie Anderson

Margie Anderson
 BIG BASS -- A big bass like this one at the end of John Anderson's line may be waiting -- just out of sight -- for you. But, according to Carol Martens (Aaron Marten's mother), successful California pro angler, there are some techniques to "sight fishing" that can make it very rewarding, especially at this time of year.

Within sight of Sky Harbor Airport there is a small pond where the bluegills get bigger than your average crappie.  I know this because a couple of years ago I had the good fortune to fish this pond.

We started out fishing for bass, and I hooked a real fighter on a spinnerbait.  To my surprise, when I got the fish to the boat I discovered that it was a huge bluegill.

We took the boat closer to shore and discovered that the bluegills were spawning.  Small, round nests showed up as white spots in the weeds, and each had its big fish defending it.

Switching to spinning gear, we started pitching unweighted mealworms onto the nests, where they were immediately inhaled by angry bluegills.  In spite of the bait’s being taken on literally every try, we had an amazingly low hook-up ratio.  Fish can spit out a bait every bit as fast as they can inhale it!

We spent the rest of the day trying to be as fast as the fish and ended up with a nice little stringer of trophy bluegills.  That was my very first experience with sight fishing, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  There were plenty of bluegills, and the nests were so thick that all three of us could fish at the same time.

A Very Different Experience

Sight fishing for bass on the heavily pressured lakes in central Arizona can be a very different experience.  For one thing, the nests aren’t nearly as thickly concentrated, and the bass that are on those nests are usually small males.

The big females move in for just a short time, and don’t hang around for long once they’ve laid their eggs.  The males defend the eggs and fry after that, and most sight-fishermen don’t waste a lot of time trying for the little males.  The window of opportunity for getting the big sows off the nests is fairly small. 

Taking a big bass off the nest requires a few skills beyond those needed for “regular” bass fishing.  You have to approach the fish so as not to spook them, and the patience required for success is more than most people have.  It can take hours of work on a single fish.

“Most people come in a little too close and make too much noise,” says California pro Carol Martens.  “In really shallow coves you should turn off the big motor while you’re still outside the cove, and move in along the shore with the trolling motor.” 

Mother And Son Are Experts

Martens, mother of Aaron Martens, is a well-known and very successful bass angler in her own right.  She and her son are both known for their sight-fishing prowess.

Sneaking in on the trolling motor is just the beginning.  “I’m amazed at how much noise people make on boats,” says Martens.

“You have to be sure you don’t stomp, don’t squeak the chairs, and don’t slam tackle boxes, for starters.”  She keeps her baits out on the deck so she doesn’t have to open any compartments, and even removes her shoes.

It’s also important to keep from rocking the boat, so she avoids movement as much as possible.

Martens has also learned the importance of not being seen. “I stay away from bright or dark colors,” she explains, “and, I try to wear clothes and hats that will blend in with the background.  In other words, I try to match the sky.”

She also makes every attempt to keep her shadow off the fish.  If she knows where several nests are, she’ll time her fishing so she can keep the sun in her face for each one. 

Strive To Be Invisible, Quiet

Keeping movements and visibility to a minimum extends to technique, too. Carol Martens avoids making big casts and using exaggerated arm movements.

She says her son Aaron actually lies down on the deck and just peeks over the side.  “Seeing the boat doesn’t seem to spook the fish nearly as much as seeing people does,” she explains, “so I try to keep to a crouch at least.” 

Aaron Martens agrees.  “If the bass makes eye contact with you,” he says, “it’s all done. You know you’re in trouble when the fish looks back and forth from you to the lure.”

Keeping yourself close enough to see the fish and be able to put a lure on the nest without spooking the fish requires a little doing.  The trolling motor can spook fish, especially if it churns up mud or makes a lot of noise. 

Keep it tuned and make sure it doesn’t jump off the deck when you apply power.  Keep it on low and keep it quiet as much as possible. 
When Martens knows she’s going to be working on a fish for a long time, she’ll actually tie the boat in place if she can.  She tries to keep from having to move the boat until after she has caught the fish.  If the water does get disturbed, the best thing you can do is remember the spot and come back after a few hours.

Because The Fish Like It

Before she gets to the back of a cove, Martens makes a long throw with a bait like a Senko or a split-shot Gitzit.  Sometimes making a few casts with a light bait can pay off, especially if you can get the bait back there long before the fish have seen you. 

As she moves in to spawning areas, Martens makes sure that her set-ups are ready.  She likes shaking worms or very small craws with very tiny weights. 

Chartreuse with red flakes is one of her favorites because the fish like it, and she can see it easily.  Sometimes the only way you know the bait has been taken is that you can’t see it any more.

Martens avoids getting fixated on one color or bait.  She says she’ll try up to 10 or 12 different baits on a fish until she finds out what it wants. 
If the fish are nesting in deep water, as they do on very clear lakes, she’ll use a weight as heavy as 1/4- or 3/16-ounce.  But, in shallow water, she says to go weightless or use a very light weight, like 1/16- or 1/8-ounce. 

“You only have to toss the lure 10 feet or so,” she says, “and you want it to drift down.”  Occasionally she even uses crappie lures.  “You don’t need big hooks,” Martens says, “just good ones.”

Persistence Equals Success

Sharp hooks are a must.  If you’ve just spent three hours trying to tempt a fish into taking your lure, you don’t want to blow the whole deal by failing on the hookset.  Sharp, thin-wire offset hooks are what she prefers.

Martens pitches these light baits on spinning gear, a 6-foot, 6-inch finesse spinning rod and a good fast reel.  “The fish come up quickly because they are so shallow,” she says, “and things can happen really fast.

“One second she’s on the nest, then she’s hooked.  But, one jump and the fish can be gone.” 

When she’s in the back of Aaron’s boat, she sometimes just sits holding the net, she says.

“Sometimes you need to watch a fish for awhile before you try for him,” Martens says.  “See where it is that he keeps coming back to, and cast there. But, don’t throw right on the nest,” she says. 

Martens throws the lure way beyond the nest, then shakes or drags it slowly up to where the fish is.  Usually, she says, as soon as the fish sees the bait, he’ll attack it. 

If the fish is moving, she’ll throw to where he’s heading.  “If a fish scoots off, that doesn’t mean he’ll be gone forever,” she adds.  “Just throw back in there and shake the bait.”

Martens is convinced that fish will bite three, four, and even five times.  Sometimes they just blow on it, even blowing it right off the nest. She just keeps on teasing them.

She says she and Aaron are successful because they are persistent.  They don’t give up.  If they do leave a fish, they just give it a rest and try again later.

Anything To Tempt The Fish

Since sight fishing provokes such quick bites at short distances, it’s important to use a bait that is soft enough to let you bury the point but still be able to set the hook instantly.  Martens is also a believer in scents and flavor —anything to tempt the fish and give her an edge.

Sight fishing doesn’t necessarily mean hanging around a nest and working on a single fish for hours.  Jim Furr gets fish to show themselves to him by luring them out with a big swim bait.

He’ll just move down the shoreline throwing a really large lure like a Castaic swim bait. Bass can’t resist chasing it away, and once he knows where they are, he tosses a Yamamoto Senko in there and catches them.

No matter what your opinion of sight fishing is, you must admit that many really large fish are caught by sight fishermen each year around this time.  If you’re ever going to try it, now’s the time.