Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice
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For years and years, F&S writer Jerome B. Robinson delighted and educated Field & Stream readers with short—but brilliant—outdoor tips. Here, we’ve gathered 49 of his best fishing tips. The know-how in this collection covers everything from freshwater to saltwater, fly fishing to baitcasting, lures to live bait. They may be old, but fishing tips this good will never go out of style.

1. Catch Bass on a Mouse Fly

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

The Deer Hair Mouse fly, used to catch giant trout during the lemming migration in the far north, makes an exceptional autumn bass fly anywhere in the Lower 48. Tie a strand of stiff 30-pound-test leader or stainless-steel wire under the head to make the mouse weedless. Then cast into beds of pond lilies and crawl the mouse across the pads, making it swim across patches of open water.

2. Change Hooks for Better Fishing

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Remove those treble hooks from your lures and replace them with straight-shank hooks one size larger. Attach the single hook to the lure’s forward hook mount and leave the rear bare. Fish often hit lures headfirst, so you will get just as many hookups, and the release will be easier.

3. Hook More Rising Fish

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Instead of setting the hook when you see a fish take your fly, wait until you see your leader move. Fish often roll to sink a fly and then take it on a second pass. Giving yourself that extra moment will allow you to confirm that you have a solid hit and not a passing swipe.

4. Catch Fish in the Prop Wash

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

When you’re trolling, always drag one lure in the prop wash no more than two boat lengths behind your motor. Gamefish are attracted to the propeller turbulence to check for baitfish that have been disoriented and made vulnerable. The wake also imparts an enticing action to lures and flies that are trolled in the bubbles. You’ll be surprised at how often the “prop-wash lure” will be the high scorer.

5. Secure Your Lure with Superglue

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Put a drop of superglue on your hook before attaching a soft-plastic jig, worm, or other artificial bait. The instant bond prevents the lure from slipping back on the hook with repeated casting. Soft plastics that slip on the hook quickly lose their enticing action and often must be discarded long before they are worn out.

6. Catch Fish by Slapping the Water

Crappie Fishing photo
Attract saltwater fish within fly-rod range by striking the water hard with two or three false casts before delivering your streamer fly or popper. The loud impacts scatch fish by slapping Attract saltwater fish within fly-rod range by striking the water hard with two or three false casts before delivering your streamer fly or popper. The loud impacts simulate feeding activity and draw fish to your target area, so they’re ready and waiting when you make your final cast. This technique works well on schooling fish like striped bass, bluefish, mackerel, and small tuna. John Rice

7. Revitalize Old Lures

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

An occasional cleaning with regular white toothpaste can make your fishing lures sparkle like new. Rinse them in warm water, then scrub gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and the toothpaste. It has a brightening agent and mild abrasives that restore lures to their original finish. This method is particularly effective on spoons with a brass, copper, gold, or silver finish, which are much less attractive to fish when dull.

8. Cast from a Kayak in the Wind

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

For easy casting from a kayak no matter which way the wind is blowing, install a movable anchor system. Mount pulleys near both ends of your kayak. Run a 3/16-inch braided nylon line through them and tie the ends to a strong metal or plastic ring. Insert your anchor line and tie it off to a deck cleat. Use the pulley line to move the ring forward or back, adjusting the anchor pull-point until the craft lies in a comfortable casting position for your target area.

9. Use Big Bait for More Fish

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

By August, live-bait species have grown in size, and gamefish focus on bigger prey than what attracted them earlier in spring and summer. Start using large streamer flies, spoons, lures, and live baits, and make slower retrieves. Fish in the shallows during hours when boat traffic is at a minimum and the sun is off the water. During midday, most gamefish suspend in deep water over rocky humps, sunken trees, and deeper channels.

10. End Reel Tangles

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Most spinning-reel backlashes happen when you close the bail by turning the handle and immediately begin to retrieve. Slack line can fall across the face of the reel, creating a buried loop that snags line on the next cast. Instead of cranking to close the bail after a cast, close the bail by hand, then pull the line tight before starting to reel in. This draws the line all the way into the roller on the bail and guarantees that it will wind onto the spool properly.

11. Hook the One You Missed

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

When a fish rises to a fly or lure but is not hooked, cast to the same place only a few times more. If you don’t get a strike, move on to your next spot for a while. After half an hour, return to where the fish rose and try again. Once the fish settles, it will resume its favored feeding lie and be waiting for your next cast.

12. Protect Your Rod on the Road

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Those cloth-covered elastic ponytail holders are perfect for securing fishing rods when you travel. Reel your fly or lure to the rod tip, then disjoint the rod and fold it so that the tip and butt are together. Secure these with an elastic, then wrap the disjointed ends together with another band. Binding the sections together like this prevents tangles that can lead to broken tips.

13. Lose Fewer Fish

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

That seemingly useless metal ring on the front of your fishing vest can help you test the strength of your leader tippet. Hook your fly or lure to it, then pull steadily on the leader about a foot above the hook. If the tippet is frayed or the leader knot is weak, it will break now instead of when you have a fish on. Recheck after unhooking every fish, and switch to a new tippet before the old one wears out.

14. Salvage Lures with Missing Tails

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Has a fish bitten off the end of your soft-plastic bait? Don’t discard it; fix it by tying on a new tail. Place the hook in a fly-tying vise and bind a bunch of white, yellow, purple, or black bucktail directly to the lure’s stump using strong nylon thread. Whip-finish, then coat the wraps with epoxy glue. The repaired bait will have a different tail action, but it’s still very attractive to fish.

15. Clean Fish in 40 Seconds

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Kill the fish, place it on its dorsal side, then slide the point of your knife in the skin below the lower jaw. Holding the blade parallel to the jaw, cut away the jaw?s under section. With the fish still on its back, detach the top of the gills from the backbone. Grab the cut-away jaw and slowly pull toward the tail. Everything, including gills and entrails, will come free. This is easier and faster than the usual method.

16. Make a Popper

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Styrofoam packing peanuts can be used to convert any streamer or bucktail fly into a popper. Prepare a few in advance and keep a supply on hand. Heat a wire and burn a hole lengthwise through the center of a Styrofoam pellet. Glue or paint eyes on it. When you want to convert a bucktail or streamer into a popper, thread your leader through the pellet and tie on the fly.

17. Sneak Up on More Fish

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

Fish are extremely sensitive to vibrations and instantly become wary when they sense an intruder. After wading into a new area, stand perfectly still for two minutes. It will feel like an hour, but you’ll get more strikes. In a boat, wait two minutes after shutting off your motor before casting. Boat fishermen will also spook fewer fish by keeping the motor at a steady, low rpm as they approach visible schools.

18. Fish Sun Spots

Crappie Fishing photo
John Rice

In shallow bays on chilly days, expect fish to be feeding at midday close to the northern shoreline. They gather there because the sun crosses the southern sky at a low angle in late autumn, causing shadows that cool the water along southern shorelines. The sun’s rays beat strongest along the northern shore, attracting baitfish to the warmer water. Hungry gamefish follow.

19. Six Reasons to Buy Some Pantyhose

Crappie Fishing photo
Field & Stream Online Editors
  1. Stretched tight, pantyhose work in a pinch as a replacement for almost any engine drive belt.
  2. Filled with chopped fish, they become a chum bag.
  3. A folded piece filters fuel or coffee.
  4. A strip makes a great jig teaser.
  5. Stuff a trophy gamebird in a leg so it reaches the taxidermist with its feathers intact.
  6. Finally, wear them to trap heat in an emergency.

20. Feel the Bottom Without Snagging

Crappie Fishing photo
Field & Stream Online Editors

A feeler weight allows you to drift bait close to the bottom without hanging up. Twist a small loop in one end of a 12-inch piece of stiff wire. Use a swivel clip to attach your fishing line to the loop. Next, pinch four heavy split shot to the wire’s midsection. Tie a leader with a baited dropper hook to the eye of the swivel. This rig will let you feel the bottom as you drift the bait a few inches above the snags.

21. Keep Score on a Crankbait

Crappie Fishing photo
Field & Stream Online Editors

How do you really know which lures work best? I keep track with a Sharpie. I make a tiny dot on a lure for each fish it catches. Black will work with just about any color. I make the marks as small as possible, starting in the back and moving forward.

22. How to Fight Big Fish

Crappie Fishing photo
Field & Stream Online Editors

When fighting a big fish, resist the temptation to reduce strain on your arm by grasping the rod above the handle. Holding the rod there transfers stress to a thinner part of the shaft, where it is not strong enough to stop a powerful run or lift the weight of a heavy fish. Too much stress higher up on the shaft may buckle the rod.

23. Catch More Bass on Floating Lures

Catch More Bass on Floating Lures
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Lures When casting floating poppers or surface plugs, don’t be quick to start your retrieve. Bass are sometimes more attracted to a motionless lure. Let it stay where it splashes down for 30 seconds before you start retrieving. Then jerk the lure erratically as you retrieve slowly, with the lure swimming on the surface. Gradually speed up the retrieves on subsequent casts.

24. Net Fish by Yourself

Net Fish by Yourself
Field & Stream Online Editors

When bringing a fish to net while fishing alone, leave a rod’s length of line out beyond the tip, and raise the rod to lead the fish to the net. Don’t chase the fish with the net, or it will lunge away. And never lift a big fish into the boat with your rod or by grabbing the line-“the hook may pull out, or the line or rod may break from the stress.

25. Use Chum in Freshwater

Use Chum in Freshwater
Field & Stream Online Editors

Attract gamefish to your fishing location and put them in a feeding mood by chumming with small balls of canned fish-based cat food mixed with mud. The fish-scented mud balls will sink to the bottom and slowly dissolve, releasing oils and small bits of cat food that will attract baitfish. Hungry gamefish, attracted to the feeding baitfish, will likely strike lures cast into the area.

26. Straighten Your Line with Fabric Softener

Straighten Your Line with Fabric Softener
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Kinks can be removed from monofilament fishing line by soaking the entire reel spool, line and all, for 15 minutes in liquid fabric softener, diluted with equal parts water. Kinks are caused when monofilament develops memory from being stored for long periods on the reel spool. Fabric softener eliminates memory and allows the line to stretch straight the next time it is used.

27. Measure Slot Fish

Measure Slot Fish
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An accurate fish-measuring trough makes it possible to sort out slot-size fish quickly and harmlessly. Using 1×6-inch boards, construct a V-shaped trough with a wooden stop at one end. Butt a yardstick against the stop and fasten it to the inside of the trough. Use an indelible felt-tipped pen to mark minimum and maximum slot sizes for various fish species on the inner wall.

28. Irritate a Smallmouth

Irritate a Smallmouth
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In the spring, smallmouth bass become very protective of the bright spots on the bottom that mark their nesting sites. Hook a dark-colored plastic worm through the head, cast it to a bright spot, and let it sink to the bottom. Then just leave it lying there. The bass will become irritated by the worm’s presence and will pick the worm up by the head to carry it away.

29. Match the Bait

Match the Bait
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If gamefish are driving bait but you can’t get them to hit, make sure you’re using a lure similar in size to the baitfish. Predators tend to become keyed to the size of the baitfish in the schools they are attacking and refuse larger baits or lures. At such times, using a plug of the right size is more important than color or action.

30. Catch Fish in Deep Water

Catch Fish in Deep Water
Field & Stream Online Editors

When fish move to deeper water as the days grow hot, change your lure selection. Match the silhouette to that of the local forage, and remember that in the dim light of deeper water, fish can see dark baits better than brightly colored ones. Most fish feed less aggressively as it gets hotter, so make your lure easy for fish to take by reeling slowly with a stop-and-go action.

31. Call and Catch Nightcrawlers

Call and Catch Nightcrawlers
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To catch nightcrawlers easily, hose down a patch of lawn for 10 minutes at sunset. Once it’s dark out, rubbing a “grunt” stick will drive them to the surface. Pound a 24-inch wooden stake halfway into the wet soil, and saw a 2-foot metal bar against it for a minute. Worms mistake the vibrations for the sounds of predatory moles. Use a flashlight with a red lens to spot the crawlers without alarming them.

32. Catch a Reluctant Fish

Catch Reluctant Fish
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Fish prefer prey that takes the least effort to catch. They often refuse to chase after a lure but will take one that swims slowly, rises and falls like a cripple, or moves in short hops close to the bottom. Imagine how the forage your lure is imitating behaves when it’s disoriented or injured, and retrieve your jigs, plugs, and soft plastics accordingly.

33. Catch More Big Summer Bass

Catch More Big Summer Bass
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If you catch a large bass in midsummer, assume that it’s part of a school of similar-size fish. Mark the depth and continue fishing at that same spot. Bass school by size this time of year, often in 20 to 25 feet of water. To find them, use soft-plastic baits that flutter as they drop. Fish at increasing depths until you get a strike. Dark colors like purple and black work best in deep water.

34. Follow Birds to Fish

Follow Birds to Fish
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Herons, egrets, cormorants, and some species of gulls commonly perch on roots or logs overhanging water at precise spots where they know that large fish will regularly drive bait within their reach. Birds make a living by locating these fish-feeding hotspots, and you can count on them to be where the action is about to take off.

35. Release Fish Stree-Free

Release Fish Stress-Free
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Unhooking a wriggling fish becomes much easier when you hold the fish on its back with one hand gently cupping its dorsal fin. All fish immediately relax and lie still when held in this position, allowing you to remove the hook without having to squeeze, thereby causing less stress and injury. Always remember to wet your hands before handling any fish.

36. Attract Feeding Gamefish

Attract Feeding Gamefish
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When chumming with live minnows, hold them out of the water for a minute or two before throwing them in. The disoriented fish will be easy prey. Once gamefish begin feeding on the easy-to-catch bait, they will eagerly hit similar flies, lures, or a baited hook cast into the same area. Make sure you only use native bait trapped from the water you plan to fish.

37. Hook More Trout on Sinking Line

Hook more trout on sinking line
Fly fishermen who cast sinking lines hook more fish when they limit leader length to 2 or 3 feet. With a longer leader, the fly tends to ride above the sunken line, causing a sag that can delay hookset. Long leaders combined with floating lines separate the impact of the heavy line from a delicate surface presentation, but they offer no such advantage when you’re fishing deep. Field & Stream Online Editors

38. Make a Double-Sided Worm Can

Make a double-sided worm can
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Instead of digging down to the bottom of your bait can to find worms, replace the metal end of the can with another plastic lid in which you’ve punched a dozen tiny airholes. When the worms burrow down to the bottom, simply turn the can over and open the other end. The worms will always be on top and easy to see.

39. Release Fish Unharmed

Release fish unharmed
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Use a safety pin-“style shower curtain hook to hang a terry washcloth from your belt when you are fishing. Wet the cloth and use it to grip any fish you intend to release. This allows you to get a firm grip on the fish without applying excessive pressure that can damage the fish’s internal organs. Moistening the cloth minimizes the amount of protective coating the fish loses.

40. Release Your Anchor Quickly

Release your anchor quickly
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It can be difficult to land large fish from a boat anchored in strong current if you can’t slip anchor quickly. To make a quick-release system, tie a loop in the anchor line and attach a buoy or plastic jug to the loop, which you will place around the bow anchor cleat. When you hook up, slip it off the cleat and toss it overboard. After you’ve landed the fish, retrieve the anchor and buoy.

41. Unravel Backlashed Line

Unravel backlashed line
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Make an excellent tool for unraveling backlashes from a No. 2 fishing hook. Using pliers, straighten the hook and flatten the barb, then use a file to dull the point slightly. Push the eye of the hook deep into a wine cork and glue it in place. Use this cork-handled tool to pick loops of line out of the tangle until it clears.

42. Let the Rod Do the Work

Let the rod do the work
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Spinfishermen and baitcasters can throw their line with greater distance and accuracy by leaving half a rod’s length of line hanging from the rod tip when casting. This extra length causes the rod tip to flex deeper when the cast is made, generating more power from the rod with less effort from the wrist and arm. The reduced physical exertion permits better hand-eye coordination.

43. Clean Up After Ice-out

Clean up after ice-out
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There is a burst of good fishing on northern lakes about three weeks after ice-out, when the water at the surface reaches 39 degrees. At that temperature, water reaches its greatest density and sinks to the bottom. This turnover of oxygen-laden surface water has a homogenizing effect throughout the water column, and fish at all levels are activated by the extra oxygen available.

44. Catch Big Fish More Consistently

Catch Big Fish More Consistently
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The biggest fish in a stream tend to hold in lies that offer protective shadows as well as a current pattern that funnels dissolved oxygen and drifting forage to them. There, they can feed with a minimum expenditure of energy. Whenever you catch a large stream fish, take note of the exact location where you cast. It will most likely produce good-size fish again and again.

45. Attract Sun-Shy Fish

Attract Sun-Shy Fish
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Though fish are less likely to feed on the surface in direct sunlight, they remain attracted to the surface-breaking sounds of baitfish in distress. The next time you feel that the sun is putting fish down, try rigging a cup-faced bobber or popping cork on your line 2 feet above a deeper-running bait or lure. The chugging sound of the bobber will often entice sun-struck fish.

46. Set Bait for Minnows

Set Bait for Minnows
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Instead of baiting minnow traps with messy cornmeal, bread, or cat food, try using a fresh stick of chewing gum. Though minnows and shiners will swarm to the gum, they won’t eat it. And since it doesn’t dissolve, a single piece will effectively bait the trap for several days. It is by far the most effective, easiest, and cleanest bait to use.

47. Keep Lures from Hanging Up

Keep Lures from Hanging Up
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Keep Lures from Hanging Up When deep-running lures hang up on the bottom, the downward-facing hook on the front treble is usually to blame. To avoid such snags, simply clip it off. The remaining double hook will still catch fish. For further protection, add a split shot or two 18 inches ahead of the lure. This will keep it in a slightly head-down position that lifts the hooks away from snags.

48. Throw Chum a Long Way

Throw Chum a Long Way
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Tossing live baitfish into your targeted area before beginning to cast is a sure way to start a feeding frenzy. To throw them farther with less arm strain, make a bait-hurler. Cut the bottom out of a sturdy plastic gallon jug. Insert a 3-foot broom handle into the jug’s neck, drill two holes through the neck and handle, and fasten them together with bolts and washers. Load it up with live bait, and toss.

49. Save Your Rod

Save Your Rod
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When the tip breaks off a fishing rod, it may not be ruined. You might have created a useful specialty stick. Glue on a new tip guide and try out the stiffer action. Shortened fly rods are often better for making long casts with weighted flies. Chopped-down casting and spinning rods can work fine for heavier lures and are just the thing for vertical jigging and trolling.