When a crowd of anglers surrounds you, patience and awareness become keys to a successful day on the water. Heavy pressure from big-money tournaments, season openers, or spawning runs can lead to combat fishing when anglers are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along the bank or gunwale-to-gunwale in boats. I usually try to avoid fishing in a crowd, but I have encountered occasions when fishing in crowded areas felt like a combat situation with tension mounting and cursing over tangled lines and arguments over who got to a spot first.
I learned a lot about combat fishing throughout my younger years and early adult life while fishing the crowded trout parks in Missouri. I discovered during these trips to the parks how patience and awareness of what other anglers were doing helped me succeed in crowded fishing spots.
Trout Pond Cluster Fish
Fishing in the trout parks is closed from sunset to sunrise and opens to fishing when a siren sounds in the morning. Anglers line up practically shoulder-to-shoulder around the holes (stocked with trout the previous night) and wait for the siren to make their first casts.
Calamity occurs when the siren blows as novice anglers cast over other anglers’ lines and hooked fish make runs up or down the stream and tangle up numerous lines. I never saw any fisticuffs during this combat fishing but heard a lot of shouting and swearing about the tangled lines and inaccurate casts resulting in a hooked angler.
As I gained more experience in the trout parks I resisted the temptation to fire my first cast when the siren blew. I now wait until I see everyone else cast and then cast to wherever I see an open spot in front of me. Usually, the best place to cast in this situation is straight in front of you because casts to your right or left will frequently result in crossing over other lines. I also learned to avoid tangling lines with other anglers by starting my retrieve before my lure drifted too far downstream. When my line did tangle with another angler’s line I cordially asked him if he wanted me to untangle the mess or if he wanted to do it.
Even Big Lakes Can Feel Little
I have also experienced combat fishing during the white bass spawning run up the creeks on my home waters of Lake of the Ozarks. The creeks feature certain gravel shoals and deeper holes where spawning white bass congregate and crowds of anglers flock around those hot spots. Awareness becomes a key for me in this situation as I again observe where others are casting to avoid crossing over their lines. I also check to see what lures they are throwing and fish with something different to trigger more strikes. I noticed many anglers would throw small spinners so I would fish a small floating Rapala Minnow and usually had better success than the rest of the crowd.
Combat fishing also usually occurs during big money tournaments with competitors racing to spots or cutting in front of another competitor fishing down a bank to reach “their spot”. The Lake of the Ozarks hosts two Big Bass Bash events every year with a grand prize of $100,000 awarded to the angler who catches the heaviest bass. The event reminds me of the scene from the movie “Jaws” when a bounty was placed on the killer shark and mayhem broke loose when all the anglers rushed out in a variety of boats to capture the shark.
The Big Bass Bash events usually attract around 3,000 anglers and even though Lake of the Ozarks is a 54,000-acre lake the weigh-in stations are mainly located on the lower half of the lake so the fishing pressure is heavy there with boats bunched up everywhere. The event turns into a combat fishing extravaganza as I have seen some videos of shouting matches between guys who were arguing over spots and I am surprised there hasn’t been some knockdown drag-out fights as crowded as the lake gets during those events.
I fished the Bash once and have also done some crappie fishing while the Bash was in full swing. In both cases I discovered it was best to stay in one hot spot and just try different lures and retrieves to generate more strikes. Trying to run to other productive spots was fruitless because there were always other boats already there.
During the years I covered B.A.S.S. tournaments, I noticed the pros had a similar strategy for combat fishing. When they encountered a crowd in one of their favorite spots, they usually relied on a strategy of slowing down and saturating every target they fished with multiple presentations and lures. They also observed the other competitors to see what they were doing and tried to do something different.
When you encounter combat fishing, remember to be patient with your fellow anglers and be aware of how they are fishing so you can present the fish with a different look. Practice these two virtues and you will be a winner in combat fishing.
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