Search This Blog

Alternative Species

By Mark Romanack

While trolling with planer boards on Saginaw Bay the author caught
 this channel catfish. Not the target species for sure, but it’s important
 to note that catfish and walleye often feed in the same places and on
the same forages. The author view catching catfish as a good sign.
It would be wonderful if every time we as anglers hit the water, the fish would be cooperative. Truth is, for every trip that goes as planned, there are others that don’t exactly meet our expectations. Thankfully, as anglers we have a ace in the hole that can be simply summed up as “alternative species”.

I’ve long since lost track of how many times I set out to catch one species and instead found myself settling for another. For some setting out to catch walleye and only finding catfish, sheepshead or white bass may measure up as a failure. For me, every tug on the string is a good thing. Admittedly some bites are more noteworthy than others, but catching fish is a good thing even when the fish aren’t exactly the desired species.

Catfish have always amazed me because so many anglers love them and so many others think of them as trash fish. In my boat a catfish on the string is viewed as a good sign. Since catfish feed in the same places and often on the same forage as bass and walleye, catching a cat feels more like an accomplishment than a let down.

Cats may not be a glamor fish, but they are abundant, they bite with authority and the stubborn fight cats deliver is impressive by any measure. Catching a catfish on light tackle is in many ways more rewarding than the target species itself! Even better, catfish have a soft and rubbery mouth made for a fish hook. Once a cat is hooked, there is about a 99% chance that fish will come to net.

In some waters sheepshead are so abundant that anglers come up with creative fishing measures aided at not catching them! On the glamor fish scale, sheepshead rank a solid one out of 10. Even among rough fish the sheepshead isn’t exactly a 10.

Major disappointment or Master Angler? Our attitude is everything in
 life and and also on the water. Many anglers look down their nose at
 rough fish like this sheepshead, but this species can be used to our
 advantage. Anglers who are looking to refine certain technical presen-
tations will find that sheepshead are the perfect fish to “practice on”.
The best thing about sheepshead is their abundance. Early in my career when I was working hard to refine my fishing skills, I often used the sheepshead to my advantage.

Case in point, for anglers who are looking to master certain technically difficult presentations like “vertical jigging” or “jig pitching” the lowly sheepshead can be a gift. The skill of detecting bites, refining rod/reel/line set ups and conditioning oneself to set the hook instantly takes time, practice and lots and lots of hours on the water to perfect. The sheepshead rates a solid 10 when it comes to helping anglers become better at “catching” than “fishing”.

No one hates white bass more than a first mate working on the waters of Lake Erie’s Western Basin. In June and July when the weather is hot, muggy and there is barely a whiff of wind, white bass can literally work a mate to death.

The problem comes in because white bass will eat the same lures intended for walleye and most of these charters are trolling with six planer board lines per side of the boat and a bonus pair of divers on the boat corners. When a charter puts 14 rods in the water and then drives over a school of hungry white bass, things can get ugly at the back of the boat in a hurry.

In my mind the benefit of white bass is this fish was literally made with kids in mind. In the spring when white bass move into rivers to spawn, they are often found in such large schools that an angler can literally anchor the boat in one spot and catch a fish on every cast for hours on end! This kind of non-stop fishing action is just what it takes to “hook”, no pun intended, young anglers into a lifetime passion for fishing.

A couple years ago the Fishing 411 team experienced a busted day of
 walleye fishing on the Detroit River. Instead of dwelling on the fact the
 walleye were no where to be found, the crew salvaged the day by targeting
 more abundant white bass. Our recommendation is to embrace all species
 of fish, even the less desirable ones. Remember, every bite is a
good thing. Some bites are just better than others.
Catching one fish after another can actually get boring, but it takes a good long time for that realization to happen. Catching so many fish that the process becomes work ranks as something pretty special in the world of freshwater fishing. I think that everyone, young and old deserves to experience a suicidal school of white bass on a warm spring day.

The big picture here is that fishing is supposed to be fun and truthfully not catching fish isn’t all that much fun. Since it’s abundantly obvious that the species we set out to catch are not always lining up to bite our lures,  learning to embrace and at times to even target the less desirable species has merit. Call it putting lipstick on a pig if you want, but catching fish is what makes going fishing special.

If it makes the situation easier to digest, don’t admit that you caved in and settled for a hot, hot sheepshead bite. Your secret is safe. Now wipe that smile off your face, the fish slime off your hands and make another cast.