"Patterns in the Outdoors" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton Patterning fish and wildlife is, in large part, a mystery to most folks that spend time in the outdoors hunting and fishing. When you stop and think about it, though, there is a reason for everything in the natural world. In the Rocky Mountain States, elk move down out of the high country at night to feed in the valleys and during the morning hours, they climb up to higher elevations to spend the day. Why is this? No doubt, they feel much safer from man during the evening hours and during the summer and fall months, escape the heat and flies in the higher elevations. On larger reservoirs, ducks often prefer rafting in areas that seem to provide little in the form of food or cover. But, on closer observation, such rafting areas often have beds of vegetation just under the surface; a virtual smorgasbord for the waterfowl. The open water gives the birds protection from predators in the wild and, of course, man during the hunting season. There usually is a very good reason for the ever changing patterns of fish and wildlife. Did you ever return to dock after a morning fishing; skunked, when the fellows next in line at the boat ramp had a cooler full of catfish or crappie to fillet? I have, and on many occasions. The reason is not that I did not understand how to catch fish, I simply had failed to pattern them correctly. One has to locate fish first, before he can catch them. Just a couple days ago, I was catfishing with a friend on a 200 acre lake that once was a sand and gravel pit. Located close to an oxbow in the Trinity River, spring floods filled the pit years ago and also stocked it with channel and blue catfish. I have never had access to better catfish waters. Just a week before this most recent trip, a buddy and I fished around a cross channel that connects two portions of the lake and hammered the catfish in water 6 feet deep. Wind created a slight current in the channel, pushing water and baitfish into the mouth of the connecting lake. This was a pattern that I felt confident would hold throughout the summer. We returned to the same spot 2 days ago with every intention of enjoying non-stop action on the whiskerfish. We had even taken the time to sour a five gallon bucket of maize. Fishing was excellent here before without baiting a hole; we were confident we were in for the trip of a lifetime as we distributed a coffee can full of the maize and baited our hooks with smelly punch bait. After fifteen minutes of fishing, we had one fish in the boat. Something was definitely wrong, but WHAT? Thanks goodness for cell phones! I called my buddy, catfish guide George Rule and explained my dilemma. Luke, we started catching them shallow three days ago. Yesterday, my clients put 70 fish in the boat, all came from water 2 feet deep. Were using corks to keep the baits just up from bottom. The spawn has just begun. Fish shallow, around cover such as roots along the bank, cattails or willows and youll surely find them. advised my buddy. Shallow water? I knew just the spot! We headed to the mouth of a little feeder creek and motored back up the creek to an area infested with vegetation. Fifteen minutes without a bite proved the whiskerfish were not here. Then, my brain kicked into gear. The area back in the old silted up creek was consistently shallow with no close access to deep water. Catfish, as do most species, prefer spawning in shallows that provide easy access to deeper water. Bass fishermen know that during the spawn, the backs of creeks are prime waters for catching lunker bass but, they always fish areas relatively close to the creek channels that fish use as highways into and out of the shallows. My buddy and I headed back to the spot we began but this time, cast up against the bank, around the roots of shoreline trees. The water here was only a couple feet deep but, five feet out from the bank was deeper water. The instant my first cast hit the water, a chunky catfish almost jerked the rod from my hand. We had discovered the pattern, which was vastly different from what wed experienced on our previous trip. Catfish were no longer interested in open water, the urge to procreate was upon them and they needed shallow, warm water and plenty of cover to accomplish their yearly spawning rituals. On our previous trip, the catfish bite was much more subtle, now that the fish were spawning and protecting their nesting area, they nailed the baits hard, often within seconds of the splash that occurred when the punch bait hit the water. Not only had the location of the fish changed but the manner in which they bit was vastly different. In a couple hours, we had plenty of catfish for a big family fish fry later that evening. Photo by Luke Clayton My friends that own the lake are members of the church I attend and offered to host a mens day fishing trip and clay target shoot soon. How did the fishing go? they asked at church last Sunday. Couldnt have been better, AFTER we figured out the current spawning pattern. I replied. Good deal, then everybody should catch lots of fish during our upcoming outing. I agreed but, then began to wonder if our trip would coincide with the spawn or would the fish be back out in open water by the time we return for the day of festivities! There is only one way to know for sure, pre-fish the lake the day before the event, just to determine if the fish were still spawning, or if they had moved back to the open water. Its tough work but, as the saying goes, someone has to do it!. OUTDOOR TIP OF THE WEEK - Learn to become a line watcher! Fish, even big ones, sometime bite very gently. If you learn to watch your line closely, and set the hook when you know a fish has the bait in its mouth, youll catch more fish. This can occur when a black bass picks up a plastic worm, creating slack in your line or, when youre fishing for catfish or crappie and your cork tilts over on its side as a fish picks up the bait and moves toward the surface. I often use green or red line that is easier to see when fishing off-colored water. Want even more of Luke's hunting/fishing tips and tricks, wild game recipes etc? Listen to Outdoors With Luke Clayton for a new show each week at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new fishing videos at lukeshotspots.com Contact Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org The BOC has a virtual library of Luke's stories right here on the forums; just about anything you could want to read about the outdoors. Click here to see a boat load of information!