What Happens When the Fish Don’t Bite?

It does happen, even with the pros.

As anglers we always hear the phrase “If fishing was easy it would be called catching.” I have to be honest that for the most part my variation of this quote is “I don’t go fishing, I go catching.” Well what goes up must come down I suppose.

I know that seems a bit self-assured. Over the past years I’ve become used to catching fish pretty much any time I want. I might not always catch the big fish but usually catch something. Many guide clients ask me, “What happens when the fish don’t bite?” My response comes in two parts. “There are no guarantees in nature.” And “I’ve been very lucky and most of the time the fish cooperate.” I’ve learned this year since I’ve entered the ranks of fishing guide is you can have everything and know everything but sometimes you just can’t make fish bite.

For the most part when I take clients out in the Mighty Red River they catch their fish and even get a big one or two to make that memory of a lifetime. Some trips are better than others but the customers catch fish and are happy, or at least tell me they are.

A few weeks ago I was hired by a couple from South Dakota who made a special trip to the Red for big catfish. The day before they arrived the weather was acting like rain and just a bit funny. I had a bad feeling this could put the cats into a bit of a funk but you never can tell. I picked up my customers at their hotel with a plan to exceed their expectations of the Red. We started out in one of the honey holes with no luck so as always we took off for some run and gun fishing. (Rule 1 of catfishing: if there is no bite within 20 minutes, pack up and move to the next spot.)

For the next eight hours we pulled the anchor, moved, baited hooks and re-anchored with only limited success. We even took a half time break to load the boat and drive across Grand Forks to another boat landing above the Riverside Dam allowing us to fish another 10 miles of river. We tried deep structure, shallow, snags, and every other place a catfish might swim and even some that catfish won’t typically swim. We just could not get them to want to bite.

When the trip was done we had fished for nine hours and made over 20 moves making this day a huge disaster in my mind but at the end my customers told me they were very happy to visit the Grand Forks area, see the famous Red River and take a shot a the catfish that swim in her depths.

I have to be honest that I did not sleep much after this trip with fears for the next day’s clients. While lying in bed around 4am I remembered a statement that the famous Devils Lake guide, Jason Mitchell told me about when the fish don’t bite. He said, “I am amazed that after all the bad days I’ve had anyone would want to hire me.” That comment got me thinking about how this season has gone and gave me the self-assurance to move along into the next trip.

I have come to a few conclusions since the disaster trip. First, I still stand behind my quote that I go catching not fishing. Second, my standards for what makes a successful day on the water is higher than anyone I have ever met. Third, no matter how much knowledge I have of what makes fish bite, how much equipment, how many times I change baits, and how nice my boat is I simply don’t have the power to make fish bite. These are all three great lessons that will last me for the rest of my career as a fishing guide.

Until next time get outside and make some memories

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