Fishing Styles -- Mastering the Art of Still-Fishing

Hello, Blog Readers! 

It's been a good while since I wrote a technical fishing post here; thus, I have worked a couple days to bring you this post on one of my favorite fishing styles: still-fishing

April 12th, 2014 - Still-fishing at Kelly Drive (Schuylkill River).

This is only the first post of my new "fishing styles" post series, which will portray not only the basics of different fishing styles and techniques, but also the "not so trivial" aspects in each one of them. Additionally, they will contain hints and knowledge that are not usually found in didactic fishing books or fishing websites. In other words, these posts will be partially based on my own understandings and my field experiences

Note that these posts will also help me a lot in the process of answering technical questions through e-mail/EPF Facebook Page. Throughout the years, I've noticed that many readers have difficulty finding online information on "what to use," "how to fish," "what to do," etc. As a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons why forums and drama exist. Heh. Therefore, this post series will also work as a type of FAQ (Frequent Asked Questions) in disguise, saving me the time to answer each reader's technical question individually.

Because this post is a little bit long, I've divided it in different sections for a better organization:

1. Definition -- What is still-fishing?
2. Misconceptions -- There's much more to it as it sounds. 
3. FGB: Fish, Gear, and Bait -- Choose your target and adapt.
4. HWW: How? Where? Why? -- Increase your efficiency. 
5. Physics and Forces -- It's not just about casting and waiting.
6. Be a Steward -- Conclusion and additional notes. 

1. Definition -- What is still-fishing?   

The first thing that you need to know is that the word "still-fishing" is legit (yes -- I'm not a lunatic, and I didn't make it up). After searching through many online and hand dictionaries, I've come to the conclusion that Merriam-Webster does the best job in giving an accurate definition of it: "to fish with the line and bait resting still or stationary in water." Note that most dictionaries' definitions included the words "on the bottom," which actually portrays a huge misconception when it comes to still-fishing. I'll talk more about this misconception in section 2. 

So, according to this general definition, it's very likely that every angler in this planet has practiced still-fishing at a certain point in life. You yourself may have started the sport with the art of still-fishing: casting a float and letting it drift or casting some bait and let it sink. Aren't you proud now? Now you can go all out and tell people that "once upon a time, I was a still-fisher" (and you may still be one nowadays). Still-fishing is not only a legit fishing style, but also the oldest one when it comes to the history of fishing. For more details on fishing's history, you may click here for an older post. The first part of that post talks about the history of fishing and the faith of aquatic sustainability.

2. Misconceptions -- There's much more to it as it sounds.

Despite what most people think, still-fishing is not as easy and simple as it sounds (it's complexity will be discussed in sections 4 and 5). When talking to the general public, I've noticed that they often believe that still-fishing is all about throwing something in the water and let it sit there until the fish bites. Now...this idea is not wrong by definition; however, there is so much more to this style! Sadly, it often turns out that this is all the public knows about the art of still-fishing.

Since the lack of knowledge in a field usually leads to misconceptions, here are a few curiosities and clarifications for everyone:

A. Still-fishing is always done on the bottom.

Wrong. As mentioned previously in the post, even some dictionaries describe "bottom fishing" as a synonym for still-fishing. Therefore, some folks tend to believe that still-fishing is all about casting something and letting it sink all the way. Here's the philosophical catch, though: although bottom fishing is part of still-fishing, still-fishing is not only bound to bottom fishing. Therefore, bottom fishing is only a part of the still-fishing style.

As a matter of fact, anglers always choose the depth of their baits based on the Species of fish that they will target (see next misconception for more details). One may still-fish close to the surface of the water, in mid-water, or all the way to the bottom. For example: take a float, which is a piece of equipment used to regulate bait depth. When an angler sets a float and casts it out there, it doesn't necessarily mean that he is fishing "on the bottom." Even so, the same is still practicing still-fishing. 

Also, think about it: if still-fishing was practiced always on the bottom, there would be only one general rig for it -- something similar to a slip-sinker rig (slip-sinker, swivel, and hook), which keeps the bait all the way down. However, there are so many different rigs in didactic fishing books! As an example, a "high-low" rig can keep baits off the bottom by 20 inches in salt-water. If used in a shallow Creek or Pond, this rig could be easily used to reach mid-water depth. The bait would still be sitting there; thus, still-fishing. 

For those who are more pictorial, below is a photo to portray this idea: 

September 3rd, 2012 -- Three White Perch caught on a custom rig. Here's my combination of a slip-sinker rig with a high-low rig for still-fishing. After casting it, the bottom hook sits on the bottom, whereas the top two hooks sit at 6 and 9 inches from the bottom, respectively. This is actually an awesome rig for fishes who travel in schools.

B. Only bottom-feeders are traditionally still-fished.

Another deadly misconception is that only bottom-feeders are caught while still-fishing. Although it's true that some Species of fish are only caught on the bottom (i.e. Common Carp and certain types of Catfish), there is a plethora of other Species that will bite on a still-fishing session. Here is the fact: still-fishing can be used to catch almost any Species of fish in our planet!

Excluding bottom-feeders, I've caught the following Species of fish in Philadelphia, all using the still-fishing style: Northern Snakehead (Channa argus), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu), American Eel (Anguilla rostrata), Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), White Perch (Morone americana), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), Sunfish (includes all 4 types -- Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), and Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus)), Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Brown Trout (Salmo trutta), Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), etc. Of course the rig and the bait of choice played a very important role in catching these fish! These technicalities will be discussed further in section 3.

As a curiosity, still-fishing is widely practiced around the world. In the U.K., for example, still-fishing is not only used for Carp, but also for Barb, Tench, Dace, etc. 

For those who are familiar with Jeremy Wade and the TV series River Monsters, one will notice that most of his monster fish are caught while still-fishing. So, there you go -- with the right setup and the right bait, still-fishing know no limits when it comes to fish diversity!

C. Still-fishing can only be practiced with live or organic bait.

Believe it or not, still fishing can even be practiced with "fake baits" (a.k.a lures). In the field of Bass Fishing, there's an outrageous technique that is literally still-fishing in disguise: "dead sticking." It's actually hard to believe that such a motionless technique exists in a field that focuses so much on casting and retrieving. However, it does exist indeed!

By definition, dead sticking is the idea of placing a lure in the water and letting it stay motionless for extended periods of time (do not confuse it with the jerk and pause motion -- that is another technique). This technique is usually performed with suspending jerkbaits and soft plastics, but it will still work for other types of bait as well. Here is a very simple example of dead sticking: leaving a jitterbug on top of the water. The same applies for leaving a Senko on the bottom of a Lake or just letting a suspending jerkbait drift at a certain water depth. 

Most Bass anglers were very skeptical when this technique first showed up in the Bass community. The main question was: "would the Bass really bite on a fake and motionless lure?" After a lot of meddling and testing, it turned out that even the most cunning Largemouth Bass would do so, under certain circumstances. For instance, it's been proved that there's a substantial chance of a Largemouth Bass to attack a motionless shad colored suspending jerkbait during the cold months of the year. And this is clearly not an accident: scientifically speaking, the Shad are very sensitive to water temperatures and they tend to become lethargic during the Winter. They are so sensitive that sometimes they die! So, deadsticking a shad colored suspending jerkbait may be a very good stratery depending on the season, the location, and the depth of the bait.

This specific strategy has gained so much reputation in the Bass community that even famous fishing magazines have written about it (i.e. Bass Masters, In-Fisherman, etc). As a matter of fact, some Southern anglers nowadays even specialize in deadsticking.

Now that you folks are a little bit more familiar with still-fishing, it's time to get into the formalism and specifics of the same. Section three of this post will describe all the fishing jargon that you need to know before even hitting the water. 

3. FGB: Fish, Gear, and Bait -- Choose your target and adapt.

Any dedicated and experienced angler will tell you that the battle to outwit fish starts way before putting your line in the water. Since different Species of fish behave differently, anglers usually do a lot of research and reading before even going out to fish. In order to become a successful angler, one must be very knowledgeable about their living habits: eating and spawning behavior, natural habitats, migration patterns, etc. Not only that, one needs to take into account the many different parameters that will influence fishing: the tide, the wind, the current, the weather, the water temperature, temporary cover/structure, etc. 

It may sound ludicrous to do so; however, the hard work does pay off. It is a known fact that an angler's total catch ratio will dramatically go down if the same disregards as little as a single parameter. Here's a very good example for this statement: a bunch of Largemouth Bass anglers in a national Bass competition! Local fishing idol Mike "Ike" Iaconelli once stated in his book that he did hours of online research before hitting the place of the competition. Then, he would scoop potential spots at the site and make decisions while "fishing the moment." Ike is a very successful angler in the Bass community nowadays, and bear in mind that his achievements came with a lot of sweat and hard work. Anglers are usually aware that little things contribute hugely to final results; however, pro anglers are even more aware of that! 

A. Fish.  

The first step is to choose your target and adapt to it. Pick a specific Species of fish and focus on it. Picture it; research it; study it; think like it. Write down everything about it. Focus, focus, and focus a little bit more. Try to absorb all the knowledge that you can -- every little bit of information may be useful for your upcoming fishing session. It is as they say: "better safe than sorry." That's pretty much the concept behind this.

For this whole section, let's take the Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) as an example. It turns out that this type of Catfish is a perfect target for still-fishing. After picking the Flathead Catfish as your main target, you should just "google it." Make sure to write down as much information as you can! Here is an example:

"The Flathead Catfish is not just a bottom-feeder, but it will also eat live targets that are resting at night or swimming by. Big Flathead Catfish prefer to eat live organisms. They get very big, passing the range of 50lbs in some locations. Flathead Catfish tend to spawn during Summer time, close to structure (i.e. logs). The male guards the nest. They are more active at night time; however, they will also feed during day time. Flathead Catfish do hunt by sight and will be attracted to light at night time, where bait fish might congregate. They bite very well during the Fall season, before becoming torpid. They swim around their nests in search for food."

Side note: the Internet is certainly a good source of information; however, an angler must also keep in mind that not all the information online is trustful and accurate! After all, we are not talking about primary sources. Eventually, it's up to the angler to see if those pieces of information are correct or not. An example is below:  

September 28th, 2011 - A small Flathead Catfish in comparison to a bottle of water. After selecting a target and researching it, one should not only be able to identify his own catch, but also verify if the online information was accurate and trustful. Since this fella was caught during day time, it's plausible to say that they can be caught before dark. Though, a single occurrence could be an anomaly. Therefore, one can only state something after the event happens many times! This is the idea of formulating a hypothesis from field experience.   

Once you are done with your research, you should start thinking of how you will be able to handle the targeted fish. In other words, you should start gathering your gear.

2. Gear.

Preparing your fishing gear becomes much easier once a target fish is selected. As stated previously, different Species of fish behave differently; therefore, each one of them require a different gear setup! It cannot be forgotten that fish size also plays a crucial role in this section, since it determines the "size" of your gear: ultralight, light, medium, or heavy (includes reel, rod, line, sinker, swivel, and hook).

Take note that having the right gear for a specific type of fish doesn't only help you land it, but also provides more entertainment to the sport. After all, part of the fun in the sport is fighting the fish! Think about it: would you rather use an ultralight or a heavy action rod while fishing for Bluegills? And why? It turns out that the answer is obviously an ultralight, since you can "feel" the fight much better with it. The video below is a great example:

In the video above, I was fishing for Sunfish at Knights Lake, Collingswood, NJ. Thus, I was using an ultralight setup: ultralight rod, light reel, 4lbs test line, and a 1/64 oz. jighead. For my surprise, a big Channel Catfish hit my little jig. :)

If "entertainment" and "gear weight" were placed in a mathematical scale, one would say that they are inversely proportional in the sport of fishing. In other words, "heavier the gear," less entertainment while fighting the fish. Similarly, "Lighter the gear," more entertainment while fighting the fish. Thus, taking the surroundings in consideration, it's always recommended for anglers to go as light on their gear as possible.

Since we are taking the Flathead Catfish as an example, below are some things for you readers to think about. Note that the fishing jargon is also included:

I. Rod: What type of rod do I want to use? Ultralight, light, medium, or heavy action?
Things to consider: size of the fish and environmental structure.

Author's ideology: for a rod, I would essentially pick a medium action for any kind of fish above 15lbs in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. Over the years, many people have asked me why I don't use a heavy action rod for bigger fish. Here's the simple answer: it's just my style! I just like to play the fish. Even if there were plenty of structure around my fishing spot, I would still take the risk of letting the fish run, getting snagged, and losing the fish -- all of that over power-playing it with a heavy action rod. Of course it's not as easy and simple as it sounds: playing a big fish with medium action gear requires a lot of skill! Also, there are a lot of difficult counter-measurements to ensure that the fish doesn't get away. Consequently...there's a lot of frustration if the fish is lost! Heh. That's one reason why many anglers prefer to "go heavy" and power-play the fish. 

Author's recommended gear: A medium action 10'6" Cortland Pro Cast Noodle Rod (formerly known as Cortland Endurance). It's not very expensive for a good rod, and it comes with limited Life-time warranty!       

II. Reel: What size reel do I want to use? How about the quality of the reel's drag system?
Things to consider: target fish's raw swimming power.

Author's ideology: for me, the reel is the most crucial part of the entire gear setup. Many people use conventional reels while Flathead fishing (a.k.a Baitcasters); however, I like to use spinning reels. When choosing a good reel, one must absolutely take its drag system in consideration! If you are not familiar with how a drag works, you may click here to read more about it. The main idea is to evaluate your targeted fish's raw swimming power and keep two factors in mind: (1) how fast are its short-bursts, and (2) how much can it swim before it gets tired. Factor (1) is the leading agent in snapping lines while fighting a fish: folks usually set their drag too tight; thus, the line snaps once the fish gives a furious short-burst. In the blink of an eye, the fish is gone. Factor (2) is for bigger and stronger fish: it determines how much spooled line you will need (thus, the size of your reel). If the fish swims away at a constant speed, it will take a while for it to settle down. Meanwhile, you definitely want to avoid getting spooled.

Author's recommended gear: A Shimano Sedona FD 4000. For a Shimano quality product, the Sedona series is pretty cheap (in comparison to other products of the same brand). It is also sturdy and it has a very smooth drag system, just like all other Shimano drag systems. I've bought my first Sedona 3 years ago and the reel is still good to go! The Catfish video above portrays a Shimano Sedona as well.

III. Line: What pound test line do I want to use? And what type of line should I use?
Things to consider: Fish's visual sensibility to the line and raw swimming power.

Author's ideology: first, let's talk about line visibility. A lot of people tend to believe that fishes are totally ignorant of an angler's submerged line. The main question is: "Is that true?" And the simplest answer turns out to be a tricky one: "It depends." As you read through this paragraph, please keep Pavlov and his dogs in your mind. If you are fishing an area that was never fished before, chances are that you really don't need to worry about your line at all. You can use the thickest line you have in hand and punch your bait in the water with the loudest sound. With the right bait, you will still catch fish! If you use the same line and technique in an area that is heavily fished, chances are that you will not catch anything at all. You may even be able to notice the fish looking at your bait and not going for it... Heh. Summarizing, the level of fishing pressure directly influences the fishes' instincts. High fishing pressure areas demand more of a "finesse fishing." Similarly, low fishing pressure areas don't demand anything at all (the fish are just utterly ignorant). Always keep in mind that fishes that have been caught and released multiple times will certainly notice your line in the water!