Fishing the Bite Window
by Ron Presley
Know when to hold em’ know when to fold em.’
Experienced catfish anglers develop proven strategies over time that help them catch more catfish. One of those strategies is referred to as fishing the “bite window.” It is based on experience, learned catfish knowledge, time on the water, and seat-of-the-pants decision making.
One of the most important decisions a cat angler can make is when to move to a new spot. Most anglers have a notion of how long they stay on a hole. It is usually based strictly on time. I have heard everything from 20 minutes and up. If a bite doesn’t occur in 20 minutes, or 30, or 45, whatever your time is, then that’s the signal to move on. There are many variables that influence an angler’s decision to move on and when to stay a little bit longer.
Konkle’s Bite Window
Fishing the bite window is based on experience with active and aggressive fish and can be much shorter than some would think. By shortening the time on any given hole, the angler is increasing the number of active and hungry catfish that are found. The strategy will normally improve the bite rate for the day.
Using this strategy requires moving often and having plenty of waypoints in your fish finder. That is a good reason to fish a new spot every time you are out, if possible. Accumulating those “good” waypoints for each body of water fished is instrumental in making the bite window work for you. Also, the more time spent on the water the more likely an angler is to identify which spots are “hot” under what conditions.
B’n’M pro staffer Ty Konkle uses this method regularly on his guided catfish trips. With guests on the boat, his focus is on doing things professionally and putting as many fish in the boat as possible.
“In the guide world, you have to do things efficiently,” offered Konkle. “Clients do not wish to wait for hours to get a fish, especially on half-day trips. The idea is to get your baits quickly in the vicinity of fish. If you are successful you will minimize waiting time, and usually maximize the catch rate.”
Konkle defines the bite window as the period of time that an active catfish will follow a scent trail to a potential food source. He has used his large home aquarium to study fish behavior by observing blue and flathead catfish as they feed.
“I have come to realized that if fish are hungry, they will immediately track down food once the scent trail gets to them,” said Konkle. “On the other hand, if they are not hungry, they will not begin searching for food, even though it is obvious that they are aware of it.”
By using these observation techniques at home and time on the water Konkle has narrowed his bite window to somewhere between 7 and 12 minutes on average. He says this timeframe may vary some due to several factors that determine if fish are actively feeding. This is where the seat of the pants decision making comes in.
“One factor is the speed of the current,” explained Konkle. “The current determines how fast the scent gets to the fish. In very slow-moving water, you will have to wait longer for the bite.”
“Related to the first factor, is the distance from your bait to where the fish are holding,” continued Konkle. “Typical precision anchoring allows the scent to get to the fish within a couple of minutes. This immediately arouses active fish to search for the food source. This process can take 5 minutes or more.”
“In the real world, my experience has shown that the majority of bites occur between that 7- to 12-minute mark. You have to give the fish enough time to find your bait. Once you go beyond that bite window, the chances of catching fish go down dramatically. You can still catch fish on the hole, especially if the active fish are further away from your baits then you intended them to be.”
When not fishing the bite window, but searching out new locations to fish, Konkle will give a spot up to 30 minutes. If he gets all the bites after 15 minutes that is a signal to move closer to the location where he expects the fish to be holding. The new “hot spots” he discovers will be marked on the electronics.
“If I get bites right away, and up to the end of the bite window, I know I’m setting on a good location,” he says.
Drift or Anchor
Determining whether to suspend drift or anchor on any given location depends on several factors. Time on the water and angler knowledge become very important in this decision. Konkle considers five major factors to make this determination. He will consider the terrain, the water temperature, sonar readings, condition of the fish, current, and weather.
“Terrain is a major factory in style of fishing,” instructed Konkle. “Areas that have a more consistent bottom with gradual up and downs are better for suspend drifting. Really rough and rugged bottoms where you have to make constant adjustments all the time are not good candidates for suspend drifting. If you must drift it, using a three-way bottom bouncing rig is the best option. Otherwise anchor.”
“Another major factor is water temperature,” continued Konkle. “Catfish are more aggressive as the water warms up, and are more likely to hit suspended baits. During the winter months, I almost always focus on anchor fishing.”
Konkle also wants a look at the sonar. If fish are generally right along the bottom, he suggests anchor fishing as the better option. If there are schools of baitfish and you’re marking fish suspended up off the bottom he typically finds suspend drifting to be more productive.
He also inspects the fish as he catches them for evidence of which technique to use. If he is catching a lot of fish with mud all over them, he is more likely to fish on the rope. The mud shows that the fish are holding tight to the bottom.
“Also pay close attention to the current,” reminds Konkle. “Very low current can make for a tough bite on the anchor. “The fish tend to spread out and make suspend drifting more effective. If the current picks up so it carries the scent better, it might be better to go back to anchoring.”
Finally, Konkle adapts to the weather, especially wind. High winds or winds from the wrong direction can greatly affect boat control and make anchor fishing tough. In those conditions, even though he would rather anchor, he chooses to suspend drift in order to keep on the locations he want to fish.
“So, go out and locate potential structure,” concluded Konkle. “Fish a new spot every trip. Find and mark the areas where you think the fish are holding. Pick a spot, start fishing, and watch the clock. Longer periods of wait may mean you need to move closer and it may help you zone in on exact places where the fish are holding. Once you have established and marked proven locations, using the bite window will help minimize time wasted in locations that aren’t holding active feeding fish. Wait that 7 to 12 minutes and then move on to the next location. That big fish may be on the next spot!”