The Challenges and Lessons of Fishing on the Road
by Ron Presley
Be willing to learn new techniques or be left behind.
Catfish anglers sometimes have to adapt to new situations or be left behind. Such was the case with Alabamians Josh Brown and Trevor Nederhoff. When they seriously hit the tournament trail they discovered a deficit in their skill level. They had to learn more about fishing lakes, reservoirs, and big rivers. They treated it as a learning process and found new skills and new successes.
“Lake fishing and river fishing are completely different animals,” offered Brown. “Trevor and I both grew up fishing small rivers since we were big enough to hold a pole. Once we started traveling the country to fish tournaments we had to learn to adapt to new waters, figure out new fishing techniques, and be able to choose the right bait for any given location. It was either adapt or get left behind.”
“I grew up as an athlete,” added Trevor. “I’ve always had a competitive spirit. When you combine that spirit with a love for fishing it just made sense to put myself out there and see how I stacked up against the best. I started fishing local small tournaments up in Iowa years ago. My fishing progressed into traveling further and further from home to fish tournaments. I got my tail whooped for years but it drove me to want to learn more from the guys that were successful.”
“I prefer fishing rivers,” continued Brown. “I can pattern fish much quicker and there are fewer places fish can hide. I know from years of fishing rivers that trophy catfish will primarily stage up on structure, humps, ledges, and bends when there is current. In a lake where you encounter no-current situations things can get a little trickier.”
Realizing that lake fish can become nomadic and be anywhere, anytime they began to rethink their techniques. They were discovering that lake fish are not seeking areas to rest where there would be a current break but moving around more.
Brown and Nederhoff began to research various sources to increase their skill level for the tournament trail. The more they looked, the more sources they found.
“Tournament fishing was a big transition for me,” acknowledged Nederhoff. “I grew up on what’s considered a small river and the lakes that were close to me were pretty much large ponds. So, when I started traveling to fish tournaments I was lost in the beginning. I’ve been fortunate enough to fish with some amazing people over the years that have helped me learn the skills I needed. I also do a great deal of homework when it comes to fishing new places.”
Especially when it comes to new bodies of water, the variables are constantly changing. The water can be rising or falling; one type of bait may be replaced by another; the spawn comes and goes and is at a different time as you travel from south to north. And the seasons generally have their own effect on fish behavior. There are lots of things to learn and understand.
“I try to do as much research as I can,” reported Nederhoff. “I look at state Department of Natural Resource Reports, look up YouTube videos, visit online forums and search for articles related to the new destination. A lot of colleges are involved with tagging fish and tracking their patterns. When they share their information, it can be really helpful.”
Nederhoff also named fishing camps and resorts on the different bodies of water as a source of information. They often post photos, identify the bait used, the part of the lake being fished, and the time of year the fish were caught. All this is free for the effort and very helpful. Maybe more important than anything else are the anglers who are met along the tournament trail.
“The number of friendships I’ve developed over the years has been a great help,” offered Nederhoff. “As tournament appearances grow in number new acquaintances are made all over the country. Knowing local anglers is a great opportunity to ask a lot of questions about the body of water.”
Savvy catfish anglers understand that the weather plays a significant factor in how catfish are going to bite. Cold weather requires different approaches, windy days are likely to fish different than calm ones, and cloudy days can fish differently than blue bird days. Tournament fishing helped Brown and Nederhoff distinguish weather patterns as they fished many different bodies of water.
“The weather plays a huge factor in catfishing,” declared Brown. “Especially with the bigger catfish. In the warmer months of the year–late spring to early fall–you will find us in the river doing a lot of spot locking (casting baits and suspending baits). If we don’t have much current we’ll suspend drift.”
“In the colder months of the year you will find us in the lake dragging baits or double anchoring. The weather in the warmer months doesn’t seem to effect catfish as much as the weather in the winter does. The dreaded cold front is something a lot of tournament anglers face in the winter and it can make or break your day on the water.”
“Trevor and I have fished enough to learn that changing pressure is often really good fishing,” instructed Brown. “An example would be an approaching squall line of storms. The pressure would be falling quickly. If you happen to be fishing on a blue bird day in the winter, those fish like to be shallow. I think the very high pressure that comes after the cold front sets in makes the fish go shallow so they can remain comfortable. Then the opposite happens when it’s really dark and cloudy with low pressure. Then the fish go deep where there is greater water pressure. I see these trends pretty much everywhere I’ve been fishing.”
Whether fishing a tournament or just for fun, there are many factors that play into an angler’s success. These days one of the most important factors is sonar and the anglers ability to use it.
“Finding the fish can be tricky,” advised Brown. “We normally start off a couple of days before a tournament by looking at the weather patterns, moon phases, water levels, and bait activity. Once we have considered all the research we start looking for fish on the electronics. The research is what tells us where to look.”
Once the angler has studied conditions, completed the online research, and searched the fishing area physically with their eyes and electronically with sonar it’s time to fish.
Putting it All Together
“Once you find them all you gotta’ do is get them to bite,” said Brown. “Sometimes this is the hardest and most stressful part of fishing. Now it’s time to determine which bait to use, the bait size, alive or cut, hook size, weight of sinkers, etc. If you are dragging baits you have to find the right speed.”
“Sometimes the fish want a certain piece of bait at a certain size,” informed Brown. “Other times they will eat whatever you throw to them. We like to mix it up once we’ve located fish. It is a good idea to have a minimum of two types of bait that’s natural to the body of water you’re fishing. It is trial and error. Throw different baits of different sizes until you can figure out what they are wanting. Don’t force the fish to eat something you want them to eat. Let them tell you what they want to eat.”
“It’s often a cat and mouse game all day long,” continued Brown. “Fish move from structure, to flats, to holes, to ledges, all throughout the day. It’s a constant game of hide and seek. You have to stay on top of them and adapt to where they go and what they want. If your catching big fish on shallow flats the first thing in the morning there’s a good chance that by 11 am those fish are done eating and they’ve left those feeding areas to go rest.”
The Confidence Factor
It shouldn’t be a surprise that as their tournament success grew, so did their confidence. Their skills grew as they got more experience under their belts.
“I feel like I can read a river better than a lake,” explained Nederhoff. “But over the years I’ve been getting a lot more comfortable fishing lakes. I used to question my approach a lot more when fishing lakes than when fishing rivers.”
“I think that there are more factors that come into play with lakes,” continued Nederhoff. “Wind is more of a consideration, having current or not, and whether there’s any significant structure, all that comes into play. The main thing is that my comfort level has grown as we travel and fish more tournaments.”
“The most important thing I can stress is to learn the body of water your fishing,” said Brown. “Even if you only have one day to prefish, do more riding around using your graph to learn the lake than you do fishing. Mark that random log pile in 50 feet of water or that soft mud flat in 10 feet. Map as much of the river or lake as you can and fill your sonar unit with waypoints. I like to organize mine with a rock, log, hole, or mud symbol so I know exactly what it was that I marked.”
Both Brown and Nederhoff advised anglers to not spend a lot of time fishing before the tournament. Those fish you found yesterday could easily change where they are hanging out overnight. If you spend all of your time fishing you are not learning what you need for the tournament. Then you have to waste precious time looking for something on tournament day.
“We were guilty of fishing too much in the classic,” concluded Brown. “I was on the fish all week but couldn’t get them on tournament day. Experience has shown that we don’t do that well when we prefish a lot. We do well when we learn the water we’re on and prefish for a couple hours tops.”
Brown and Nederhoff fish under the team name Backwoods Catfishing. The name comes from back when Brown was starting a YouTube channel and looking for a name.
“I had a bunch of different names wrote down to pick from,” explained Brown. “I was having a hard time deciding so I asked my wife which one she liked best. We both liked Backwoods Catfishing. The name comes from the notion of living in Alabama as a bunch of country boys that enjoy getting on the water and catfishing.”
The name that started as a YouTube channel name, came to be known as a catfishing team name, and more recently it is turning into a brand.
For more information on Backwoods Catfishing visit their YouTube channel or click on their Facebook page.