COLUMN: Highs, lows of fishing life

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In my last column, I talked about some awesome fishing and catching that had been taking place across the valley. Sure, when the fish are “on the chew” as I like to say, everyone can look like a hero, without a whole lot of effort in many cases.

But what about those days when the bite just shuts down? (Or has it?) Those are the days when you have to adjust, whether to the conditions, the mood of the fish, or, as a guide, the skill level of those on the boat.

It seems odd that fish can be biting like crazy one day or two or three, and then just shut down. It drives us crazy, and we tend to think we can just will them into biting.

“Keep doing the same thing we did yesterday, they have to bite soon” is what we tend to think. But that won’t work most of the time, unless you just have all the time in the world for things to come back into the exact pattern that was happening when they were jumping into the boat.

Many, many factors can shut down the bite. Weather can do it, as can fishing pressure. A change in the forage is another factor. The moon phase regularly affects the bite. Or maybe the fish just aren’t hungry any more. Throw in two or three different factors and you can really be left scratching your head.

Let’s start with weather.

Lots of folks say the fishing is best when it rains, and that’s true, but it is mostly the barometric change, not the actual rain itself. Rain is usually preceded by a falling barometer, which signals fish and game to feed since a storm is coming. Clear, blue skies for a prolonged period of time have the opposite effect, usually slowing things down (think the dog days of summer). Fast changes can be both a blessing or a curse, depending on other factors.

What about fishing pressure? It just stands to reason that the more boats and anglers in any given area will eventually spook or “catch” out the more aggressive fish, thereby slowing the action. When the forage changes, from say a minnow base to a crayfish base or from one hatch to another, if you miss that and are using something totally alien, you can expect to be ignored.

Moon phase is huge, and many, many hunters and anglers put a great deal of faith in these phases, surely at least making sure they are afield or afloat on those “best” days. I really do believe that these phases have an impact and use a solunar table called Prime Times.

Lastly, as for the fish just not being hungry, I can take or leave that theory. We regularly catch lake trout with a fish or many fish dislodging from their throat when they hit the net. I have caught perch that couldn’t possibly fit another crayfish in their belly. I personally think most fish will always strike at what they perceive as food, as long as it is on their menu, and if not, then the aggressive “get it out of my face” attitude kicks in.

I have experienced the highs and lows of a strong bite and a nonexistent one over the last couple of weeks, and look forward to explaining how to react when the bite turns off in my next column.

Kudos to all who helped out at last week’s Fishing Without Barriers event on Flathead Lake. The weather was terrible, but we got great “smiles per gallon” from those hardy folks who did show up. For photos, check out the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region One Facebook page. I’ll see you on the water!

Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters. Contact him at or 257-5214 or by emailing

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