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Finding fish: Methods to improve your chance of fishing success

by fafb 8th May 2016

It’s often said that 80% of fish are caught by 20% of fishermen but, if this is true, why are some people more successful at fishing than others?

If we look at this common saying the naysayers suggest that the 1 in 5 fishermen who are more effective at fishing are so because they have better equipment, a combination of luck and experience and, because they fish more frequently, have vital statistics on their side. Whilst there is no doubt that there is an element of truth to some of these mitigating factors, to write off the success of those fishermen who consistently land good hauls is to ignore the fact that effective fishermen fish where fish are to be found. So how can you improve your chances of a bumper catch and find fish?

Finding fish: Some basics

All too often, particularly with amateur leisure fishermen or those who lay lines less frequently, an assumption is made that, because fish live in water, all water must have fish in. This logic is flawed and we can demonstrate this by applying it to land; if humans live on land then all land must have humans. Whilst you can argue that humans have conquered all manner of land types, we do not settle or thrive in areas which do not support live; deserts, frozen wastes and other extremes are just not sustainable environments for humans to live, particularly in large numbers. And that is the key. If you want to be successful at catching fish then you need to fish in places where large numbers of fish congregate.

Key factors to find more fish

Fish are a basic animal. They lack sophisticated brain functionality and require very few things in order to live; in short, their lives are reduced to survival and procreation. Understanding these factors is crucial to improving your chances of finding more of them to fish. Quite simply, fish require shelter, food and an environment conducive to supporting the specific needs of its species.

Food, an essential element of survival for any living creature, must be available in large quantities and not too far from the shelter that fish require to provide protection from predators. Depending on the species the water temperature, flow and oxygenation must also meet the ideal conditions for them to thrive.

Doing your homework

The first half of this equation for success is to bone up on your knowledge of the species of fish that you are targeting. For inshore species you will be looking for weed beds, reefs or foul ground which provide both the essential cover needed but also some protection from tidal flows. These areas can be rich with food and become major routes for many other species moving from areas of cover to feeding grounds. Remember that food is the key and little fish attract big fish attract bigger fish and so on.

One of the major differences between those 4 in 5 who are often found ‘fishless’ and fishermen who regularly pull in big catches is that the latter will have a good knowledge of the topography of the area of sea they plan to fish. Studying charts before your fishing trip to identify reefs, contours, drop-offs and channels as well as tidal movements will help you identify potential areas to improve your chances of locating fish.

If you want to get serious about finding the best spots instead of just following the crowd then taking a few reccys to familiarise yourself with the area is no bad thing. Combined with your knowledge of the physical area, take temperature, salinity and oxygen measurements to really up your game. Tarpon, for instance, require temperatures of about 85oF whereas cod and white salmon need cooler conditions of 40-50 oF.


There is no substitute for having a good knowledge of fish behaviour and the environments in which you are fishing but there are also a number of ways you can boost your chances; from traditional methods to modern technology, we’ve pulled together some ideas you might want to consider to increase your success in finding fish.

All in the timing

Though not a hard and fast rule, marine fish tend to be more active around dawn and dusk, and least active around midday and early afternoon.

Likewise there are better times of year when fish will be more abundant or active and, whilst fishing is an all-year round activity, knowing the seasonal behaviour of target species is important.


Seabirds have an enormous advantage over fishermen and it’s obvious why that is. From a height, their ability to scope wider areas for activity both on the surface and at deeper levels is demonstrable by the advantage gained onboard when using high-towers. At several hundred feet above the waves, seabirds can spot schools of fish quickly and swoop down to hunt. Their quick movements alert other birds and a single dive by one gannet can rapidly turn into a feeding frenzy as other birds join the feast. Following the lead of seabirds like boobies, terns, frigate birds and storm petrels can greatly increase your chances of finding fish.

Echo sounders

Modern sonar technology alongside digital imaging techniques has advanced to allow fishermen to access visual data identifying the location of fish at an affordable price. For more information on how the technology works plus our reviews of some of the features these devices afford, see our article Marine Electronics Explained: Depth/Echo Sounders/Fishfinders for further information.

Satellite services

There are companies that can offer fish finding services via subscription software that utilise the superior imaging capabilities of powerful satellites to provide important data. This data can be overlaid on charts to visually display the location of plankton, salinity levels and GRIB weather – all of which is designed for you to make better decisions about where to find your target fishing ground.

So, whilst we wish you the best of luck in finding fish, there’s no need to leave your chances of success down to good fortune. If you are looking for depth sounders then our advertisers have a huge range to choose from so check out our suppliers here.