Maximize Your Time on the Water
Let's be clear about two things: 1) You've got a busy life - family, work, dinner with the in-laws, soccer practice, Netflix marathons...the list goes on. For many of us, it is tough to fit fishing onto that list, so, when you do, you want to make the absolute most out of your day on the water. 2) You've definitely read an article somewhere else with the same exact title. I'm not going to lie, I have too. However, these tips will hopefully provide another layer to the topic, and they are tips I use almost every day I spend on the water.
The Night Before:
Planning for a successful day on the water should start well in advance of stepping foot in your waders and making that first cast. A little bit of preparation can go a long way the night before.
Check the Weather: You'll want to plan ahead to be sure you're dressed appropriately. That 60 degree, sunny day feels a lot different when it is accompanied by 25 mph wind gusts. Take 10 minutes the night before to lay out the clothing you'll need for the next morning - you'll thank yourself when you decide to snooze your alarm. (Tip: Don't snooze your alarm.)
Check the Gauges: USGS Waterdata stream gauges can tell you a lot about how your day will shape up. If the specific stream/river you're planning to fish doesn't have a USGS gauge, I recommend still checking some nearby waterways to see what the water level trends are. Some gauges even show data like water temperature, turbidity, and tides. Keep in mind, even back bay saltwater anglers can benefit from checking the gauges on tidal rivers.
Pack Your Gear: I am not a morning person by any means, so waking up to a packed bag and rigged rods sets me off on the right foot. After looking at the gauges and weather, I usually have an idea what fly/lure I will start with in the morning. Rig your rod, organize your gear, pack a snack, and pack some water. I sometimes even pack my car the night before.
Know When to Go: If you have flexible timing, set a schedule for the next morning (or afternoon) based on your research. If it is the dead of winter and you'll be fishing a freestone stream, set your alarm a little later and plan to fish during the warmest part of the day. Or, if it is June on the Jersey Shore and you're hoping to catch a striper bite, plan to be on the water before sunrise, and as a bonus you can make it home for brunch with the family. If you can choose your fishing times, select a time that gives you the best shot!
Make a Plan A: Where will you fish first? Check the GPS and prepare for the drive ahead.
Make a Plan B (and C): If Plan A doesn't pan out, what is next?
The Fishing Day:
Stick to Your Plan: Assuming nothing unforeseen has happened with the weather or fishing conditions, I strongly suggest sticking with your plan. Resist the urge to make a quick stop at the bridge spot you drive across on the way to Plan A. And resist the urge to ditch Plan A all together.
Know When to Go to Plan B: Sometimes Plan A just doesn't pan out. It can be a hard decision to leave your first choice fishing spot for the backup plan, but this is exactly what you need to do when things aren't going your way. On a recent fishing trip of mine, I was showing an out of state fisherman around my home waters. We had planned to fish a very productive trout stream for most of the day (the stream has plenty of water to cover and holds a ton of fish), and the weather and water seemed to be suggesting we'd have a solid day. Unfortunately, after about an hour and a half of fishing we hadn't experienced any consistent action and, since we only had about 4 hours to fish, made the tough decision to move to Plan B. Luckily we did, because we both finished the day with some solid wild trout.
Know What to Throw: I usually start with a search bait approach, even when fly fishing. This means pulling out the streamers when fly fishing and the plugs or swimbaits when fishing the salt. Cover water and search for active fish. Along the way you may find fish feeding on something else (like nymphs or dries) and can change your tactics then. More likely is that you'll move and hook some aggressive fish and continue fishing your search bait or streamer for the rest of the day.
After Your Day on the Water:
I'll keep this one short so you can get back to your busy schedule. After a successful day on the water you'll want to do two key things:
Log Your Day: This doesn't have to be a fishing journal or a formal diary (although that might be a good idea), but you'll want to figure out a way to log your outing. For me, I use Google Drive and Instagram to be sure I have a memory of the day. Your ability to look back on what worked and what didn't will help you tremendously on future trips.
Unpack and Organize Your Gear: This doesn't have to take long. Unpack and hang your waders, restock your fly box, rinse your saltwater reels, and reorganize your plug bag. This will set you up nicely for your next day on the water!
If you enjoyed this article or have other tips/tricks for maximizing your time on the water, please comment below!