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Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Boat

I hear the questions and comments all the time:  “Where is a good place to fish from shore?”  “Where can I catch __________ (fill in blank with favorite fish), without a boat?”

I realize that in some cases those asking the question are looking for ease of access, perhaps someplace to take the kids and grandparents fishing.  However, my usual response, at least to myself, is don’t make no difference if you have a boat or not.  A good place to fish is a good place to fish, boat or no boat.  Period.  I want to be fishing the best waters for whatever species I am pursuing.  It is all just fishing!

Now, I have spent considerable time fishing from boats.  I will do that every chance I get.  But, to this day, I do not own a boat.  Oh, I intend to at some time; just have not made that leap, yet.  Until that time, I will continue to fish every chance I get, and will continue to catch a lot of fish, and big fish, of a variety of species, without a boat.

I believe that too many anglers think that not owning a boat is a disadvantage.  Afraid they limit themselves using boatlessness as an excuse.  It should not be.  As a matter of fact, there are some fishing situations where anglers without a boat will flat outfish those with boats!  Here are some strategies you can use to catch fish, even if you do not own that watercraft:

Wade In

First thing you have to do is convince yourself to go to the fish!  As much as possible, do whatever it takes to get to good fishing spots.  In some cases that will mean you have to walk.  Other cases will mean you have to whack through some brush and grass.  In a lot of cases you might have to get in the water!

With my fishing and occasional assistance doing some field work, there are times that I practically live in waders.  On average, I go through a pair of neoprene chest waders once a year.  If at all possible, buy yourself a good pair of waders and use them!  In some cases all you need to do is get a few feet off shore and you will be able to catch a lot more fish.  In other cases a little bit of wading will put you on spots you could never reach from shore.  Some of those spots boat anglers cannot reach either!

Once the weather gets hot, I have switched to breathable waders, but have found them a little pricey to burn through at a rate of one pair per year.  You might think it silly, but neoprene waders can be worn during the summer with a pair of shorts underneath.  Or, get some old tenner shoes or wading boots and just wade wet!  I have had some wonderful fishing on really hot days when we just dropped in the water when we got hot.  Caught a lot of fish doing it too.

Another tool that will get a boatless angler to more fish is some sort of float tube.  OK, OK, now I guess I am fudging if you want to call ’em belly boats.  That being the case, I have been a boat owner since high school.  If that invalidates everything I say, so be it.  I am just telling you that I have caught a darned lot of fish, big fish, a variety of species from my float tubes over the years.  One friendly reminder, you are required to at least have a PFD with you in a float tube and you should be wearing it!

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Jeff Kurrus photo, NEBRASKAland Magazine.

Fish Current

Rivers, streams and canals are the big equalizer for boatless anglers.  Fish ’em.

Beyond fishing flowing waters, recognize that water moves in lakes, reservoirs, pits and ponds too.  In Nebraska the wind blows, all the time.  Anytime the wind is blowing, water is moving.  Learn to recognize shoreline currents and you will find places where fish like to feed.  Feeding fish are always a lot easier to catch, and when you recognize those shoreline currents you will find many of those places close to shore.

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Fish Small Waters

This is going to be a bit of a contradiction to what I said earlier, but follow me. . . . Yes, I want to fish waters that have the best populations of fish.  Don’t make no difference if I am fishing from a boat or not.  Don’t make no difference how large the waterbody.

However, the fact is an angler cannot cover as much water when fishing without a boat.  As a result, smaller waters, pits and ponds, small reservoirs, are easier for boatless anglers to break down and find fish.  On larger waters, DO NOT TRY TO FISH THE WHOLE THING!  Select portions that should be productive during the season you are fishing and confine your fishing to that smaller area.

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Identify Key Structures

A good spot is a good spot whether you have a boat or not.  It kills me that many times shore anglers want to fish off shore and boat anglers are fishing the shoreline.  Anyhow, that points out the fact that fish continually use some structures and many of those are not out of reach of boatless anglers.  Yes, many times those particular structures will be those where deep water is near shore.  Be that as it may, good structures that shore anglers can fish are NOT always those with quick drops to deep water.  Everyone knows that points are good places to fish, but recognize that corners, “cups”, necked-down areas and many others can be good too.  Even shallow flats can be good at the right times with the right conditions.

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Fish Cover

Cover, aquatic vegetation, fallen trees, other wood, and a variety of other cover objects are often within reach of boatless anglers.  Many species of fish will utilize that cover at least during certain calendar periods.  Moreover, at least some fish will use many types of cover almost all of the time.  Fish it!  Do not complain about the snags, do not complain about the “weeds”.  Figure out a way to fish it.  Fish often are there, you just need to figure out how to get in there and get them out.

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Prime Times

Depending the species of fish, there will be certain seasons every year when they are more likely to be close to shore.  NO, I am not just talking about seasonal spawn periods.  As a matter of fact, I consider the actual spawn period to be a relatively poor time to fish for almost every species of fish.  Yes, they may be close to shore and accessible to boatless anglers, but you better believe that during the spawn, they have things other than feeding on their mind.  Pre-spawn and post-spawn periods are usually better.  Additionally, for some species, other calendar periods may mean fish feeding near shore.  That especially could include some fall periods but for some fish species it even can be during the heat of the summer!

Likewise, there are daily periods when fish are more likely to be roaming, feeding, and therefore more accessible to anglers fishing without a boat.  Play around with lunar periods if you wish (Moon ‘Em).  Make sure you recognize that low-light periods, dawn and dusk, are good at many times of the year.  Also know that certain weather conditions can produce low-light conditions even during the middle of the day.  Fishing after dark can also be very productive on waters that have good water clarity.

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Be Versatile

We all naturally have our favorite fish we like to catch.  On the other hand, if you learn to enjoy fishing for several species, you can enjoy peak fishing throughout the year.  Yep, there are some seasonal periods where fishing for some species can be really challenging for anglers without boats.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Switch to another species of fish.  Switch to another waterbody.  Keep fishing and keep catching fish.

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Ice, Ice Baby

Another big equalizer for boatless anglers is ice.  As long as you practice proper ice safety, you can fish without a boat almost anywhere you want when there is a cap of ice on the water.  I guess some boys from down south or those with thin blood just cannot tolerate fishing on the ice, but if you can gear up with the right equipment, the hardwater period is some of the best fishing of the year.  I will continue to point out that what you learn fishing through holes in the ice will also make you a better open-water angler too, even if you do not have a boat!

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Julie Geiser photo. Nebraskaland Magazine.

Most of all it comes down to what is between your ears.  I started this blog post by saying boat or no boat, it is all just fishing.  Let me add that likewise good sticks are good sticks.  It is what you know, your attitude, and how hard you are willing to fish that results in fish on the end of the line, photos of big fish in the album.  You do not have to have no stinkin’ boat.

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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