Decisions, decisions, decisions; it seems like all we do is face decisions in life. To make matters worse, most folks don’t really like making decisions. And while some of them are trivial, many are not. In fact, some are downright important to your success in life, or at least your success in the outdoors. Come to think of it, life and the outdoors are pretty much the same for many of us.

Specifically speaking, successful angling is nothing more than a continuous series of good decisions, which when combined with physical execution, lead to catching. Poor decision-making leads to poor catching, which is equally true about poor execution. Since I’ve already written an SN column about successful execution and the practice there-of, let’s keep this one focused on the decision-making process.

As a guide and TV host, I’ve been forced to learn how to make my angling decisions in a hurry because when you have a paying client or camera guy on the clock, time is money. The more time I spend figuring out how to catch fish, the less efficient my business is. Clients don’t pay for me to spend three hours figuring out how to catch fish, they want instant gratification for their money or they’d be fishing on their own. I completely get that, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the years figuring out how to simplify my decision-making process to make my business run efficiently.

For the record, I don’t like to think of fishing as a business in any sense, but that’s the fact of the situation.

First, all my decisions are based on a combination of variables, some known, some unknown. The “knowns” include everything I’ve learned on previous outings, recent or otherwise. This may include fish locations, seasonal stuff like spawning states, baitfish, etc. The “unknowns” are how daily conditions affect the “knowns”. See, very simple.

The most important thing is that you can’t fish where they aren’t; you must find them first before you can present your lure or bait to them. So how do we hunt them down? As with all angling related decisions, I use standards. Standards are adjustments I make based on a given variable…call it “if then” logic. After all, if it’s good enough for software writing, it must be good enough for angling.

Let’s assume the knowns are more like constants in your angling (in other words, I don’t have any idea about where/when/for what you fish, so we’ll look only at daily unknowns). The more unknowns you can pin down, the less variables you face and the easier the equation becomes to solve. It’s simple algebra, and who’s going to argue with math?!

Let’s look at some specific examples for locating fish as they relate to water conditions. If the water level is rising, I fish shallower. If it’s falling, I fish a known productive depth, but suspended over deeper water. If it’s stable, I fish the most desirable cover, regardless of depth. If it’s muddy, I fish very shallow. If it’s very clear, I look for overhanging cover, shade lines, or mudlines. See, if/ then. We address those daily conditions within the bigger picture of seasonal patterns or other “knowns”.

Same concepts for rivers; if the river is flowing high, I fish tight to banks. Low flows call for fishing deeper runs and pools. Very warm temps will have me fishing highly oxygenated areas while very cold water temps call for slacker water areas.

Lure color is another quick decision process and I generally follow the tried and true logic of natural colors in clearer water, bright or contrasting two-tone colors for stained or dirty water, and very dark colors for low light. I’ll add that if its clear water and sunny which is common here in the West I’ll add “flash” to my offering, with flash being chrome’s strobe affect.

How about weather? If it’s stable weather for days on end, I write weather off and focus on other variables; stable weather is a non-variable. If there’s a cold front approaching, I fish very aggressively, meaning big, fast baits. If the front passed yesterday, I start with smaller baits, either extremely erratic of almost motionless, depending on if I’m confident in my fish’s location.  If the front is right on us, I scramble; look, I don’t have all the answers and a currently passing front surpasses algebra and looks more like differential equations. I hated that class in college!

When it’s windy or the lake is chopped up, I fish louder baits. Same with heavy, turbulent current. The noise helps fish locate your bait. If it’s very calm, I fish quiet baits so as to not spook them. Keep in mind that vibration is a type of noise such that a rotating or wobbling bait is effectively “noisy” to lateral line-equipped fish.

This is just a short list of the decisions an angler faces daily, but it is meant to illustrate the if-then concept we use to simplify our fishing. I don’t carry 50 colors, I carry light, medium, and dark. In the same way, I don’t split hairs or overthink decisions. I get myself in the ballpark decision-wise, and then focus hard on executing with control. Most importantly, I always pay close attention to whatever the fish or conditions will tell me, and then make my decisions accordingly.