John Downey and his wife, Michelle, fished with me a week ago and during the course of an exceptionally good day posed the sixty-four dollar question, “We are just whacking them, but what would you do to catch fish if there were no gulls around this time of the year?”

That question was based on the premise that we were targeting numbers of trout and redfish and not specifically looking for trout over the 25-inch mark. Hunting big trout exclusively is a different and more difficult task regardless of the season!

Weather conditions play a major role in forming any game plan, but the absence of gull activity is the fear of most every angler that leaves the dock at first light this time of the year. They know that the shrimp pour out of the marshes and into the lake with the passage of each cold front and the schooling trout and redfish eagerly await Mother Nature’s version of meals on wheels.

It is truly the most fishermen-friendly time of the year as the birds literally point the way to a guaranteed bite. The problem is that it is so addicting that very few anglers leave the dock with a Plan B in the event that the birds decide to take the day off. The larger problem is that because that bite is so easy, many of them throw in the towel early or hit the shorelines and start grinding away for anything that will bite.

I much prefer fishing the shorelines and shallow flats to chasing birds, but the fish have to be there or that approach provides little more than casting practice. As long as the tide changes are substantial and there are still shrimp that have not vacated the marshes, the fishermen-friendly bite is not over. It just isn’t as easy without the birds!

The first step in locating these fish is not to hunt two or more boats gathered together in open water. I have the advantage of being on the water almost every day, but my initial approach would be to run to the area where I last found the gulls working. If it has only been a day or two since you were on the water, those fish will not have traveled far.

Prior to making the first cast, idle around in a generous circle and check the surface for any bait activity. Too many weekend anglers spend way too much time on even the best of days running around much too fast to take advantage of this gift. I cannot tell you how many days we are exploiting this tactic and catching fish well before the gulls ever wake up and start hunting!

Think about it. There are only so many gulls to go around. They are patrolling 120 square miles of lake. Do you think the possibility exists that you might well find some fish with no birds in the immediate vicinity?

The next step is establishing how deep to fish in the water column. For the most part you are going to be fishing in 4 to 8 feet of water, but the better bite may be in the top two feet or possibly dead on the bottom. Once again, I have an advantage in that I usually have at least two more fishermen in the boat so we can all fish at different depths.

If there is no bait around, but that area has been productive recently, I will check it out for fifteen to thirty minutes. When hunting numbers of fish rather than specifically targeting size, I will fish smaller baits. Four inch paddle tails, 3-inch Swim Baits and even if I fish a topwater it will be with a smaller model.

I very seldom throw a spoon, for no sound reason, but it is an excellent lure to hunt fish with as well. I also seldom throw a Rat-L-Trap any more, but there may not be any better lure to locate fish with than a half ounce chrome Trap. Once you find the fish, then you can experiment with different colors and larger baits.

My number one choice for locating fish in the open lake is a four inch paddle tail rigged on a 2 to 3 foot leader under a Kwik Cork. Your bait stays in the top column of water without working you to death and the click and subtle chugging noise of the cork will lure fish that are holding deeper.

I make several changes to the cork to make it more effective, but it works well enough right out of the package. TTF has just come out with a new Shiney Hiney jig head with a larger 3/0 hook to accommodate any four inch tail and it is the only head I now fish under a cork. The head includes a short wrap of flashy tinsel and fluorescent eyes that make any tail look just like a live shrimp under water!

The bottom line is that before you give up because the birds failed to show…. slow down, down size your lures and keep your eyes on the water. Don’t give up on the easiest bite of the year before it’s even over.