The Buddy System – On The Water

Seth and Lee Wakefield with big striped bass
Seth Wakefield (left) and the Lee Wakefield with a massive striper caught during the 2020 spring run.

One of the best parts of growing up with brothers who share my passion for fishing is that almost always guaranteed a fishing partner. I’ve heard many people say they prefer to fish alone, but having good company on the water not only means better times, it often results in more fish. Here’s why:

Cover the Water Column

How many times have you rolled up to a spot where you know there’s going to be fish, but just need to figure out what they are going to be eating? For this reason, when I fish with one or two of my brothers, we always start out with a variety of lures that cover different parts of the water column. Depending on the situation, one of us will fish a topwater to see if that’s the ticket. Another works a lure that suspends or dives on the retrieve, and the third uses a jighead or bucktail along the bottom. Sooner rather than later, one of us will figure out what’s going to work for that day, tide, hour, or situation. It’s a smart way to reduce the time it takes to find the feeding fish.

Joel Wakefield and  Lee Wakefield pair of stripers
Joel Wakefield (left) and Lee Wakefield with a pair of beautiful striped bass.

Use Different Baits and Always Keep One in the Water

Using bait to give fish more options is something I can’t recommend enough. I’ll give you the example of fishing for stripers using chunked bunker. One guy should use a head, another should use a midsection, and it doesn’t hurt to have the tail with a little meat left on it as a last resort. If you have the option of different kinds of bait, have someone use each kind you may think is effective until you find what catches fish. When it comes time to change your bait or switch to a fresher piece, make sure everyone doesn’t switch at the same time. Change one at a time, then switch the next one once the first is back in the zone. The more baits in the water at the same time, the better your chances are.

If everyone changes all at once, you may miss the only chance at a fish swimming by or risk drifting over a fish with no bait in the water. I learned this from a good friend, Captain Chuck Many, of the Tyman, and it immediately clicked. Always make sure you have at least one bait fishing.

surf stripers
Have each angler try a bait, color, or pattern that you may think is effective until you find what catches fish.

Mix Up the Colors

Another instance when fishing with a friend or my brothers has helped is when I have a good idea what lure the fish will strike, but I’m not sure what color they might prefer. While fishing the sod banks one fall, we knew we were going to be using lightweight bucktails. The only thing we had to figure out was what trailer to put on them. I had white and my brother had pink. It was a tough bite, but we thought if we stuck it out long enough, we would probably get a few fish. After we landed two small fish on the all-white bucktail and white worm trailer, we both switched to the white-and-white combo. It was just in time to beat the skunk before the small bite window shut down.

Freshwater Trout Flies

Drifting any variety of nymphs, Wooly Buggers, stone flies, or San Juan Worms can be so much easier when a buddy gives trout other options. Many times, trout are keyed in on one food source, and the quicker you figure out what that is, the more successful your trips are going to be. It also isn’t a bad idea to have someone working streamers while you are drifting wet flies, if the spacing allows for that.

My favorite time to have someone trustworthy fishing with me is when I am in a new area. We can cover ground and spread out to learn a new waterway or spot. We always stay in contact with each other, whether it’s by text message or phone call. We keep each other posted on what we’ve found, what we have figured out, and how the bite is going in each other’s area. Another hilarious form of communication we have used are made-up hand signals and gestures that are always understandable, yet just made up in that instant.

Krista Feaser and Lee Wakefield king salmon
By using different presentations, fishing partners can dial in the bite more quickly so that both can catch more fish. Here, Krista Feaser and the author with a pair of king salmon caught in Upstate New York.

This is especially helpful when you are on a tight timeframe and need to maximize your chances at catching fish. Ten casts using a crank bait, ten casts using something on top, then ten casts using a jig takes time whereas you can have those bases covered in one-third of the time if you have two buddies each using a different presentation. This obviously won’t work if your honey hole or fishing spot is only big enough for one person casting at a time. It also isn’t a good idea on a small stream where more activity is going to negatively affect your chances.

But, for the most part, having my brothers with me has helped me land more and larger fish. One of the best examples was a time when the three of us were fishing a favorite spot where bluefish were busting bait. At first, we didn’t realize what type of fish they were, though after a few casts and some chopped-up soft plastics, we had our answer. One of us switched to something that couldn’t be bitten off and landed a few bluefish. Because I was frustrated by getting bitten off more than a few times, I began casting and fishing the bluefish-shortened soft plastic.

Knowing my lure now had no action on its own, I added all kinds of quick jerking action to try to give it life. My first cast resulted in a beautiful back-bay striped bass. A few casts later, on the same offering, I landed another. After that second fish, my brothers switched to smaller profile baits, and we all began catching stripers.

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