January is traditionally known as a time to make resolutions or goals for the next 12 months, and it’s a great time to set your fishing goals for 2018.

Over and over, many anglers just head out to their local fishing holes to get their fishing fix. And maybe they squeeze a fishing outing or two into their family vacation in the summer. But year after year, most fish the same, familiar places over and over, rarely have a stellar day or ever catch anything memorable.

But some anglers across the Carolinas have caught onto what Rod Thomas of Capt. Ponytail Guide Service calls “widening the net.” This has changed the fishing success of many anglers who have either heard him speak at seminars or joined him on a fishing trip or two.

Widening the net, said Thomas, simply means expanding the areas you fish based on where the hot bite is. He realized this while working for a television show; one of his duties was to schedule and film fishing trips.

“It never failed that when I called a guide service and told them what species of fish we wanted to do a show on, they would give me a very narrow window of time and tell us we needed to be there during those dates in order to get the best footage for that species,” said Thomas (336-240-5649).

Once he decided to guide full-time, Thomas knew he would not focus on just one area or species. 

“I decided I was going to fish where the fish were, when they were biting. It’s the best chance I have at putting my clients on the most fish, the biggest fish, and the hottest bite no matter what time of year it is,” he said.

Of course, those who don’t fish for a living find solace in getting away for an evening of fishing here and there, close to home, and everyone just can’t chase after the hottest bite of every month. But by widening your net, you can catch your biggest fish ever this year. Or experience 100-fish days. Or catch enough keepers to stock your freezer for a fish fry every month. 

Across the Carolinas, different anglers will discuss the hottest bite at different times. Trying an internet search for “best saltwater fishing February Carolina,” etc, can put you on the right track to planning  your best fishing year yet.

“Expanding your range is truly the No. 1 way to become a better angler. The mark of a better fisherman is to catch more fish, bigger fish, and have the most hookups with the fewest casts,” Thomas said. “The best way to do that is to simply go where the fish are biting, when they are biting. Widen that net. Expand the size of the area you fish, and you’ll have the best fishing year ever.” 

Stay prepared for another hot bite

I was fishing with Thomas last spring during the bull redfish run in Winyah Bay outside of Georgetown, S.C., and we were catching plenty of redfish in the 45-inch range. In the distance, we noticed a lot of surface activity, and it was heading our way.

“I don’t know what these fish are, but we’re going to cast to them,” said Thomas, who quickly grabbed two rods.

These were not rods that we were using for the redfish. They were lighter rods with soft-plastic lures tied on, much different than the stiff rods we were fishing with cut bait for the bulls. No sooner did Thomas hand me a rod than the surface feeding was all around us. After a few casts, Thomas hooked up, still unsure of what species these fish were. Then I hooked up.

We fought the fish to the surface, finally landing them, and the school disappeared just as quickly as it showed up. They were false albacore, and they were closer to shore than Thomas had ever caught them. It wasn’t something he was expecting to happen, but it’s something he was prepared for.

Having those other rods rigged, even though they weren’t suitable for our intended target, gave us the opportunity to catch those false albacore. If we’d cast our bottom rigs at those fish, or tried to re-tie with better suited lures, chances are we would still be wondering what that school was. 

Tip: Go out on a limb

Even if your fishing opportunities are limited, don’t fall into the trap of going back to the same place for the same species, every time. Don’t be afraid to target different fish, in different places, if the bite is on.