I’ve been teaching people how to fish practically my entire life. I learned the basics from my family, and as soon as I started fishing with my friends, I started showing them what I knew. That teaching aspect only increased when I started guiding other anglers, showing them what we were doing in the boat. And by the time I became a full-time professional fisherman, I was making a good part of my living by teaching, first at seminars at sports shows or tackle shop open houses, then by putting on fishing schools. I have assembled a staff of other professional anglers and fishing guides–guys I know to be good fishermen–to help me.

These days I put on or help put on–I work with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources every year to hold an event at Saginaw Bay–about a half dozen multi-day schools a year. We put on several ice fishing schools each winter and some during the open-water season. The open-water schools take on two forms: either we conduct the instruction from our boats–my staff members and I take the anglers with us in our boats–or we have students bring their boats as we rotate through the course of the school, giving the students hands-on instructions in their boats. As a result, I see what many anglers are doing wrong, and there are four basic mistakes they make that can easily be corrected and will result in them catching more fish.

Mark Martin says four factors: Proper line selection, sharp hooks, tuned lures and calibrated reels result in more fishing success.

Here are four things you need to do:

Use the right line

Back in the day, when everyone used monofilament line virtually all the time, the only choices were whether they used a stiff or limp line. Now, with braided lines and fluorocarbon as readily available as mono, anglers have many more choices. But all these lines have pluses and minuses, and you’re handicapping yourself unless you use the proper line for your chosen technique.

Let’s start with jigging. As far as I’m concerned, you must have a line you can easily see when fishing a jig. You have to watch your line. Whether you cast it or simply drop it over the side, you want your eyes on the line as soon as it hits the water. A lot of times the fish will bite on the initial drop and you won’t feel it if you don’t have a tight line, but you will see the line jump or twitch when a fish takes it.

I prefer Flame Green Fireline for jigging for two reasons: It is easy to see and has no stretch. You want to drive the hook home when you see it twitch and any slack or stretch in the line will cost you fish. If you cast it, click the reel bail over as soon as–even before–the jig hits the water and watch the line from the rod tip to the water’s surface. I can’t tell you how many fish I’ve caught on a jig that I never even felt bite. I just saw the line move and set the hook.

But you don’t want to use non-stretch lines when you’re trolling. If you do, you’ll miss fish because they can’t suck in the bait to get a good hookup. You’re pulling the bait away from them, so they wind up not very well hooked and even if they are hooked, it’s often by the skin of their lips. They’ll pull off. I can’t tell you how many fish I missed or lost by trolling with super line until I figured out why, but thinking back on it, I should have known.

I learned this years ago, back before super lines. Gary Rach and I used to troll with Trilene XT. We were missing fish, so we decided to go with Trilene XL, which has much more stretch than XT, and we started landing more fish. Fluorocarbon has very little stretch compared to mono, but I don’t use it trolling because it’s too expensive and you can lose a lot of line if you hang up trolling, so I use mono and am convinced it’s the best line for trolling.

But I will use fluorocarbon for casting because it’s more sensitive than mono and I want to make sure I feel the bite. Sometimes you only feel a little tick. You’ll feel that tick with Fireline, too.

Using the wrong line is like a golfer using the wrong club when he’s making his approach shot–he’ll either leave it short or knock it over the green. Use the proper line.

Sharpen your hooks

Dull hooks cost anglers fish, so sharpen your hooks, even right out of the box. Hold the hook in your hand with the point facing away from you and always sharpen the hook toward the point. Do not sharpen it in both directions; if you pull the file back over the same area you just pushed it over, you undo what you did. Personally, I prefer a Luhr Jensen hook hone, but you can do it with a file. But make sure it’s razor-sharp: You want that hook point so sharp that if it sticks you, it goes into you like a doctor’s needle.

Tune your lures

You’ve got to have your lures tuned. Even if you get one right out of the box that’s tuned right – only once in a blue moon are you going to get one that runs properly right out of the box–once you use them, they’ll get knocked out of tune if they get hung up or when they’ve caught a few fish that are bouncing around in the net. So check your lure in the water before you start using it and pull it three times faster than you will to retrieve or troll it. When testing your lure, you want to stand high enough to watch it run and see it running straight.

And do this with every lure you run when trolling multiple lines. Make sure they’re all tuned, or they’ll find each other, and you’ll waste time untangling lines instead of fishing.

Calibrate your line counter reels

Most guys use dive charts to obtain proper depth while trolling, but it won’t mean a thing unless your reels are properly calibrated. A line counter that says 100 feet will read radically if you’ve got too much or too little line on your reels. As you fill your reel, measure off a set distance–say 50 feet– and, before you cut the line from the spool, compare it to what the lien counter says. If it says less than 50 feet, add more line. If it says more than 50 feet, you must remove some line.

Never cut the line off the spool until you’ve got it calibrated.
Once your reels are properly calibrated, you’ll be confident that if the dive chart says X feet back means Y feet deep, you’ll be fishing where you want to be. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.

You can lose a few feet of line and still be in the ballpark. But if you lose a significant length of line–say 50 feet–recalibrate before your next fishing trip.