There is much to be said for being a successful fisherman, and there are some habits that many of them share. We spoke to a handful of Florida’s best anglers and uncovered their most closely guarded secrets about how they catch more fish.

Understand the Fish

It sounds simple enough, but you can’t catch fish if you don’t know what kind of species you’re after and where to find them. To be effective, your fishing trips must start with studying weather patterns and knowing which species will be in different areas at different times — just like deer season starts by studying deer behavior and figuring out where the best hunting spots will be. “You have to learn everything,” says Eddy Canova Jr., a professional guide and the Florida Professional Guides Association president. “Fish have a pattern, just like deer have a pattern. If you understand what they do, you can get there.”

Understanding fish behavior is so critical that some guides even take it to an extreme level. Justin Starke, owner of Coastal Angler in Cape Coral, FL, says his guides get up at 3:30 a.m., before sunrise, to watch baitfish populations and find out where predators are going to be. The tools for research come from many sources — magazines, TV shows, and friends who also fish — but many of them rely on their own experiences or those of clients. Ultimately, though, fishing remains about sharing information.

Closely Examine Your Bait

Like deer season, the bait you use will be different at different times of the year and in other parts of the country. In Florida, for example, anglers troll around bridges during migrations using live mullet or shrimp rigged on a circle hook. In Louisiana, however, it’s more common to rig an artificial jig near cypress trees with a crawfish for bait — not exactly a typical sight in Florida waters.

Different types of bait also impact how the hook is set. However, one thing Starke emphasizes over and above any other tip is making sure your bait isn’t foul hooked. That means throwing back any fish that get tangled in the line and keeping good contact with the bait at all times — not just when you’re setting the hook.

Pick Your Spot and Set the Hook

You can have everything dialed in: good weather, great bait, and a strong backing on your reel. Still, if you don’t set the hook correctly, you’ll never land a big one. Many anglers go about it all wrong by jerking or yanking on their fishing rods. Instead, focus on simply rotating your wrist to set the hook into the fish’s mouth.

Once you get that first bend, keep the line tight and work down toward the reel as fast as possible. That puts pressure on your prize catch and also keeps you from having to muscle a giant fish out of the water onto your boat — another common mistake that can lead to broken lines or worse.

Know Your Limits

There is no bigger bane of fishermen than keeping an exhausted, near-death fish hooked up only to lose it at the last minute. It’s a situation that anglers can do much to avoid — and one that Canova says is largely preventable if you know how long your line is and what your drag system will handle.