Since this is my column and I can do pretty much what I like with it, I hereby claim the title of professional fisherman.
And not, I might add, without reason.
For one thing, I’ve been flinging various hopefully fish-tempting items into the water for nearly 70 years. For another, back when the world and Ray Scott were young, I fished in professional bass tournaments. (True, I didn’t quit my day job, but according to my tax accountant, I did make a profit.) And then there’s the fact that I’ve published several thousand magazine articles and newspaper columns on various piscatorial pursuits.
My wife Amber, on the other hand, has only been fishing for 47 years. In addition, other than victimizing me on several pocket change wagers, she’s never won any money with a fishing rod in her hand. And although she certainly has the requisite talent, she’s yet to tempt a single editor into publishing one of her stories.
I’ve noted the above as a preamble to an explanation of the difference between the goof ups inherent in the sport of fishing and those worthy of a true pro’s skill.
For an example of the former, I wouldn’t admit it if I knew how many times I’ve pitched a soft plastic lizard at the edge of the water, only to watch it drop into a crack in a rock three feet on the dry side of where I wanted it to land. One time when I did so during a tournament, my partner laconically commented, “This is a 40,000-acre lake, and you missed it.”
But snarky comments notwithstanding, bodies of water of any size are notoriously hard to hit. An occasional “miss” can — and will — happen to every angler of every skill level.
For an example of a miscue worthy of a pro, let me take you along on a morning Amber and I spent fishing for bluegills recently. Bluegills are Amber’s favorite fish, and she knows a thing or two about catching them.
In my defense, I wanted very badly for this morning’s fishing to be the best it could possibly be. So, since I was the bona fide expert among us, we spent the first two hours of our self-imposed three-hour fishing time working places that I “knew” should hold lots of big spawning bluegills.
We caught bluegills to be sure — at a rate that might have satisfied a bass tournament angler. Amber repeatedly suggested that we try a different spot. I agreed that her idea would have merit were we fishing for a different species of fish at a different time of the year and then tried to explain why no self respecting bluegill would spawn there.
I finally relented, and we tried her spot. Need I say it was the mother of all honey holes? Need I say that she caught more fish out of it than I did?
Learning as much as you can about the species of fish you hope to catch is a good thing. Becoming enslaved to either book knowledge or prior experience is not. There was nothing wrong with beginning the morning where I did. The problem was that I ignored the fact that spawning bluegill are very easy to catch on the wet flies we were tossing. Whether I had Amber along to point the way or not, I should have moved somewhere else long before I did.
Back in the 1970's, bass tournament anglers called the mistake I made “fishing for memories.” I’m not sure if it’s ironic or natural, but the longer a man or woman has been a serious fisherman, the more likely he/she is to fall for this one.
Becoming too dependent on a single lure is a corollary to fishing for memories. When I was cashing checks on the tournament trail, it was often said that any color spinnerbait would work as long as it was white. White is an excellent color choice, no doubt about it, but the primary reason so many bass were being caught on white baits was that white was the only color most anglers were throwing. Once or twice a season, some Sneaky Pete would tie on a chartreuse or even a black spinnerbait and win a tournament with it.
If you must know, I still have a lot of trouble with lure fixation. If I’m fishing with artificial lures, I almost always start with the one I think is the most likely to interest the species I’m trying to catch (e.g. a dark green/green jig for crappie, a black jig for bass or an olive wooly worm for bluegill.) Only after the fish have proven to a certainty that they don’t agree with me, do I get serious about experimenting.
Go forth and do as I say, not as I do. Be forewarned, however, that you may have more fish to clean at the end of the day.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org