Tough Love of Fishing
The most difficult part of my job is being able to teach and reinforce skills and techniques. This is complicated when clients on board are of differing skill and experience levels. Bringing them both up to speed to a point where both clients have an opportunity for success can be tricky.
First of all, the male ego is often bruised when one angler can’t just quite get it. Casting is the base of fishing success! Not being able to cast and hit targets near and far can prevent an angler from even getting a bite. After casting it’s lure presentation. Making fish bite once the lure is in the correct spot is critical. Fishing lures don’t catch fish! Fishermen catch fish! Fishing lures…just catch fishermen. Imparting action or even a variety of actions with every lure is the difference between just fishing and catching fish! Often it’s primarily a function of depth and speed. Keeping the lure in the strike zone and moving it at speed to trigger strikes is key. After that, it’s angling skills. This is broken down into strike detection; hook set, and bringing the fish to the boat.
I really stress casting skills, instructing and critiquing every cast…often a thousand casts a day! The important thing is to choose and focus on a very specific target on EVERY cast. This is the only way to develop hand-eye or rod-lure coordination. I begin instruction with how to hold the rod, adjust the reel, and using the rods’ action to assist in the cast. I move from longer to shorter casts (a pitch cast) throughout the day as once the sun is up and hot, making a short cast, like around a dock or a piece of cover, is critical. Casts must be close or fish will not move from cover. If an errant cast is made it is imperative to stop, assess the situation and then make an exit strategy. Yanking a lure out of trouble usually ends up in even more trouble. A slow lift of the rod changes the angle, lifting lures out of trouble rather than dragging or wrapping it into more trouble. As for sub-surface snags, the first thing to do is to recognize that the snag is NOT a fish and to let the line go slack. With floating lures, and even sinking baits, this alone will allow the lure to either float away from trouble or drop off of the snag to be retrieved once again. Otherwise I teach a snap and release method of freeing lures. Not easy to learn, but not impossible to master! Having to go into a fishing spot with a retrieving tool will spook the fish in that spot.
Only after casting is improved can we move to lure presentation. I generally start with a Mann’s Baby 1-Minus, as it floats and only dives about a foot, not getting into too much trouble. It’s also easy to cast. This is a retrieval lure; however, there are presentations that work better on any given day. In most cases, a slower retrieve is used in cold or stained water, and faster in clear and warmer water.
As we move to other lures, I instruct what I have found to be the presentation of the moment. The only reason I fish while my clients are on the boat is to establish a pattern, then to see how long that pattern will work. If the fish are biting, I take a break. As the bite slows down for my clients I will pick up a rod and try to get a few. If nothing bites, we move on to another technique.
Then it’s on to angling skills. First and foremost is teaching the ability to discern the difference between a fish and grass, wood or rock! Setting the hook on cover results in snags! It also pulls the lure into cover rather than deflecting off it. Deflection often is a trigger for a strike! I tell my clients to use their lures to “read” the bottom to feel the cover, learning what that is first, and then everything else is a fish.
Now on to setting the hook. This varies for every technique, so I demonstrate the action of the rod and how fish will take a lure and how to set the hook. It’s important to note that I don't get to this point until a few fish have bitten. Too much information can confuse the lesson at hand. For example, if I am teaching how to cast, setting the hook can only divert attention, so this lesson comes later. I gradually interject information as the day goes by. While it appears to be a fishing trip, it is really an 8-hour on-the-water tutorial. By the end of the day, my clients are vastly improved.
And lastly, it’s the Fighting Triangle. When initiating a hookset, mostly with the rod positioned in front of the angler, the first position is straight up to pull the fish out of cover and toward the boat. Taking notice of the angle of the line from the rod to the fish, maintain pressure until the fish is either at the boat or makes an attempt to jump! The first indication a fish is going to jump is the line angle moving to the surface. As soon as this occurs, it is imperative to sweep the rod quickly to either the left or right base of the Fishing Triangle. This must be done with the rod and reel together to maintain pressure on the fish. Now if the fish jumps, a lower rod will not enable the fish to put slack in the line to shake the hook. Keeping the head of the fish in the water will land more fish.
Working on all of these skills continually might give me the appearance of a Drill Sergeant. But many see my persistence as a great opportunity to compress the learning curve and to walk off my boat with valuable techniques and methods under proper instruction that will result in successful future trips!
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