The pursuit of fish defines fishing. Planning a trip for over a year only to arrive and have the complete opposite of your expectation can be a difficult pill to swallow. Spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to earn the ability to chase fish, is what it is. Fishing is unpredictable and can easily be thwarted by many factors. Knowing how to handle less than idea conditions or company will make a learning experience out of any trip. It will happen to every angler at some point. No matter how hard you fish, sometimes things just won’t line up and the catching will be very minimal at best. On a recent trip to south, I experienced an epic beat down first hand and decided to share how we were able to deal with it, the lessons learned, while still having a good time.
I have said for many years, that humanizing your fishing or creating the outcome in your head, before the day has expressed itself, is a sure recipe for disappointment. Knowing that yesterday the stars were aligned and I was crushing it, means nothing more than that. I have fished in the Everglades National Park for many years on my off time from Colorado. Each and every time I head out there, I experience something new or different. The Glades have taught me to have an open approach to fishing and be ready for the opportunities that present themselves, instead of a predetermined path to an expected outcome. Learning how to orient my day on a sliding scale from 100% decided in advance, to having no plan, and settling with something in the middle of those two extremes has taught me more about fishing the Glades than any other single factor.
Scaling back on the expectation inevitably produces a better outcome. Having a general plan will allow flexibility and will help you pivot when things are not going your way. Just like decisions in life, fishing decisions should be looked at like a fork in the road. Choose a path and continue until that choice no longer works. Then, just choose another path. There is no right or wrong. Each choice is merely the best choice at the time. It has worked great for me over the years.
Embrace the Process
Learning about all fishing is a constant process and provides endless challenges for those that partake. I have often said about hunting and now fishing, that I enjoy the process now more than the outcome. The process becomes the pleasure. Seeking out new spots, discovering a hidden bay, finding a surprise fish at a new location makes me tick these days. It may be annoying to new anglers that feel the urgency in satisfying their need to crush everything in sight but for me it’s the complete opposite.
When I used to guide, I would hear some of the older folks say things like,”it’s just nice being out here…” Now I can actually understand where they are coming from. Learn to enjoy the process. Keep your eyes open and be connected to the experience. Your brain will thank you later. Disconnect for real. Leave the music at home and soak in the quiet. It is what we all need. Of course, sitting on a point fishing for Tarpon on the Ocean requires a small dose of Biggie or some other early 90’s hip hop channel paired with lots of salty snacks to pass the time between shots. The Everglades is a different vibe. No extra input needed.
Who you go fishing with, is equally as important of a factor as to how things will go when the fishing goes sideways. Fishing with people that have a similar mindset or understanding of the possibilities helps ease the anguish of back to back tough days on the water. The attention span of most people is quickly waning. It can’t be held for more than about 15 minutes. I too, find myself getting jumpy when I am in an area that has previously produced but maybe the conditions are not 100% correct and nothing is happening.
I have learned to set time limits with my watch for a reasonable amount of time to get an overview of a spot. Pace is also part of the day. Stay in an unproductive area for too long and waste a bunch of time. Move too quickly without letting things unfold and miss a rare opportunity. Accepting that failure may be the outcome has allowed me to focus more and appreciate the opportunity to be in these magical places. No time is ever wasted while fishing. Ever.
Slowing everything down also helps. When the fishing is slow, you have to work harder to produce even one fish. This means that looking or fishing over an area with a fine tooth comb may be the best way to produce. For example, on my recent trip, we were fishing in Whitewater Bay looking for Tarpon early in the morning just after sunrise. We quietly poled my skiff into a cove that I had seen Tarpon in before. I had not been in that cove in over a year. But, I knew it was a good area in general and had seen fish there before.
We crept around a mangrove point. I noticed a smaller Tarpon floating in the tail of that bay highlighted perfectly by the rising sun. There he was. You could see all the detail of his fins, body and eyes. All we need to do was gently cast the fly in front of him and more likely than not, the party would be on!The cast was perfect and it was on! That fish ate the fly but my point man did not get the hook set firmly and the fish quickly disappeared. Normally, we would celebrate the eat and the visual pleasure of watching that ancient fish eat a fly. However, because the beat down was in play, I slowed everything down. I did not move the boat an inch. Staying quiet and still we just waited.
I was just about to poll off when that very fish rolled 15 feet from where he was and ate the fly the last time. Again the fly was presented to that fish and WHAMO! He piled it, and we were tight. We ended up landing that fish which turned out to be the first Tarpon on the fly for my point man. I love getting the very first one. It’s the simple things in life
These lessons can be applied to all fishing experiences. Being open to whatever happens sets up the day for success. Being with like minded people and opening up the expectations to whatever happens creates the environment for success. Slowing down and enjoying the ride will also yield better results.
I sound like I’m turning into an old man full of sage advice. I guess we are all getting older one day on the water at a time. Funny how things go. I enjoy the lessons now. The bigger the beat down, the better the lesson. A wise old guide once told me that, “Entering any fishing area or cove in the Glades against the tide will express to all that live there that there is a 17 foot shark (your skiff) coming into the cove and the locals will take cover. Entering with the tide, allows you to better blend in and flow with the environment.”
I find as I get older that the lessons in fishing often parallel the lessons in life.