By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor

© St. Petersburg Times

published September 12, 2003

TIERRA VERDE – If Charles Darwin had studied fishermen along with finches, he could have penned a treatise to rival his Descent of Man. The book, aptly named the Ascent of Anglers, could examine the evolution of the average fishermen.

There is no debate that Homo sapiens first wet a line (or spear) to gather food. But sometime in the ensuing millenniums, humans began fishing for sport as well as sustenance.

If you fast-forward several thousand years to the modern era, one can clearly see an evolutionary pattern in today’s anglers. The average person starts out simply wanting to catch fish, and it usually doesn’t matter what species as long as it fights back.

After anglers have caught their share – be it sail cats or jack crevalle – the next step on the ladder is targeting edible fish. There is something innately human about being able to go out and catch and kill one’s own food for dinner.

Once they have gotten a taste for fish, they want to “catch their limit” every trip so they can eat it whenever they want. But this gets old after an angler learns that a fillet from the freezer tastes nothing like a fish fresh from the ocean.

So the angler begins looking for new challenges. Most begin targeting “sport fish,” which are cagier and more difficult to catch (hence the modifier sport). As a result, an intrepid angler may spend years if not decades on this rung of the evolutionary ladder. But, inevitably, the angler will get his fill of sport fish and again move on.

At this point, the angler family tree splits. One half, the live-bait limb, goes off to the right, while the other, the artificial-lure limb, goes off to the left.

Artificial enthusiasts – many fishing tournaments cater to these purists – snub their noses at natural bait.

They think it unsportsmanlike to fool a poor, unsuspecting fish with something that is live and wiggling on the end of a hook and liken it to shooting deer on a baited field.

“You call that sport?” they cry. It is far nobler, they contend, to take a man-made lure and mimic the action of a live fish.

Then, if they are successful, it is as a result of their superior intelligence and skill and the glory need not be shared with some puny little scaled sardine.

But then the tree limb splits once again. Off on its own thin limb is another group of anglers – the fly-fishermen. And even then, there are different camps – those who tie their own flies and those who fish with flies tied by others.

Both are equally effective or ineffective, depending on how you look at it.

“Some people think it is crazy sitting out here for hours trying to catch a fish on a fly-rod when there are other people nearby catching fish after fish on live bait,” said Jeff Abeles, a fly-rodder from Odessa. “But this is what I like to do. So if it takes all day, it takes all day.”

Abeles and guide Rob Gorta fish every Monday in and around Tampa Bay – and only with flies.

“We could sit here and catch redfish all day on live bait,” said Gorta as he reeled in a fat red that he had hooked on bait, just to make sure they were fishing in the right spot. “But that’s not fly-fishing.”

On this particular Monday, Abeles asked Gorta for his advice on what type of fly to use, and the guide recommended an orange and gold pinfish imitation.

“I’ve never seen an orange and gold pinfish,” Abeles confessed. “But I’ll try it.”

But after a half hour or so, Abeles gave up and switched to a shrimp pattern, then a brown and gold bendback, before finally going to a topwater mullet.

“I think you should stick with the pinfish,” Gorta said. “That is what they are eating. This time, just let it sink. Be patient.”

Abeles listened to the guide and began working the fly, this time at a slower pace. This time it worked.

After a brief 10-minute fight, Abeles posed for a photograph before releasing the oversized redfish.

“Some things are worth the wait,” he said.

I’m sure Darwin would agree.