Observant Angler

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 By JIM C. ARNESS

Contrary to what any non-fishermen says (no, really, they do exist, scary as that may sound they are out there. People that DON’T like to fish. But that is another story.) we fishermen have a very keen mind. Sharp as a tack. With a memory second to none. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

From the moment we get up on the appointed fishing day, our minds are working at a speed that would rival a rocket scientist. Information like where you are going, the tides, the fish you’re after, the fish you might catch, the conditions your in, all regulations on all the fish you might catch, all the tackle you’ll need, how to use that tackle, where you left the tackle last time you used it, what lures you need to bring, what lures you want to bring, what lures will actually work, how to use those lures, where you left those lures the last time you used them, how to set your drag, all about line, how to undo fishing line knots, directions to your favorite hole, how to make sure no one else can find your favorite hole, where to get bait, how much it should cost, how to use it, keep it alive, to tell your significant other what time you’ll be home, the excuse to tell her when your late, gas in the truck, boat on the trailer, boating regulations,….. aaarrgghhh….fingercramp)

You get the idea. Miraculous. Take a moment to feel good about this accomplishment. No really, go ahead. Some people aren’t even this dedicated to work, much less their passion. All this carefully orchestrated, perfectly timed organization, planning, our minds working like a steel trap. Then we get out to the hole, the line hits the water and AAAAHHHHHHH, the brain SHUTS DOWN.

This is the pattern that I think more than a few fisherman fall into, I know I used to be one of them. Look at it this way, we as anglers are HUNTERS. Think about it, the only difference is that our quarry swims and we don’t shoot them with guns. (Usually.) A really good hunter silently stalks his prey, constantly looking for signs, game trails, broken twigs, fresh scat on the ground, (fish scat is very hard to spot, I’ve been looking.) different scents he is in tune with nature and his surroundings. He STARTS thinking and hunting as soon as he gets there. We as anglers should be no different.

Yes now I know that for many fishing is a relaxation, myself included but I try not to lose sight of what it is that I am out there for, to catch fish. Think and observe while your out there don’t just wet the line and stare of into space. Now I know this can be a good thing, just not for hours on end until drool is coming out of your mouth and the fish are laughing at you, because they will.

Look around, observe your surroundings, take note of what’s going on, tides movement, wind and the like. Yeah you looked at the tide charts before you went fishing, but now that you’re there look at how the tide is actually moving RIGHT THERE RIGHT NOW. Write it down in a journal. Let me say that again, WRITE IN A JOURNAL. This is probably one of the best fishing tools you have at your disposal. Kept up accurately, you have your own personal book about exactly how to fish exactly where you fish and when you fish.

Now it takes about a season’s worth of entries but the results are well worth it. Then you can go back and see what you did last year, how well you did, and pretty soon you will start to notice patterns about your fishing and those patterns will mean more catching. You will be the envy of all those unfortunate souls that didn’t know where to go, when to go, what to bring, you will be the all knowing all revered GUY WHO ALWAYS CATCHES EVERYTHING. You’ll have a bumper sticker that reads “Fish tremble at the mention of my name” and they will. Your buddies will offer you all the free beer you can drink if you’ll only allow them the honor of going fishing with you. Women will throw their clothes and themselves at your feet if… well maybe not all that, but you will catch more fish.

Some tackle stores actually sell these journals, or you could just buy an everyday composition book/spiral notebook and jot your findings down. Some things to include would be tides, location, bait and lures used, water clarity, weather, wind, temperature, any special rigs you used, what you caught, solunar table, and a little section for any notes or comments.

Even the animals out there can tell you a wealth on knowledge if you watch them. Birds are nature’s best teachers when it comes to fishing. If you don’t catch anything, you go get a Big Mac. If they don’t catch anything they go hungry. You go fishing once a week (hopefully). They go everyday. In short, they can fish circles around you. Last spring, I wade fished off the large sandbar on the northeast side of the Skyway Bridge every week from the beginning of March until the middle of May. I noted that every time I saw an osprey flying over head, I caught fish. On the days I didn’t see an osprey, I didn’t get any fish, nor any bites.

This happened every time, 100%. It turns out that this osprey or maybe a pair, live around that area and fish those waters regularly for their food. They know exactly when and where to fish those waters. By watching them, I do too. Pelicans and American Egrets eat the same bait fish that snook do, and although their presence won’t guarantee that snook will be around, it’s a good place to start looking, if anything for bait. Also when a pelican dives into the water, notice the angle that he enters it. The steeper the dive, the deeper the water. A full tilt straight down dive tells you that the water there is at least a couple of feet deep and there’s bait fish also. Shallower dives indicate skinnier water. Also a great boat navigation trick for those unfamiliar flats.

It’s also known that terns and gulls diving on bait schools means mackerel. But not every bait school holds mackerel. A hint here is to watch the terns. Are they barely getting wet to catch fish or are they submerging a ways under the surface? Barely wet birds are an indication that the bait fish are near the surface. Why? Because larger predatory fish and feeding on them from underneath and driving them to the surface. Terns that get their tushies wet are diving deeper for the bait fish that are staying closer to the bottom to keep away from the birds and have no big fish to worry about. Aren’t birds wonderful? So helpful and knowledgeable bless their little hearts. The next friendly-feathered fowl is the sandpiper. Yes, the sandpiper. For all you pompano fisherman out there, the best bait going is sandfleas. And what is the preferred food of the venerable sandpiper? Bingo, sandfleas. So the mystery of what they are doing running up and down the beach is solved. You find sandpipers, odds are, you’ll find sandfleas. Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. It is a little known fact that the sandpiper is a very meticulous bird, organizing its food according to size. So when you see smaller sandpipers, there are smaller sandfleas. Bigger pipers? Bigger fleas. Marvelous.

So let’s hear a big round of applause for our wonderful feathered fellow fishermen out there. To show our appreciation, I can think of no better reward that we can offer back to them that to remove any and all fishing line from our waters and coastlines, whether it’s ours or not. The effort is minimal, and they as do other creatures that call that area home really appreciate it. If we ke
ep them fishing, they’ll keep us fishing.