The learning experience

By Captain Mel Berman, 970-WFLA

 ** Many professed fishing enthusiasts spend all of our available time wetting a line, trying to hook that big lunker — or in most cases, attempting to hook just about anything that will bite. But do we practice the angling art by rote? Or do we head out with the intent of picking up some small nugget of information that will improve our skills?

A short while back I remarked to my wife that “I don’t know how many fishing trips I have left in life, but I’ll not miss many of them.”

Look into the soul of any serious angler, and you will see that they harbor that same inner commitment. There is indeed something within all of us fishing-addicted — that urge not only to “see what’s biting today,” but also a genuine sense of discovery. Some would call it a learning experience that advances our skills incrementally with each and every trip.

There is always that aura of optimistic possibility in the dialogue between most dedicated anglers. “Today the fishing conditions should be just perfect for catching.” “Just look how strong that outgoing tide is! I’ll bet we tear ‘em up if we get there at sunrise.”

All of this of course is educated conjecture learned over a lifetime of fishing.

And the most successful among us are those who keep open minds and eyes during every outing.

Almost without thinking about it, we focus on every nuance in the weather, tides, water’s surface and temperature, fish movement and all the determining factors that we believe add up to a successful fishing trip.

Wise fishers also keep their minds wide open and receptive. It is conceivable that the person with whom you are fishing has some small technique or concept that can advance your fish catching abilities. I would go so far as to say that, in my hundreds of trips over the years, I invariably garner some small nugget of fishing information or technique that ultimately makes me a better angler.

And I am not embarrassed to try and copy the techniques performed by some of my more gifted fishing partners. The most notable and supremely talented pal for me was the late Merrill “Canoeman” Chandler.

Merrill virtually grew up with a rod in his hand, purloining his dad’s fishing outfits to work the rich waters in his native Vermont/New Hampshire with his childhood friend Harry Pike.

The main trait that I picked up from the Canoeman was patience and perseverance. Early on, Merrill and I fished out of his old “Blue Canoe.” And just about the time I felt that it was time to move to another spot, Merrill would say, “how about we give this area a few more minutes.” Invariably, the extended stay paid off with an enthusiastic fish bite.

I also learned from the Canoeman and others that one should stick with your confidence bait. If that plug, jig or spoon has been an effective fish catcher for you in the past, you should stick with it until is does so again.

In the years that I was on the NewsChannel-8 Morning Edition, I featured a “Fish Picture of the Week” showcasing photos of great catches by our viewers. One fellow named Jerry Williams kept us supplied with a great amount of spectacular pictures of fish that he was landing right in the heart of downtown Tampa.

It wasn’t long before I called Jerry to ask if he’d mind taking me along on one of his many productive trips. This was for me, the beginning of a very important learning experience and long term friendship.

We met at the Davis Islands ramp early one weekday morning and cruised out on Jerry’s modest 15-foot aluminum boat. I soon discovered that this shy country guy not only knew how and where to find fish, he was highly skilled in the “catching department.” Ultimately, Jerry acquired his captain’s license and became one of the area’s most successful guides.

Over the years, there have been many more talented anglers with whom I’ve had the pleasure to fish. All have helped advance my game and today, while I’m no “Bill Dance,” I can certainly hold my own. But of greater importance, I will still be the fishing scholar, constantly learning from each and every trip that I have left.