Fishing is a sport often learned by trial and error. Growing up there weren’t any classes or sporting activities offered at school to help us become better anglers, although it would’ve been cool. It could have been an elective like; “Fishing 101” or “Fishing for Trout in Small Streams 115”, or maybe “Marlin Fishing 101”. No, many of us had to learn on our own. Some folks had family or friends pass along their fishing knowledge or provide some helpful pointers. Think about your biggest influence as an angler. Did they pass along some knowledge about fishing that still helps you today? For me, there wasn’t anyone. Oh, it would’ve been great to have had a mentor such as the father in A River Runs Through It, who used fly fishing as a means to teach his sons about life. But of course today’s anglers have mighty Google to help them improve their fishing game.
There’s a lot of good content online, although there’s some bad content online as well. Just sifting through it all to find some creditable information can be a chore in itself. What I’ve learned while improving as a fisherman is, as Norman Maclean (author of A River Runs Through It) was alluding to, life and fishing aren’t too far apart. If I want to be a better fisherman I should take what I’ve learned about life and apply it on the water.
Years ago as a young fisherman I thought somehow just by putting a line with a hook and worm in the water would draw fish from all around to let me catch them. Then I learned a secret, fish don’t really want to get caught. Now some fish seem to be a little smarter than others, but all in all, they pretty much like staying in the water.
There are some basic principles to fishing and some mistakes we all need to avoid which can be applied on and off the water. Here are 5 mistakes to avoid.
- Avoid fishing without a plan.
What? I thought fishing was supposed to be fun, why do I need a plan? Wandering aimlessly is never a good idea. Now I’m one who believes it’s not all about catching fish, but I am a fisherman, and if it’s not about the fish at all, then leave the rod and reel at home and go for a hike. While I love the peace and serenity that comes along with fishing, I want to catch fish. Maybe I should say that again, I want to catch fish.
Success in anything without a plan is just dumb luck. While I’m good with luck from time to time, I can’t count on it. So I need to have a plan every time I go fishing. A good plan will include questions such as; what body of water will I fish? What am I fishing for? What gear will I use? What bait do I need? And so on. I’d suggest creating a simple list of questions to ask your-self before heading out. Laminate it and keep it with your tackle and make it part of your pre-fishing routine.
- Avoid fishing where there are no fish
Maybe this should’ve been number one. You have to go to the fish. You can have the right lure, nicest gear, and fastest boat, but if you don’t ever get your bait and hook in front of a fish you’re not catching anything.
Today’s market offers a wide variety of fish finders. You can literally spend as little or as much as you want on one of these devices. However, if you still have no clue where to find fish and you’re on a lake with a 500 mile shoreline, that’s a lot of water to cover. Learn about fish habitat. For instance, if you want to catch largemouth bass and you are fishing Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake, you should know they like warm shallow water with plenty of brush, tree logs, and vegetation. They can also be found around underwater structures, docks and bridges. That’s not a one size fits all for fish. If I were fishing for trout I wouldn’t look in the same place as for the bass. Trout like cold water and so if they are in the same lake as the bass I’ll be dropping my line much deeper to catch them. There are some good websites which offer very usable information about fish species and habitat. One site I find helpful is that of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for freshwater fish and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission for saltwater.
3. Avoid using the wrong tackle
We’ve all heard stories of fish taking a line with no bait. Let’s agree that’s a huge exception to the rule. Fish eat what they believe is food. In fly fishing we call this matching the hatch. Your bait needs to imitate what the fish eats. Using large bait and hooks can attract larger fish but it can also scare fish off. Your line and lure need to be appropriate for what you are fishing. Using tackle which is too small can be a problem too and a frustrating one. Snag that nice size bass with the wrong line and you could be talking about the one that got away. The website Take Me Fishing has some helpful information about tackle and gear.
- Avoid repeating the same mistakes
My tackle box is sacred. I don’t like people messing around with it or looking through it. I have order and structure. Everything is just how I want it. I have jigs, spoons, poppers, bobbers, sinkers, hooks and so on. Really I have way more stuff than any one person ever needs. I’m sure you can relate. Now, if you looked inside this smorgasbord of tackle, which one catches your eye more than the others? Or should I say, what is your favorite go-to lure? You know you have one. It’s the one you try and stay away from because you over use it and you want to believe you are a well rounded, knowledgeable angler so you use others first. However, when they don’t work you say screw it and pull out your go to lure. Why do you think that is? Why do you put more faith in one lure over another or one lure type over another? Do you think it’s because at some point you had a good day with that lure and so you know it works? Maybe you believe it’s a fish favorite, or is it’s because you seem to catch more fish with that particular lure?
You probably don’t really know for sure other than you do seem to catch more with it and rightly so, you use it more. The question you should really be asking is, why didn’t the other bait work? What were you doing wrong?
Often our attitude about fishing is that this is recreation so we never take it too terribly serious. Of course the amount of time we spend fishing, reading about fishing, watching it on TV, and preparing to go fishing would state otherwise. If you love to fish and want to become a better angler then you need to be learning from past mistakes. That means every time you fish you also learn something. The best way to learn as you go is to keep a journal on every fishing trip. Record what worked, what didn’t work, what you were fishing for and so on. Prior to going (along with your planning questionnaire) review the last few entries to remember what you did last time. This is one of the simplest ways of improving your skills on the water. There is a good journal at Amazon which offers a questionnaire page and notes page for every entry. It’s called Fishing Journal: 100 days of Fishing.
- Avoid isolating yourself while fishing
We anglers have a tendency to be passionate about this sport. Whether we fish from a shoreline, pier, beach, boat or wading in water, we are all in. So much that we will often sacrifice time with others to do so. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t take my son fishing. When he was younger I didn’t get around to fishing much (hardly ever) and as he grew he had other interests. I lost out on a great opportunity not only to spend time with my son but to pass along something that brings me a lot of joy.
Does fishing make you happy? Then share it. In the book, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer whote: “Happiness is only real when shared.” I’ve found this to be true not only for fishing but for my day to day life as well.
If you have children, help them to get as passionate about fishing as you. If you’re married, get your spouse excited about fishing. You may need to take on the role of mentor/ teacher since people don’t like doing things they don’t understand. Remember the best mentors are the ones who model what they expect from the person they are mentoring. Make fishing a social activity and you’ll be amazed how much more you enjoy fishing.