I had a client on my boat earlier this year who asked me how long I’d been guiding. I told him that I’d been full time for nearly 20 years…
“Wow! You must know everything there is to know about fishing then, huh?” was his response.
I had to chuckle…and then told him that, in fact, quite the opposite was true. I explained that fishing is kinda like one of those big ol’ fried Bloomin’ Onions you get at Outback Steakhouse. The deeper you dig, the more layers you uncover. And just when you think you’ve gotten to the bottom of things, there are even more layers.
There’s a pet saying that comes up almost every time a few of my really accomplished fishing buddies and I get together and talk about the nuances of our sport: “More questions than answers…”
It seems the more you learn about this game, the more there is to figure out. I suppose that’s one of the reasons fishing is so captivating. No matter how long you’ve been doing it, there’s always something new to learn. At first, your scope of learning is wide: Go fishing when the river is green and not brown; salmon like deep holes and steelhead prefer the flats, etc. Then, as you get more dialed in, you start to focus in on smaller and smaller details. And that’s where things really get interesting! A lot of those micro aspects have huge impacts on your success. But those same little things also often lead to the “more questions than answers” scenario.
Sometimes, I get more confused by fish that I actually catch — than the ones I don’t. That happens in situations in which my brain is screaming “this is all wrong…we should not be catching fish here…like this.”
A prime example is a trolling spot on one of my favorite California rivers. It’s a short sandy flat that’s 4 to 6 feet deep. The water is very clear and you can easily see the bottom — but we catch lots of kings there on unweighted spinners dragged about 30 feet behind the boat. We have to keep the lures that close to the transom so they don’t drag in the sand. The experienced angler in me says there’s no way a king in that shallow water, on a sunny day, would hit a shiny spinner but it happens all the time. I’ve seen plenty of Oregon coast and Alaskan kings bite in the prop wash, but we’re not dealing with wild, fresh from the tide fish in the Central Valley. Why do those eat like that in such a funky spot? More questions than answers!
A buddy of mine in Washington strips tiny…and I mean you need reading glasses to tie them on tiny…trout-like nymphs for kings in big, brawling rivers with great success. I’ve watched jumbo sized kings chase those goofy little bugs 20 feet to eat them. Why will the same fish eat a massive T-60 Flatfish some days and a trout bug the next? More questions than answers!
We’ve all had those times when we got bit exactly when conventional wisdom would suggest that you shouldn’t. Those always get my head spinning…why the heck did that fish do that? Why did that king chase down my eggs on the surface of a 30-foot deep hole while I was reeling in as fast as I could? Why did that steelhead eat a K16 fished 40 feet down in a froggy hole? Why did that steelhead attack my float instead of my eggs? Was it simply a random act? Or is there something to it? Have I been missing something all along here? Again more questions than answers!
Oddly enough, I think the more knowledge you have can actually be a hindrance sometimes. I had a client who hounded me one day to let him cast spoons from the front of the driftboat while I rowed through all the shallow, sandy and froggy water between good runs. I told him the reason I don’t fish any of that stuff between my normal spots is because it wasn’t good water.
Undaunted, he cast and trolled the PLine spoon I handed him through all sorts of spots no self-respecting steelhead would be…and guess what? He caught so many steelhead in odd-ball lies over the next couple days that I now employ that technique most days on my guide trips. Never in a million years would I have ever though he’d catch much more than a couple smolt or trout doing that!
Even before that little learning experience, I have always believed that you should listen to even the kookiest or most inexperienced anglers when they strike up a conversation on the water — you just never know when you might pick up a useful little nugget. The true gems are few and far between but every now and then you can add another little arrow to your quiver.
I guess all this stuff is what keeps us going…keeps us reading magazines like Salmon Trout Steelheader, scouring the internet, talking with other anglers and buying fishing books. And I think that’s a very healthy thing. The moment you give up learning new things about our sport — or think you have it completely dialed in — is probably the sign that it’s time to quit.
Surfing company Rip Curl has a slogan that would be very apropos for those of us consumed by the pursuit of salmon and steelhead: “Live the Search.” Loosely translated into fishing lingo: More questions than answers…