Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Many anglers are in a battle with themselves

Now that we have retired after 56 years at Bow Narrows I would like to reflect a bit about fishermen over those years.
I'll pose this first observation as a question: what are people looking for when they go fishing?
Fish, you might think, but that turns out to be a very incomplete answer. And I'm not referring to all the other components that make a great vacation such as scenery, camaraderie, relaxation, etc. I'm just talking about fishing, the actual act of fishing.
We noticed that for some people the full answer to the question above should have been something like this. "I want to catch fish but only by fishing in the manner that I like, using the tackle that I want to use and at the time of day I like to fish."
Not everybody is this rigid in their approach, thank goodness, but it is astonishing how many are, perhaps one-third.
I'll give two real examples, both involving a very old bait, the Junebug Spinner. If you were to open my grandfather's tackle box back in the Great Depression you would have found this lure. It was also in my dad's. It is still sold today. Obviously, it must catch fish somewhere but it has always been an absolute dud for Red Lake. It didn't work when we first came to Red Lake in 1960 and it never got any better.
Most anglers simply accepted that some lures work in some lakes but not everywhere and moved on to something else. Others just planted their feet.
Since I went to school by mail, I was able to start work at a very young age. I began guiding for fishing when I was just 9 and ended up spending almost every summer day on the water from then until I was 18. I will always remember my last guest as a guide. He was alone and when I saw his fishing tackle my heart sank. He had an old, cheap baitcasting reel and a stubby solid fiberglass rod. His tackle box was the small, no-tray type and when he opened it the only things inside were a red-and-white bobber, a nine-inch pipe wrench and, you guessed it, a Junebug Spinner.
I couldn't entice him to buy another lure or even accept one as a gift. Nope, he always had done well with the Junebug, he said.
He insisted that we fish by trolling which I could understand because his rod and reel were incapable of casting. There was only about 12 feet of braided line on his reel and he would let about seven feet of this out at a time which meant his Junebug was about 12 inches behind the outboard's propeller. We were obviously just wasting our time fishing like this but I had to drive the guy around all week nonetheless. I decided just to head to parts unknown so at least I would learn some new water. Incredibly, we actually caught two northern pike for our week on the water. Had we been trolling a Rapala or even a Dardevle at the right distance behind the boat we would have caught hundreds.
The second example is more recent, probably eight years ago. We had a couple in camp in September who only wanted to fish for walleye which isn't uncommon. The fish were in about 30 feet of water at the time. Our other guests were doing quite well by anchoring and using jigs tipped with live minnows. The couple, however, was getting absolutely nothing even though I showed them exactly where and how to fish. It was their experience, they said, that if you couldn't catch walleye by trolling Junebug spinners laced with pike belly and weighted down with a one-ounce egg sinker, than there simply weren't any fish.
Why are people like this? I have no idea and we eventually just accepted that some people could not be helped. They had preconceived notions that could not be blasted out of their heads. It wasn't always about lures. In fact, the most common hang-up was on the kind of location for fishing.
"Just show me where there is a sandbar," more than one person told me. "That is all I need to know to catch walleyes." Unfortunately, almost none of our best walleye spots is a sandbar.
Some of the contrary fishermen seemed to live just to prove me wrong on some advice I had given them.
"I caught this walleye while using a steel leader, something you said couldn't be done!" they would trumpet. I would not have told them it couldn't be done because many pike fishermen using steel leaders catch a couple of walleye every day. It just isn't the best idea when you are targeting walleye which is what they were doing. Of course I didn't care if they got their jollies by believing they knew better than me, as long as they were happy. But they never were. They were always upset that they couldn't catch more fish.
For these people, I came to realize, catching fish wasn't the main priority although they would insist it was. There was something else going on. I tried to express that on the blog one time in a poem.

"Fishing is the art
of exploring the unknown
in search of yourself," I wrote.

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