The simple joy of fishing



It’s called “fishing” not “catching”.  And therein lies the allure, the mystery, the skill, and the desire  to learn fishing basics and how to fish.

To consistently catch the fish one is after, one has to think like a fish and no one I know or have known ever started thinking like a fish overnight.

As with anything worthwhile, it takes time, experience, knowledge, research, homework…and a lot of other serious endeavors.

So much of the natural world controls optimum “fishing” conditions:  time of the year, time of day, moon phases, tides, temperatures (air and water), salinity, surface conditions, winds, wind direction, water depth, water visibility, food source (bait) availability, oxygen levels, and a host of other conditions over which man has absolutely no control.

And, if that is not enough, there is the necessary equipment, aka “tackle” dictated by 100 different sources, “experts” and the industrial fishing combine…el greedo strikes again.  Consider the variety of rods, reels, lines, leaders, lures, weights, jigs, hooks, crank baits, sinking lures, swimming lures, plastics, live bait, dead bait, outriggers, down riggers, kite riggers, teasers, chum (real and artificial)…and on and on and on.

I fished with a group of seasoned fishermen who insisted on following certain “superstitions” that included attaching “Lucky Strike” cigarette packs to the outriggers and tossing handfuls of change over the side as payment of dues prior to putting the lines in the water.  Never underestimate the power of denial, the placebo effect, and just plain dumb luck.  Any golfer out there actual “plan” on making a hole in one?

Everything has a price tag, so before one starts siphoning off junior’s college fund for literally a boatload of tackle, invest time, not money, in homework.  Read; check out the regional fishing magazines for what’s being used to catch what, when, where, and how.  Chat up the owners of the local bait and tackle shops; hang out with other fisherman and listen.  Most good fisherman, especially charter captains, are loathe to reveal methods, baits, locations, and the like…it’s a competitive world.  But one of the most profound human experiences is to have someone actually LISTEN to what is being said…so, shut up and just listen.  Go where fishermen are fishing from the shore and observe and do not make a pest of yourself…locals rule.

Keep a log.  Date, time, place, conditions, methods, bait, time between strikes/hook ups/nibbles.  I came from an old, small maritime community on the east end of Long Island; in it’s day, Sag Harbor was considered the largest whaling community on the east coast.  The history of the place was part of the local curriculum and if you couldn’t bait a hook by the time you were four you were banished to someplace forgotten without a coastline and a clear horizon.

Attend:  the old whaling ship captains kept strict and specific logs as to where, when, what conditions, how many, what type, and more data about every day they harvested whales.  You think differently when it’s your job and a lot of mouths are depending on you.

But along with the unequaled satisfaction of simply messing around in boats is the peace that comes from simply wetting a line or the  look of joy on a youngster’s face while holding the first catch.

…It is interesting what you will and will not find on the Internet when you start googling for fishing tips and relative information.  I have been saying for years that the Internet is an ocean of information, but it is only two inches deep, so to glean reliable information, one really has to dig and dig.

Searching for some fundamental information about tides to bring to you, I encountered a lot of “page one” sites that then refered to site bibliographies (aka “”) that featured more advertisements for tackle, lures, and just plain stuff and not information.  So, it got me to thinking about thinking like a fish, rather than a cyber surfer with a rod and reel gathering dust in the garage.

Fish aren’t that smart, but they are smart enough to know that to eat, they have to be where smaller fish are and when.  Right, little fish are eaten by less little fish, who in turn are eaten by slightly bigger fish, who then get consumed by larger fish, who eventually get chomped on by really big fish.  So, if I were a fish, I would want to look for lunch in a spot that didn’t require a lot of energy, had plenty of choices, and was pretty much out of sight of bigger fish that would make lunch out of me.  Little fish don’t have the strength that bigger fish like me have, so tides move them around as much as their fins do.  Now, do I chase from behind, or wait for lunch to come to me?  Whaddaya think?  I’m going to wait for lunch to come to me, meaning that I will be facing the ebb or the flow of the tide that bears the little fish.

With that in mind, where, then, do you suppose your most productive fishing would be? Up-tide or down-tide of your selected spot?

What’s next?  Well, birds got fly, fish gotta swim, and everybody has to eat, so, do your homework and search for bait.  Learn what the signs are and what habitat holds bait fish at what conditions.  Can’t find the bait, then you are not going to find the fish you are after.  As Einstein once said “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”  Practice does make perfect, but casting over and over again with no results is, frankly, an empty exercise.  Pro-tournament fisherman will look for other locations if nothing happens in the first few minutes or casts…unless, of course, you want to settle back at the end of a cane poll linked to a bobber and hook with a worm who knows how to wiggle (and the rest he is willing to learn) and (why not?) with a beer in your hand.  Can’t beat that, either… basics and how to fish isn’t rocket science, but it takes skill and practice.

Before I started crafting wooden fish carvings, nautical decor, and gifts for fishermen and women, I started out fishing, rather bouncing sinkers, in the bays and such around Sag Harbor for flounder, bottle fish (puffer), and weakfish (Yankee sea trout).  If the bucket, pole, and tackle box were by the kitchen door in the morning, Mom was telling me to come back with something in the bucket or it was pancakes and bacon for dinner.

As a younger man I crewed for what in the Hampton’s are referred to as “Carriage Trade”, i.e.:  older, landed rich folks.  We worked among right whales off of Montauk and Block Island Sound trolling for swordfish.  Imagine a 15 year old helming  a 45 foot sport fisher.

I fished for Black Marlin off of the Kona Coast with baits the size of turkeys.  The boat I was on was the original “Minnow” from Gilligan’s Island.  You don’t need to travel far to fish Black Marlins on the Kona Coast as the depth drops dramatically less than a quarter mile from shore.  The captain showed me “holes” in the transom where  the huge fighting fish, never giving up, actually “speared” the boat with their bills.  Tough animals.  .

My friends and I fished 13 Greater Jacksonville Annual Kingfish Tournaments in a row, until the shine wore off. .

With my friend we fished the Keys many times.  Once, when just the two of us were out, we hooked up to four nice Mahi almost at once….we took turns fighting them, one with his butt on the helm to keep us down wind and transom to the chop with a rod in each hand while the other fought like crazy to boat the fish number three; the fourth Mahi had to wait his turn at the end of a decent star drag.  A great fisherman’s moment.

I dragged live pogies, dead ballyhoo, and questionable squid for mackerel in the flat bottom and flagged “reefs” off of Jacksonville Beach and some of the same for Mahi, Wahoo, Sailfish, and Blue Marlin in the Gulf Stream from north of Jacksonville to south past an area known as “The Steeples”.

My two closest fishing buddies and I once caught and released a 450 pound (estimated) Blue Marlin in a nasty rain and lightning storm about 50 miles off shore of St. Augustine.  We laughed like hell the entire time…and took turns in the chair.

Sailing to the Abacos on “Fabulous”, my former 34 foot sloop, I hooked up with a snakey White Marlin early one morning as we broke through the east wall of the Gulf Stream.  After getting it to pose for a few kodaks, it was released.  We made Green Turtle Key later that day to crash a billfish tournament party for a bunch of big time game fisherman who hadn’t raised anything with a bill on it in two days.  Sharing the polaroids of the white and then telling the boys it was caught off of the back of a sail boat with a level wind boat rod trailing a $15 plastic red squid was a lot of fun.  They were good sports and treated me and my crew to a considerable number of adult beverages that night.

While cruising the islands, I did a fair share of spear fishing.  Grunts and trigger fish were easy, but grouper were the most fun, since they are about the smartest fish on the reef.  Easy going, but wary, they are the toughest s.o.b.’s around the coral as long as brother shark is somewhere else, and they know it.  Walk softly and have a big, big mouth.

Don’t you just love fishing and boating stories?  There is nothing more satisfying than messing around in boats.