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Why We Fish

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Entries in books (220)

Friday
Mar312017

You Just Never Know . . . 

While fishing for bass with a swim jig on Lake Kinkaid, Ryan Povoloish just caught this Illinois state record for crappie. It weighed 4 pounds, 8.8 ounces, surpassing the old mark of 4.5 set in 1976 on Rend Lake.

Back in 1992, Barry St. Clair caught this state record largemouth bass on Lake Fork while fishing for crappie with a shiner. It weighed 18.18 pounds. It's officially the only Texas bass to top 18 pounds.

When you go fishing, you just never know what you'll catch. That's one of the many reasons we go fishing. It's also one of the many reasons that I wrote Why We Fish. Here's an excerpt:

"Sadly, the snook weren’t biting. But a tarpon was. It ate my jig, nearly yanked the rod out of my hand, and then rocketed toward deep water. All I could do was hold on. I knew that I couldn’t stop the fish, no matter how skillfully I played it. I waded out into the water as far as I dared, knowing as I did so that it was a pointless gesture.

"But then the miraculous occurred, just as I looked down at my reel to see all of the line gone except for the knot."

Friday
Feb242017

Blame It on a Hula Popper . . . 

Its rubber skirt long ago dried up and crumbled into dust, but the old yellow Hula Popper remains one of my most prized possessions.

I haven’t fished with it in 40 years, and, as best I can remember, I caught only one bass with it.

But that one fish . . . well, it set the course that I have followed as a lifelong angler, including to my friendship with Sam Griffin, a lure designer and one of the world’s best topwater fishermen. That’s why I so love that Hula Popper.

Yet, I didn’t make the connection between that lure and my addiction to topwater fishing until I wrote an essay in my  book, Why We Fish.

As I started to write “The Proof Is in the Popper,” my intent was to point out that pleasant memories of previous trips are some of the main reasons that we fish. But then the essay took on a life of its own as I visualized that fall day on Turner’s pond so many years ago.

The water was flat calm, and I knew next to nothing about fishing a topwater. Since the bait was a “popper,” I popped it. In fact, I popped it as hard as I possibly could, sending ripples all across that pond.As the pond returned to glasslike following my second pop, water under the lure exploded, and I suddenly was tied fast to the biggest bass that I had ever hooked.

Of course, it wasn’t large enough to pull drag on my Johnson Century spincast reel. But at 3 pounds, it was a trophy in my eyes as I dragged it up on the bank. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the sight of that fish, and, after I put the fish on my rope stringer, I remember looking down to see my hands still shaking.

In the decades since, I’ve caught thousands of bass larger than the one that I caught that fall day, including more than a dozen that weighed 10 pounds or more. And I have caught some of those lunkers on Sam’s wooden surface baits, mostly the Offset Sam.

But I’ve never caught one that excited me more than that 3-pounder did. And as I wrote about that, I suddenly realized, hey, that’s why I like topwater so much!

How can a 3-pounder that I caught on top as a child mean more to me than 10-pounders that I’ve caught as an adult?

If you’ve ever returned to the elementary school that you went to as a child, you know that the halls, the rooms, the desks, everything looks smaller to you as an adult that it was in your memories. Well, it’s the same thing.

I have no doubt that if a 3-pound bass were to blow up on that Hula Popper today in exactly the same way as that one from my childhood, the explosion would pale in comparison to what I remember.

But just as school is larger in our memories than in the reality of adulthood, so too is that strike.

That’s why I’d rather throw a topwater than anything else.  I remember how that blowup excited me, and I want more, in much the same way that an addict needs his fix.

And that’s why I’m so blessed to have Sam as a friend. It’s as if some higher power led the student to his teacher. For years, Sam made baits for Luhr Jensen, including the Jerk’n Sam. Now he makes his own line, including the Offset Sam, a slush bait, and the Lil’ Richard, a finesse lure that has been his biggest seller.

“Keep throwing a topwater and eventually you will get bit,” says the man who has been designing and making topwater lures for more than 30 years and who has been living on and fishing Lake Okeechobee for most of his 70-plus years.  While guiding and “field testing” his lures, he has logged more time on the water than most any professional bass fisherman.

“My big things are to be confident and have patience. I’ll fish behind people throwing worms and crankbaits and catch fish they bypass. I like to fish that topwater slower and let ‘em read the menu.”

Sam’s Secrets

 Here are some of the strategies that Sam has shared with me during our time on the water together:

  • On topwaters, most fish are caught on the front hook. That means it is important to have a bigger, stronger hook there.
  • Dress up the back hook. Sam has learned that he gets 25 percent more bites when he puts pearlescent Mylar tinsel on the back hook. It’s especially productive when the bait is still.
  • The same topwater bait will work anywhere. “It’s a matter of confidence,” says Sam. “That’s why there are regional favorites.”
  • Slow down. “Most of the time, people fish a topwater too fast,” the lure designer says. “They’re just pulling and pulling. I’d say that 85 percent of the time, the bite comes when the bait is still or coming to a stop.”

With most topwaters, Sam will jerk the bait twice, creating slack in the line and allowing the bait to sit. Then he will swing the rod tip toward the bait, taking in line, and repeat the sequence. With a popper, he might jerk just once.

“Pay attention and fish will let you know what they want,” he says. “If you are fishing too fast, they will follow but not hit.”

  • “Early and late is a myth,” says Sam. “Those are not the only times to throw a topwater. People used to fish two or three hours before work and then come home and fish two or three hours. That’s the way that got started. I’ve found that 10 to 2 is the most productive time for big fish.”
  • Color is more important to the fisherman than it is the fish.

“When I develop a lure, I seal it so it won’t take on water, but I don’t paint it,” Sam explains. “Then I fish with it. I’ve probably caught more fish on those baits than with painted baits. I’ve sold a few like that too, but mostly they’re too bland for fishermen.

“I offer 26 colors, but black and white is what I use the most. It’s what I grew up with and what I have confidence in.”

  • Topwaters aren’t just for warm water.

“You can catch bass consistently on top in water that is 50 degrees or above,” the Florida native says. “Usually in colder water, you want to fish extremely fast or extremely slow, not in between.”

The popper is a good choice for colder water, he adds, because you can keep it in one place longer and because its tail sits down in the water, making it easier for the bass to take.

  • Topwaters aren’t just for calm water either.

“Take what the weather gives you,” says Sam. “In rough weather, you can throw in the ‘wind rows’ in grass. And you can throw in troughs between waves. Most of the time, you’ll want a faster retrieve in rough water, to take the slack out of your line.”

  • Not every topwater bite is explosive. In general, louder and larger baits will draw more aggressive bites. Smaller, more subtle baits will get the “suckers.”

“In cold weather and in calm water, when you’re using a small bait, it’s really important to watch your line, just like you would with other baits,” Sam says. “That’s because you’re more likely to get a sucking bite.

“With a soft, suck bite on the back of the bait, don’t set the hook hard,” he cautions. “Instead, lift up and reel. Otherwise you’ll pull the hook out. When you do get a fish this way, it’s usually hooked on the edge of the mouth or even the outside.”

If you want to incorporate some of Sam’s lures with his strategies, your best chance of finding them are in the bait shops around Lake Okeechobee. A few are listed from time to time on eBay and possibly you might find some at other websites as well.

Just as with that yellow Hula Popper, I’m not about to part with any of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Feb092017

Battling the Big Ones

With the fish so well hooked, Dance understandably thought that he was about to land the biggest smallmouth bass of his young life, possibly even a world’s record. Based on mounts that he had seen at a taxidermist, he was certain that this bass weighed more than 10 pounds.

Excerpt from "The Big Picture," about Bill Dance and other notable anglers who tangled with trophy fish in Why We Fish: Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.


Monday
Jan162017

Fishing's Fascinating History Documented in Book by Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson

If you like to fish and you enjoy reading about history, then The American Fisherman: How Our Nation's Anglers Founded, Fed, Financed, and Forever Shaped the U.S.A. is just the book for you. Written by Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson and historian William Doyle and illustrated with 75 photos, it traces the significant, and often surprising, role that angling has played.

For example,  in "The Fisherman Who Created America," find out how fish, saved Washington's Continental Army at Valley Forge from starvation, although actual events might not be as dramatic a "fish story" as originally believed. The "Greatest Fishing Trip of All," meanwhile, was Lewis and Clark's trip up the Missouri River, in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase. An Army private from Massachusetts, Silas Goodrich, even was brought along as an angling expert.

"We don't know where he picked up these skills," Robertson and Doyle wrote, "but as soon as they hit the water, he was reeling in fish all over the place," including "the men's favorite, catfish, some as huge as 100 pounds."

In this book, you also can learn about "the fish that won the last battle of the Civil War," the whaling era, and the golden age of sportfishing. The latter possibly is the most fascinating, as it traces development of the sport, both salt and freshwater, from Ernest Hemingway to Kevin VanDam.

Female anglers are recognized too, as are U.S. Presidents who fished. A final chapter documents the remarkable healing power of fishing.

Appendixes provide interesting reading as well, including an article by former President George H.W. Bush and another entitled "Great Moments  in American Fishing."

Why We Fish and Better Bass Fishing, a couple of my books, provide nice complements to this historical perspective on fishing.

Friday
Dec232016

It's a Wonderful (Angler's) Life' 

I had been certain the smallmouth bass would cooperate following the afternoon rain, but they didn't.

After I lost my favorite streamer to a snag, I slapped my fly rod disgustedly against a branch. Droplets danced in a sparkling chorus line, but I barely noticed. Fishing had been poor for weeks and I was mad at myself for continuing to waste time on such a worthless sport.

Suddenly I heard an elephant-sized splash. I raced downstream and around the bend to the site of the sound.

An old man with unruly white hair bobbed along as the current filled his waders. "I slipped," he yelled through an equally white beard. "Can you give me a hand?"

I dragged him ashore and helped him pull off his boots. As he emptied his waders, two bluegills plopped out and tumbled back into the stream. "Been one of those days," he said as his river-green eyes appraised his dripping khakis and red flannel shirt.

For a second, I thought that I detected a brief smile on the old man's tanned face. Then, he squished over to a stump and sat down.

"Why do we fish?" he asked abruptly, and I had the disturbing sensation that he had just read my mind. "Most times, we don't catch fish. We get wet and cold. Bugs bite us. We spend a small fortune on tackle. I mean, what's the point?"

I said nothing, but I enthusiastically agreed. I remembered a reckless sidearm cast and a hook that stabbed my lower eyelid. The wound itself was superficial, but the visit to the hospital was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, especially because a worm was on the hook when it stuck me. I also remembered poison ivy and bee stings. I remembered broken lines. I remembered sunburns.

"What I'm trying to decide right now," the old man continued, "is whether to throw my rod and reel in the river or give it to my grandson. He would love to have it. but he's too young to know any better. I don't want it on my conscience that I influenced him to become a fisherman."

Again, I was taken aback. I remembered when I had been too young to know better. And I remembered the old man, a neighbor, who had influenced me to become a fisherman.

I remembered sleepless nights of expectancy. I remembered shivering in the boat so violently during the pre-dawn that I barely could bait my hook. I remembered how sharp and good the coffee smelled in the thermos and how the air on the water smelled of sweet cucumbers. I remembered the sun finally warming my face, burning off the mist, and making me inexplicably happy.

And I remembered how fishing continued to make me happy as I grew up. At first, I now recalled, I had thought it important to catch a lot of fish. Then I had wanted to catch big fish. And I had caught my share in both numbers and size.

But I knew for a fact that I had caught little or nothing on many of my fishing trips, and yet I couldn't remember a single time that I had come home from fishing unhappy.

Yet, I had been unhappy when I heard that splash, and if the old man hadn't started me to thinking . . .

What is needed, I decided is a guardian angel of angling. He could, of course, meander down idyllic trout streams to make certain that hatching insects look like the flies carried by fishermen who are about to come along, and he could whisper on the wind to bass anglers, telling them when to use chartreuse and when to use white.

But more importantly, he could keep us from forgetting that fishing is a lot more than just catching fish. He could remind us that fishing restores our souls through sights, sounds, and smells --- and the memories that it revives.

This is a rebirth for me, I decided. Never again will I fail to appreciate the sun's magic on raindrops. Never again will I forget the pure pleasure I derive from being on the water with ducks, dragonflies, bullfrogs, beavers, and all of the rest --- even if the fish aren't biting and I've lost my favorite streamer.

My eyes met the old man's then and I jerked back to reality. I smiled and told him that I once filled my chest waders with a farm pond while reaching for a moss-wrapped fish that was just out of grasp. "It's all part of fishing," I said with a shrug."

"If I were you," I continued, "I wouldn't give that rod and reel to your grandson. I'd buy him a new one and take him fishing with you the next time."

He laughed and slapped a hand against his stream-soaked pant leg.

"You're right," he said. "But before I go, I want to show you my appreciation for your help. I want you to have this."

He reached into his tackle bag and then extended his hand to me. As I opened my hand, he dropped a streamer into it --- a streamer just like the one I had lost.

"We all need a little help every now and then," he said as he waved goodbye.

(This story is included in Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature.)

Copyright Robert Montgomery.