How do I become a better angler?”
I get asked that question quite a bit, and the short answer is that you have to go where the fish are. Is it simplistic? Absolutely. But it’s also an unfortunate truth, especially for those of us who don’t have front-door access to a world-class fishery.
A professional captain friend of mine uses the analogy of hitting golf balls down at the driving range. If you want to be a good golfer, you need practice — lots of it — but if you only have the opportunity to hit six balls a year at the range, even if you smack the last one perfectly straight and long, it’s going to be another 12 long months before you can hit six more. On the other hand, if you spend a week with a PGA instructor working on your swing, and hit a couple hundred balls every day on the range, you’re going to be about a thousand times better the next time you play a round of golf. The game becomes a lot more enjoyable as well.
Fishing is the same thing. Once you develop the muscle memory from going through the motions a few times, it comes as second nature: When you see a fish or hear the captain call one from the bridge, you already have the correct rod in your hands, thumb on the reel in free-spool and eyes locked on the bait before you even have time to think about it. You might still whiff the bite, but at least you’re ready for it, and that’s more than half the battle toward becoming a better angler.
The same goes for heavy-tackle fishing in the chair. Some folks just can’t seem to get in that smooth pump-and-wind rhythm that allows you to whip a big marlin or tuna, while others can catch a bigger fish in half the time. It’s technique, and it’s practice.
Learning to hook your own fish is the first step. We have a general rule aboard the boats I fish on that if you hook a fish, it’s yours to reel in. That goes double for the mates. On our trip to Tropic Star Lodge this past summer, we explained this to our mate on the first day, but sure enough, we got into a hot tuna bite casting topwater poppers, and he hooked a fat one on a spinning rod. We all gave him the palms-out, it’s-your-fish expression — you could see the wheels turning in his head as he thought, Great. Now
I have to reel in this damn tuna. But he didn’t hook another fish the rest of the trip. Win, lose or draw, it was up to us to make it happen as the anglers.
Professional mates are those PGA-level instructors in our sport. They spend their days expertly rigging baits and lures, plus hooking, leadering, gaffing and releasing all kinds of game fish, and most are great at teaching those skills to their anglers. They want you to become better. Ask for a few pointers on the ride out, and have them show you their preferred techniques for dropping back and hooking up. A good mate can teach you more in an hour than you can learn in weeks of fishing on your own.
If you own a boat, spend some time on the bridge with the captain and talk about what local conditions tend to produce good fishing, or how he uses radar to find birds. That kind of high-level instruction is literally priceless.
No one is born a great fisherman — even those Hall of Fame anglers had to start from scratch. The more time you can spend on the water fishing where they live, the better you will become and the faster you will get there.
Sam White Editor-in-Chief