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

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