Reel Talk

Cre­at­ing new anglers isn’t all tro­phy photos and glory

Outdoor Life - - ROOKIE SEASON - By Joe Cermele

I’ve caught a lot of fish in a lot of places. None were more spe­cial than my daugh­ter’s first bluegill, and it keeps get­ting bet­ter. See­ing her ex­cite­ment every time that bob­ber dips and watch­ing her marvel at the col­ors of each tiny pan­fish calms me like a stiff drink.

Con­versely, tak­ing an in­ex­pe­ri­enced adult fish­ing con­jures the same pit-of-the-stom­ach fears as a pub­lic speak­ing class. I would like to say that I’ve turned count­less rook­ies into diehards in all my years on the wa­ter (maybe I have flipped a switch or two through my writ­ing), but one-on-one, I’ve not flipped any. This is partly be­cause I sur­round my­self with anglers. Most of my clos­est friends fish hard. My list of non-fishy friends is short, and no one on it has ever asked to go.

I’m not go­ing to beg. I think it’s im­por­tant that new­bies want to go fish­ing with­out be­ing pushed by a vet­eran an­gler.

Take my younger cousin, Nick, for ex­am­ple. He put up a 35-pound striper on his first (and last) time on my boat. He got the photo. He was thrilled. But that was it. There was no fire to go fish­ing again.

Con­vert­ing new adult anglers isn’t as easy as tak­ing them to a bluegill pond. In our “I want it now” so­ci­ety, not many peo­ple are in­ter­ested in start­ing from scratch. Their in­ter­est in fish­ing is based on your ex­pe­ri­ence, which means they want to catch the same stripers, big bass, muskies, and trout that you’re post­ing on In­sta­gram. The goal is to get them to come back again and again. If a new­bie gets the im­pres­sion that it could take many trips of bluegills and ba­sics just to build up to the fish they re­ally crave, they prob­a­bly won’t come back at all.

So in­stead, you throw them right into the fire on the first out­ing. Skip chas­ing the schoolies in the bay or nymph­ing lit­tle rain­bows, and go for the 40-pound striper or gi­ant brown trout they dream about.

You, of course, are well­versed in what it takes to achieve those In­sta­gram­wor­thy fish. You’ve suf­fered through skunks and bad weather, and you’ve spent years learning the right spots. So, let them see what it re­ally takes. If they em­brace the ef­fort and skill that go into the pur­suit, then they’ve got a real chance to make it as an an­gler. If they seem bored while strip­ping big stream­ers to just move two or three high-cal­iber trout, or they get cranky slog­ging 15 miles in a chop to reach heav­ier stripers, well, there’s a strong pos­si­bil­ity that they’re not cut out for se­ri­ous fish­ing.

Rook­ies will al­ways tell you they un­der­stand there’s no guar­an­tee of catch­ing fish. That’s a lie. They’ve been dream­ing of their tro­phy fish photo since the day the big trip was planned, which is why I get so tightly wound when I’m tak­ing some­one new.

They coast on vi­sions of glory un­til go time; mean­while, I’m mired in worry about the weather, the wind, and the bite. I’m ob­sess­ing over plans A through F. So I try to avoid set­ting a firm date. I al­ways tell a new per­son to keep a week or week­end open, and we’ll pick the day when it gets closer. Some­times that works; other times life, fam­ily, or work sim­ply won’t al­low it and you end up play­ing the hand you’re dealt.

The philoso­pher-out­doors­man would say it’s not about the catch, it’s about the ex­pe­ri­ence—just be­ing on the wa­ter. I don’t dis­agree, but I be­lieve that men­tal­ity only takes hold over time. Catch­ing on the first trip is crit­i­cal. Sorry, but it’s true. If you give the right rookie some­thing to cling to dur­ing that first ex­pe­ri­ence that gets him pumped to go out again, he’ll learn to ap­pre­ci­ate just be­ing there on the tough days. He’ll re­mem­ber how good it can be, and he’ll want to recre­ate that high.

Deep down, I think we all want to be men­tors. Part of the rea­son I got into out­door writ­ing is be­cause I love teach­ing peo­ple to fish and shar­ing the knowl­edge I’ve gleaned from hun­dreds of other ex­pert anglers. The irony is that I’m shar­ing that knowl­edge with peo­ple who al­ready fish.

Time on the wa­ter is pre­cious, my own in­cluded. So, I’m ready and will­ing to help the right per­son build the same level of pas­sion that I have for fish­ing, but I’ll only do so if I feel their in­ter­est is gen­uine.

Un­til I find them, or they find me, I’ll be at the bluegill pond with my kids, an­tic­i­pat­ing that day when they’re ready to head off­shore or to tro­phy-trout wa­ter.

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