Creating new anglers isn’t all trophy photos and glory
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.