By Jerry Audet
One of the things I find most rewarding about fishing is it's constantly challenging me. What is one of the largest challenges faced by fisherman? Everything is continuously changing: hourly, daily, yearly; whatever metric you want to use, it's in constant flux. It’s a great feeling when you find, nail down, and then leverage a pattern several years in a row- but even those are not certain. Even a series of conditions that you’re “absolutely sure of” can leave you skunked and dejected, laying in bed staring at the ceiling thinking: I know nothing. Fishing isn’t a video game- if you input down-down-back-back-up on a controller, fish aren’t just going to hit your lure. No matter how well you know a body of water, or a lure, or a fish species, there are constantly surprises.
That’s what makes it so intoxicating for me. That’s what sends me off into day dreams while I’m supposed to writing- I’m perpetually trying to get just a little bit closer to “knowing” what’s going to happen the next time I cast lure X into spot Y for species Z.
I never will know of course. Ever. And that is really special. My ignorance, my inability to compute the answer, is what feeds the beast. It’s what gives you the big fish shakes when, after 5 years of trying, you finally land that 6lb largemouth bass. Yeah sure, the fight is fun too, but- at least for me- it pales in comparison. Never quite knowing what's going to happen is something that is really special about fishing.
Along the same lines, in most bodies of waters you don't actually know what you're species you're going to catch. Sure, it's probably going to be a striped bass if you're in Rhode Island fishing at 2am under Beavertail light...but what if it's a shark? Or a tuna? I bet you're more likely to win the powerball than that; but just like the lottery, if you're in the game it is possible, however remote. Not a perfect analogy, but I think it makes my point.
I really like fishing in the freshwater of places like down east Maine because you never know what you’re going to catch. Could be a bass- of either species- could be a pike, could be a trout, could be catfish- etcetera. It’s what’s appealing about offshore saltwater fishing too, or wading the flats of Florida. Cast your lure, your bait, your fly out there, and when the hit comes, there’s always a moment of “what is it?” And as likely as it may be that it’s a stocked rainbow, it could also be one of the last Atlantic Salmon.
I stumbled upon a photo last week that I took about 5 years ago of a massive black crappie I had caught on my 4wt fly rod and a green frog popper. It’s at the start of this post. I was putting it up on Instagram as a “throw back Thursday” simply because I like it (follow us, if you’re not! @outflowfishing), and while I was making the caption, this post came to me.
Yeah, sometimes crappie aren’t the most fun fish to catch. If the water is warm, they tend to just roll up on the surface. But where I grew up, we didn’t have these massive-mouth-monstrous panfish. So to me, they are still exotic; even after catching them now for fifteen years. I still get that twang of excitement when I see one come to the surface next to my kayak, or as I lift it out of the water as I wade through lily pads. And they’re a wild card; they represent perfectly what I’m talking about in this post. I don’t target them, I catch them while casting a lure designed for bass usually. Yet, I catch them anyways. I am not in control of the situation- I may want to catch the 5lb small mouth, but I’m not all knowing enough to be able to guarantee when I cast the popper I won’t catch the crappie. Or the shiner. Or the pickerel.
And I, or we, as fisherman, never will be. But that’s what makes fishing great. No matter how “dialed in” we get, it’s still partly random; a little bit, or a lot, a mystery. I will never, ever have it figured out and so must continually work hard to get better. And, even more importantly, I will constantly be surprised. That surprise is what makes me feel like a little kid still when something crushes my plug, my fly, my bait. It is that moment that feeds my addiction.
By Jerry Audet
I really like to get outside on a daily basis. I think a lot of outdoorsmen and women would define it more as a “need”. I shy away from this language because, if for some reason I can’t get out, I don’t like feeling like I’m doing something wrong, or harming myself in some way. But regardless, I try and do something outside every day. I run, I fish, I ski, I walk, I take photos. I try to do something “significant”. For me, this is usually defined, arbitrarily, by being out moving in the woods, or on the shore, for at least an hour. If I do this, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. No matter how many things I’ve written, or read, or how many meetings I’ve had, or all the things I’ve fixed at work, nothing makes me feel like my day is complete like going outside and “doing something” for an hour or two.
But, it gets hard sometimes in the winter. I feel the “need”, but also feel all the factors working against me. Luckily, being from northern VT, temperature isn’t usually an issue. I’ve run when it’s been -10 outside, and think nothing of going for a walk when it’s +10. But fishing is complicated by water. Wet and cold is something that presents a whole number of other problems compared to cold alone.
One annoying problem that plagued me for years was frozen guides. No matter what kind of fishing you do- fly, spinning, conventional- it can be a problem. But as a fly fisherman, it’s especially obnoxious. I will admit, that since I didn’t fish so much during the winter until more recently, I just tried to deal with it. I’d fish until they iced- sometime in just a couple minutes- then just stop and break it out. I never looked up solutions. I knew you could buy some products to help, but it seemed like a waste of money for how little I need it.
This year, I stumbled upon an ingenious solution. Cooking spray.
Yep, like the Pam cooking spray you use making pancakes on the skillet.
I was skeptical, and decided I wanted to try it out on an especially terrible day. I had a chance to do that recently. While it’s actually been pretty mild since we got over that terrible hump in November, my brother in law and I recently went out when it was only 15 degrees, and the wind was honking. We poked around a local pond looking for a staging pickerel or- very optimistically- a bass. When I found a good looking little cove, we put down our stuff, and I began to work the edges of a steep drop off. Within only a couple casts, my eyes were completely blocked with ice.
So, I broke out the spray. Trader Joe’s, because that’s we had at the house. I didn’t really think about the bottle not spraying in the cold…which is what happened. It just dribbled out instead. So I dribbled some onto the guides of my little ultralight setup, and just for good measure, a little onto the line that was on the spool as well. Why not?
I began to cast again, noting that the spray on the 6lb braid in no way affected the performance. And the best part? After 10 minutes, I still had no ice! It worked great!
I only had one more little episode of ice the rest of the 30 minutes we spent casting, which was remedied with another spraying. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single hit, and my hands were freezing (I hate fishing in gloves) so we decided to hike it back to the car.
Still, I felt the trip was a resounding success.
In winter, we have a lot of excuses to not get out. We have fewer hours of day light, and still the same daily requirements. Motivation wanes, as angling opportunities become far more “miss” and far fewer “hit”. We don’t need any more excuses. Eliminating as many extraneous complications as possible is essential. I hope this tip I’m sharing with you now is exactly that- one more extraneous complication eliminated. Or, one less excuse.
And I’ll throw out one more, potentially much more important, thought. This short post is a great example of a bigger lesson: there is always a way. If you want to fish, you should. Don’t let things like frozen guides stop you. Find the excuses, and eliminate them. If you don’t want to go, you shouldn’t. But if you do, you shouldn’t let logistics stop you either.
By Dave Anderson
There is no time of year that I think about plug colors more, than the winter. During the fishing season, I don’t trouble myself with such trivial issues. But the cold of winter and the pain of the long dark nights and the fact that I’m passing my time building plugs—forces me to leave the comfort of my usual philosophies on color. I’ll start thinking about the big rock on the corner of the cove where I know there must be piles of juvenile blackfish and then I’ll find myself mixing eight different shades of blech to match a tiny tog. Then my mind will wander again to this one spot where I have now landed five nice sea bass from the rocks at night, the next thing I know I’m driving to JoAnne Fabric trying to find the perfect bolt of thule to match their scale pattern.
Then I’ll have the ‘what the hell is wrong with me?!’ epiphany again and that will change exactly nothing about what goes on in the echoey halls of my fish-clouded brain. I know I am not alone in this twisted game of tug o’ war. And I’m quite certain that my level of color mania is mild compared to many of the plug lovers out there. I have said, countless times, that if a striped bass looked closely enough to detect scale patterns, holographic eyes, hand-carved fins or the 93 shades of pink you used to create your squid pattern, they’d see the obvious things that you just can’t hide—like the hooks or the lip or your leader or the hook rash or the lifeless eyes or the fact that it actually swims nothing like a real fish.
The most important part of plugging is not that your piece of wood looks like a real fish, it’s getting the plug close enough to the fish that they will take a shot at it. This may sound more than just a little presumptuous, but you have to consider the fleeting nature of just about any potential meal that passes within striking distance of a striped bass on the feed. It’s one living creature versus another—fear and speed versus instinct and ambush. A striped bass—feeding in an ambush situation—simply doesn’t have time to check to make sure the color is right before she strikes. In her many years of life experience she has missed more than a few meals because she didn’t react in time. If you ask me, this is the root of the reason that fishing with lures works at all—honestly, it really shouldn’t work! The fish have to react on first sight or risk missing out entirely. And this hold true for any predatory gamefish that uses ambushes to feed.
And now we come back to the variable of color and how much it really means. If I believe my theories to be correct than there really isn’t any reason to paint plugs at all or it shouldn’t matter what color they are painted. I’ll be honest with you, fishing on a new moon night with a moving tide, swinging a darter or dipping deep with a loaded needlefish, I don’t think the color means all that much… to the fish. But there is a deep psychological aspect to fishing with color. For instance, I would feel a lot more confident fishing an unpainted plug than I would fishing the same plug painted mauve over tan—because I personally find the bare wood plug to be more pleasing to the eye. It matters more that I LIKE it than whether or not it looks like a fish. So, in that way, the fact that a color works or doesn’t work is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fish the colors we like more often and we keep them on the line longer because we—ourselves—like them better than the other choices available. This may also shed some light on the reasons why you can ask 10 different expert striper fishermen and get 10 different answers regarding their go-to colors for different situations.
As I wrote in the intro to this linear thought on color, I like to keep my colors very simple. It’s basically four food groups—light, dark, bright and simple natural. In the light category I would fish—with equal confidence—white, yellow, bone, cloud, old school herring, wonderbread, white/pink stripe… etc. In the dark category I would fish black, blurple, dark gray, black/silver scale, root beer, wine, midnight massacre, etc, interchangeably. In the bright category I’m a little more focused—I basically mean anything with a lot of chartreuse or fluorescent green—parrot, Block Island green, solid chartreuse… etc. In the natural category it’s about having that dark back and silver flanks; so literally any dark color (black, blue, gray, brown, olive, green) over silver. I tend to fish my light colors in daylight, the dark and bright colors at night and the natural tones in fading light situations like heavy cloud cover or twilight. Why do I use these colors? Because they work in those situations… or, they have worked enough that I have built up years of confidence in them.
Does all this matter? You’re going to have to decide for yourself, I won’t judge.