By Jerry Audet
I think as we continue to write and talk about these “In Pursuit” series you’re going to hear a lot of similar themes and sub-themes. In fact, as Dave and I work on these and discuss them before and after posting, we often realize we’re even having pretty significant impacts on each other.
I have been thinking a lot about “commitment”- a theme that Dave has hit on several times in his posts. It can be called a lot of things- dedication, obsession, sticking it out, determination, being insane…whatever. And as a philosophy it’s the most important aspect of hunting, and being successful in, big fish. I do not feel there is a lot of room for debate with this. It’s pretty much fact.
However, there’s another aspect of commitment that I think is also very important. I think it’s probably slightly less so than mental commitment, and I’ll get to that, but still very important. This might be a little controversial of a post, but I think it needs to be said.
Physical commitment: I think it’s something we know, but sometimes don’t want to admit. I think it’s often something we don’t want to talk about. It’s uncomfortable, because it makes us look at our weaknesses. Our physical weaknesses.
I want to make this extremely clear up front- I am NOT trying to chastise or shame anyone. Everyone is free to be how and who they want, both as a person and as a fisherman/woman. This post is my opinion. It is one aspect of how I am successful in how I fish.
However, I will say I often get the same reaction to my discussion of this topic. It usually goes something like this:
“Wow, you fish really hard. How do you do it? I just can’t.”
To which I reply “I work really hard in the offseason. I run a lot, bike, ski, and do strength training. I have built up a base of fitness over almost two decades that allows me to “push through”. I eat healthy and try to keep my weight down. Sleep is always an issue, but when I’m not fishing, I take that seriously too.”
The response is almost always the same, averting their eyes they say something like “I just can’t do that. You’re lucky.”
Or, if they don’t say “lucky” they’ll say “young” or some version of that.
Trust me, there’s no luck in this...Ok, ok, that’s not exactly true, my parents are still both good athletes (although they came to it later in life in their mid-40’s), and my sister is an outstanding cross-fit and weightlifting athlete, so I do have good genetics. However, I was also a chunky kid (husky pants and all) and I have to be careful about my diet, regardless of how much I work out. I’m not “blessed”, I just work really damn hard. People who know me well, know that I spend a lot of time working hard to be fit.
I used to do all my exercise and training for other reasons besides fishing, of which I will not get into here- and not all were because I enjoyed exercise. In fact, I often still don’t feel like going out and running when it’s 20 degrees in January, and I really (really) don’t enjoy doing weights inside my house or at a gym. I hate working out inside. And you will never, ever find me on a treadmill. Or the “dreadmill” as I call it. But, I try very hard to stick to my exercise plan each day, week, and month during the “off season”. In my opinion, it’s got to be done.
Because it allows me to fish longer, harder, and more days in a row without breaking down physically. I can go further to access spots that would be out of reach, physically, since I am relatively fit. I can throw huge plugs for 5 or 6 nights in a row, for 6 straight months, without hurting my shoulders, back or elbows. And, while this may have mattered less when the fishery was good, I think it’s becoming more and more important in this current “lack of fish” climate. You have to go further, harder, and longer to get good fish. And with access seemingly drying up as well, we’re in a “double punch” scenario. You either chose to fish the same handful of spots everyone else can (which is a topic for another time) or you figure out creative ways to access quality areas. For me, this often results in parking further away and utilizing my legs.
In fact, my best nights from last year (and the year prior) have been from spots that take at least 40 minutes of biking or walking (or a combination) before I can even begin to fish. Being fit and not balking at an hours of “investment” before I even fish has allowed me to find “secret” spots and fish areas that are (I believe) either not fished or very under-fished. In fact, two of my spots I’ve been fishing for a long time now and have yet to see a single angler!
This makes them mine, and I genuinely feel it has helped with my productivity. I think, perhaps, I’m even into fish at one of the spots that are residents that perhaps don’t even see as many lures during the season and as such are more willing to make a mistake in taking mine. I admit this is a relatively shaky theory, and I wouldn’t want to debate it with Dave, but it’s interesting how well I will do from this spot while anglers in adjacent areas lament about how there’s no fish.
Being strong, and especially having good endurance, is critical to all of this. I think many hardcore anglers downplay how hard they work. I know “Crazy” Alberto has talked about this openly before, and written about it, as has DJ Muller, so I’m not the only one and this is not an original idea. However, I think it’s harder to be honest about, versus the mental commitment discussion, because you have to admit and work on your weaknesses. And even just admitting them can be tough!
Now, I know some of you are thinking “not worth it” or some version of “but I have a spot X that I catch good fish and I just get out of the car and be fishing in 3 minutes”. To address the first point, you’re not wrong! I am not saying you have to be fit and work out, I’m saying that it is a way I am successful in catching big fish. Also, if you don’t care about catching big fish but just want to catch numbers, many more options open up to you. And you don’t have to fish as much either, because there’s a higher likelihood of success with less trips and less hours of fishing each trip. To address the second point, If you live on the coast, have exclusive access somehow, enjoy fishing easy access places like the Cape Cod Canal or Montauk light house (aka crowds), or even breachways, etc. than you have options for “physically easy” fishing (still have to mentally work, just not as much physically). However, even in these cases, being able to spend hours on your feet, very late into the night, over many nights, can be physically taxing. And, again, casting huge plugs (or bait is even worse) on heavy gear is tiring.
Which leads me to why I’m putting this in “Fly 25”. I think fly fishing is even harder. It’s always amazing to me how much more sore I get from casting the relatively light-weight fly rod in comparison to the heavy 11-foot surf stick. The higher repetition of false casting, especially with a double haul, results in a term called “pattern overload” which does extreme amounts of muscle injury. Also, the phase of the double-haul is an eccentric (lengthening) movement, which does additional damage. All this jargon means it makes you fucking sore. And maybe it’s fine for one night. But what happens when you have a great night, and want to go again…but are so sore you can’t? To me, that is an unacceptable outcome, and I want to mitigate it as much as possible by being as strong as possible.
Actually, this is sort of the nexsus of my entire point, and also the admission of what is essentially a problem at times. I cannot resist, I cannot stop, and I cannot accept not fishing as much as possible. And to do this, I have to stay fit. I’m so obsessed, so addicted, I can’t stomach the thought of not being able to fish a good tide or bite because I’m “too tired”. Yes, this is not necessarily a great thing (especially if you’re married or have a high-stress job), but nevertheless, it’s part of the drive and commitment to catch more, and larger, fish.
However, you don’t have to be 10 percent body fat, be able to run a 6 minute mile, and bench 300 pounds. You don’t have to be able to score a 300 on the PT test (although, that’s not a bad idea!). In fact, trying to look like Brad Pitt from Fight Club is a total waste of time. I would suggest instead of doing crazy hours of exercise, an angler use that training time doing something fishing related- scouting, researching, and preparing for the season. In full disclosure, I do enjoy long distance running, but I don’t do that because of fishing (I do that because I like it). In fact, I think my running in the winter can hamper my preparation sometimes- too much of a good thing, as they say.
However, doing things like power walking for an hour, doing some pushups and chair dips, and some core exercise (planks are king!) can be huge in increasing your ability to fish really hard. Basically, I would recommend 3-5 hours of aerobic (e.g. biking, hard and fast walking, elliptical, hiking, XC skiing, etc.) and a 1-2 total hours of strength-training work a week. You’d be amazed how strong you can get by doing just 20 minutes of strength training a day, with just a handful of exercises. No need to even go to a gym, just fit it in when you can. If you’d like suggestions, email me and I am happy to give you some actual exercises or training plans. Anything, is better than nothing!
I know. It’s not exactly fun- even for me who has been doing it a long, long time and enjoys some aspects of it. And it’s yet another thing to fit into the day amongst all the other crap we have to do. But, if you think of it as investment in your season of fishing, it is easier to commit. I do, truly, believe it makes a difference in being prepared and able to hunt for larger fish. When you’re tired, you get sloppy. When you’re sloppy, you make mistakes. You lose focus. These things play directly back into what Dave was talking about in “Colemans law”. Every time you cast, you have to be ready for that hit. Because if you aren’t: you lose 9.9 times out of 10. And I just don’t like those odds. If your back is aching, or you’re falling asleep at the wheel (as they say), your ability to analyze even goes down- it’s not just about casting or being able to walk into a remote spot. In essence, it’s a snowball effect, that all piles up to decrease your chance at success.
Let me close with a very recent example, which is where the photo is from in this post.
I was fishing for Northern Pike a few weeks ago. I had been fishing for over four hours, casting relatively large lures from shore and had walked a couple miles wading in water up to my waist. I had nothing much to show for it- a handful of moderately sized pickerel and one baby bass. I was getting tired, hungry, and bored. I went all the way back to the car, about a mile which took a long time wading in the water. I didn’t want to leave, so I grabbed my fly rod and started to work the shore again hoping the change in tactic would reinvigorate me.
I went back to the car again after about 20 minutes. I was sssoooo done; I was over it. However, as I stood staring at the cove I was parked near, I saw a good number of bugs hatching and rising from the surface. There was actually a lot of surface action from small sunnies as they slurped down the emerging bugs as well. This, in combination with the waning day light and the extremely warm early spring weather, just screamed “big fish”. Everything just felt “right”. I instinctually felt it.
But, my God did I want to just leave!
Instead, I sucked it up, I drank some water and ate a Clif Bar and grabbed my spinning rod again. My arms were tired and my legs starting to get there too. But I went back out and started to cast a large jerk bait anyways.
Ten minutes in, and I had my largest bass of the year so far, as pictured.
Needless to say, I was pretty glad I had sucked it up. I stuck it out until full dark- almost 45 more minutes- and had a few more moderately sized pickerel and then called it a night.
As I drove home, this post came to me. The only way I was able to do this, to stick it out, was because of the “investment” I had made over the winter through my running and strength training. Those nights of running in the dark in 25 degree weather. Those afternoons sweating it out doing strength training in the basement, absolutely miserable. If I hadn’t, no doubt in my mind I would have got in the car and left- and not caught that fish.
And yes, we should be fishing “smart” and not just “hard”. But sometimes, you have to fish hard to fish smart. And to do that, you have to be fit.
By Dave Anderson
To follow up on Coleman’s Law, the next thing I wanted to talk about is what basically boils down to staying in practice. One of the reasons that I feel like I want to talk about this is that a couple weeks ago I caught myself, not staying in practice. I don’t mean that I wasn’t fishing enough (is there ever enough?) what I really mean is practicing the mindset of targeting big fish exclusively. I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t do both, you can’t fish for numbers while also targeting a trophy fish; everything about those two practices is completely different. This doesn’t mean you won’t catch a big fish here and there when fishing for bites, you will, but those catches are purely coincidental, a random result of time spent fishing. If your goal is catching bigger fish consistently, then you have to make a change and focus on actually targeting bigger fish.
The other day, I caught myself leaning off the wagon. It’s April now and there’s no chance of catching a big striper in local waters, this is when I shift my focus to the ponds. I do this because bass are bass, the motions and thought processes and the way I’m looking at the shoreline and structure and even how I’m presenting to these things is largely the same. Also, I don’t want to wait and go into the prime of the season feeling rusty. I want to be in the mode. I want to have a good feel for presentation and have my head in the right place as far my expectations go. And this is where I faltered a few weeks back.
I went out with the sole intentions of just catching some fish—sue me, what a terrible idea, right? In truth it’s not such a terrible thing, as long as you don’t do it too much. If you do it too much though you can—unconsciously—ratchet your expectations in the wrong direction. I went out there, threw some jerkbaits, caught a handful of fish, all around the 2-pound mark. It did feel good to bend the rod, but when I was thinking about it later that night—I found myself scheming a way to get back there to catch more fish. I was starting myself off on the wrong foot, I was fishing for bites. Using these methods (jerkbaits, jigs) is a way that I feel I can guarantee some fish, but I’m just hoping that a big fish will show up and take my offering, it’s hoping not targeting. And this ‘hoping’ business undermines the mindset. So the next time I went out I brought only swimbaits, and I’m not talking about Keitechs, I’m talking 2- to 5-ounce baits, 6- and 8-inch Huddlestons, 8-1/2 inch Glidebaits… these are not the biggest baits on the market, I’m not throwing a 13-inch Hinkle Trout, but these baits are big for New England and they are large enough that 90% of the fish they swim past will not attempt to eat them—only the bigger fish will feel that they’re able to take them down. This is targeting bigger fish—these baits mimic alewives and trout and large yellow perch, the stuff that these weighty prespawn females will expend the energy to eat. And I left myself no fallback plan, I couldn’t wimp out and throw a jerkbait because I wasn’t hooking up, I only had big baits in the bag.
Then I proceeded to fish for an hour without a single hit. But there’s an electricity that comes with targeting big fish. It’s a vibration that keeps me alert and focused, I feel excited with every crank of the reel. This is being invested in the method; this is the stuff that I live for. I know that I’m giving up dozens of fish but I feel excitement in my chest, and I know that when that hit comes, it’s going to be a good fish, and if I do it enough, I will connect with a great fish.
Then I came upon an area where there was a change in the shoreline; I had an instinct that a good fish would be there. I know the spot well, it’s deep with a steeper incline than the rest of the shore around it, it’s also a noticeable change in the continuity of the bank—it’s more of a bump-out than a point but it’s different enough to draw predators. I threw that Hudd out there and felt so connected to it because I had been practicing for an hour, observing the bait in the water—seeing its reactions to different movements with the reel and rod. A Huddleston is a lot like a needlefish or a darter in that it doesn’t give much input back, you can’t feel it working, you just have to trust that it is.
So I whipped that Huddleston out there and I let it settle right to the bottom and I starting working it in slow lifts, swimming it five or six feet at a time and letting it settle back down. As the bait neared where I believed the rise to be, I lifted my tip a little and guided the bait up the embankment and—BAM—I hooked up with a decent fish. It wasn’t the biggest fish of my life, it was a 4-pounder—but it was a quality fish and bigger than anything I took on my last trip and it made the whole trip worth it. By the end of the day I had only one other hookup—another solid fish—that came off. But I felt great about the results because I stuck to my plan and the plan worked, I had willingly gone in knowing that I might only get one chance and I caught one solid fish instead of a handful of buck bass.
My whole reasoning for doing this is that I know it will carry over into the surf when it’s time. If I was going for numbers all spring long, my brain would be subconsciously programmed to expect a certain level of action and when you’re programmed to expect something and you don’t achieve it, your concentration suffers, you begin to question your methods, you start to zone out and look for shooting stars… or whatever else you might do to when your focus is compromised. Then you’re no longer fishing, you’re just casting, going through the motions, you’re not ready, you’re not invested, and it’s all because you, unknowingly, taught your brain to expect more action. By staying with the tougher methods that target the bigger fish you have lowered your action threshold and raised your patience level—both really good things if you’re serious about trying to ‘go large’. You’ve given yourself to the method and accepted the fact that your numbers will go down significantly, while also knowing (believing) that the end result will be more big fish and just maybe THE FISH you’ve been hoping for all these years you’ve been fishing the surf. This is the foundation on which the big fish mentality is built and it doesn’t come easy, but it’s totally worth it.
By John P. Lee
Ice fishing is good for the soul. There is something about it. The starkness of winter, the long afternoon shadows, the sound of expanding ice cracking from cove to cove. I think it’s good for the mind to stand above the fish and drill holes and set tilts. It’s more trapping than fishing, more like setting lobster pots than casting plugs. This mindset is not for everyone, spreading out your tilts over a wide area, covering ground. But it is not passive, the drilling and moving, the thought about where the fish could be, takes energy. And then when the fish bites and the flag pops, there is that moment as you walk over to the hole and see the spool spinning and kneel before it, your fingers on the line, feeling, feeling, then setting with your wrists. The battle is fought with your hands. How old is that tradition? Then the fish’s head is at the hole and it comes through and flops onto the ice. The colors of the fish seem to bloom in defined contrast to the monochrome ice. The perch are vibrant, the bass, the trout. I also love how affordable it is, for all people, the opposite of trying to catch a grander marlin off the Great Barrier Reef or Kona. The fish are right there somewhere in the lake or pond, right there below our feet. Enjoy these photos. I took them early in the season this year, right when the black ice set up, ice so transparent you could see bottom. Clear and bitter cold, my blood felt both frozen and fully alive.
By Dave Anderson
The nights surrounding the August full moon are some of my favorites for largemouth fishing after dark. Unlike the surf, where darker nights seem to bring bigger fish and more consistent fishing, bright moon nights have been far more productive for me in the ponds. I am big on feel, I try to rely on instinct to tell me when and where to fish. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes my feelings are wrong. My belief is that we, as human beings, have undergone hundreds of years of un-training; we used to be much more instinctual creatures. Evidence surfaces when a random image of someone you haven’t seen in 10 years emerges from the back of your skull and the phone rings, guess who? Or when your kid gets into a bad spot and you are miraculously there to catch her as she falls. But one of the most common manifestations of our fading catalogue of natural instincts has to do with being watched. It’s almost mind-blowing how often we feel eyes on us and can then turn and immediately lock onto that set of offending eyes. Even the fact that we can lock eyes and feel that electric connection is something that I believe is left over from the instinctual creatures we once were. Try locking eyes with a deer and see what happens, as soon as that connection is made, she’s gone in a flash of brown and white. It’s an animal instinct, we can all feel it.
A few nights ago, I was on foot, stalking largemouths in a pond a few towns away from my house. Sunday nights are some of my favorites to fish in the surf because no one is fishing, but on this pond with a single road tracing the north bank, I came to realize that not only is no one fishing on a Sunday night, no one is doing ANYTHING on a Sunday night. Less than eight cars rolled by in the time I was there, during the daytime, that street would be alive with the perceived importance of daily life.
Wading softly through the calm water, the smell of stagnant silt and pond weed filled my nostrils and brought me back to my youth, growing up on a great bass pond in Westboro, Massachusetts. Fishing has that effect on me, when I’m in the mindset I feel as though I could be any age. I was fishing a large wakebait, one I made for myself, throwing an 8-1/2 inch bait in freshwater can be a lonely proposition—most of the bass in any given pond are only a few inches longer than the lure! The feeling of hunting something big makes it very engaging and enjoyable when the explosion comes.
But, for the first 45 minutes, I felt very much alone.
It had been a long day and I told myself I was only going to give it an hour, unless it was going off, clearly, it was not going off. Worst of all, I had hedged my bets by fishing the three best spots first, and they were dead. I walked back to where I started and looked back at my car. “Fifteen more minutes,” I said to myself and I walked past my entry point to a place where I had only caught three or four fish in all my times fishing there. It’s a shallow flat with a single and distinct rocky edge that drops down about 2 feet and then continues on as a long, gradually-sloping flat. The next 15 minutes would produce five fish—no big ones, but all nice ones in the 2 to 3-1/2 pound class. This was enough to get me to stay, at least until midnight.
There was a distinct pattern in the five fish that I caught on that flat, they were all relating to prominent changes in that edge, large rocks, bump-outs and small submerged points. And the pattern held for most of the night.
My last stop was a an area where a marshy river entered the pond, it’s a hard spot to cross, so I pretty much always end my nights there when I fish this pond. The incoming stream has carved out a wide cove, I can just barely reach the other side with a good cast. When I arrived on the small delta of debris the stream has pushed up over centuries, I could hear something rustling in the reeds across the cove. This was not something small like a raccoon, and it wasn’t a deer because I had made enough noise on the mussel shells and gravel that a deer would have been long gone. A carpet of clouds had filtered the moonlight, leaving me in a hazy shroud of almost darkness. I heard the rustling getting a little more intense, so I whistled to it, like a dog. It stopped.
I began casting and, within a few minutes, hooked up with what would be my last bass of the night, another solid fish, just over 3-1/2 pounds. After that, the fishing tapered off and the night seemed to reach a new level of quiet and dark. The rustling was back now, but moving along the opposite shore, slowly, like a child learning to tip-toe. It was moving in toward the stream. It took this animal 10 minutes to cover about 250 feet of shoreline—that’s pretty slow. Then I heard it quietly slipping through the reeds and then splashing—very softly—through the river, and then through the reeds on the other side.
In that moment my senses were firing like the processors on a supercomputer. I felt like I was seeing in 360 degrees as my ears aided my mind’s eye. This animal, which at this point I was pretty sure was actually two animals, was now right behind me. I am not the type to get spooked by wildlife, if I was fishing a stream in Wyoming, yeah, I’d have been reaching for the bear spray, but in Southern New England, I know where I sit on the food chain. But that didn’t stop my brain and body from reacting. I could feel the eyes on me and my body reacted with a chill on my back. Some people equate this to fear, but again, this is a warning sense, left over from the thousands of years ago when our ancestors hunted and fished out of necessity and these senses told them when danger was near. I’m sure you’ve seen a dog with its “hackles up” when it can sense danger or an intruder, that chill is the same thing.
I never saw my stalkers, but I heard them shadowing me for over 100 yards on the walk back to my parking spot. Coyotes have much sharper instincts than we do. Any time I’m with a friend that gets spooked by their howling, I remind them that we don’t smell like food to them, we smell like deodorant, and shampoo and danger. But they are curious and bold in the dark and they will stalk you; they step when you step – they stop when you stop. It’s eerie, but also fascinating—instinct is amazing, a sense taken for granted and ignored. When you feel the silent nudge of eyes on your back, or the wary zing of a chill up your spine, don’t shake it off, listen. These instincts are the last vestiges of your sixth sense, exercise them, keep them sharp and virile; be glad that your survivor instincts are still awake and functioning inside you, because this world and the lives we live are doing everything they can to take them away.