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 Dave Anderson
Here's the first video installment of my "Pursuing 50" blog marathon. And the inspiration for this video came from an article written by legendary surfcaster Tim Coleman more than 10 years ago. These days everyone wants to get the next big secret and too many don't want to be bothered with the details, the minutia... if you want to be successful as a big fish hunter, no matter what the species, the details should be where you live--100% of your time.
It was late-May, 2011 and I was fishing in the now defunct Red Top Striper Derby. It was after midnight on a Friday and my fishing partner and I had the whole place to ourselves. We split up for a while and when I came back to find my fishing partner, Dave Daluz, he informed that he was into fish pretty good on my needlefish, the Flat-Glide. I took the rock closest to him and we began hammering in fish into the upper-20s. Then the batteries in my light died and I didn't have a second light or any way to get more batteries. What could I do? I had to keep fishing without a light.
After about five fish, I ran my fingers down my leader and felt considerable damage to the lower 10 inches of the leader. Without a light, tying on a new leader would be pretty tough, I thought, so I clipped off the damaged portion of the leader and re-tied the snap, blind. I changed plugs and went to a Glidebait I was prototyping at the time, and on my first cast I felt a titanic hit--the kind of hit where you can tell the fish has completely inhaled the plug, I knew the fish was big.
She headed off into the tide and a short battle ensued... we were still in the 'give' phase of 'give and take' and the line went limp. I reeled up and felt my biggest fear--a pigtail--at the end of my line. My knot had failed me when it counted most. I'll never know how big that fish was, but I will ALWAYS know that I controlled my own destiny in that moment and I failed to pay attention to the details. Check out the above video to start getting yourself into the big fish mindset now, before the big ones show up.
By Dave Anderson
In its own way, this project is a dangerous one. It’s dangerous because I have made this sound like it’s a goal—but it’s not. This undertaking is a 50-50 split—it’s half for your entertainment and half to get my ass in gear. The project is about the pursuit and not about the result. I chose to make it about breaking 50 because that’s a romantic number in striper fishing. I have caught one 50, but I’ve never caught a 49—it’s kind of funny that if I do that in 2019, I’ll add a notch to my belt and some will still perceive this project as a failure.
My strengths as a fisherman are in my understanding of the water and how fish use the water to their advantage. I also—seem to—have a good grasp on how and what the larger specimens of the bass species hunt and how they gauge danger and risk and reward. I am not the best big fish surfcaster on the planet—I am far from that. But I am one of those people that understands that success does not come at random. I fully accept that my best seasons were a direct result of the same things that caused my worst ones—my willingness to work for success.
Many of you know that I am a relatively new dad, and my fishing has changed because of this. This is not an excuse and it’s certainly not a dig at the family life. It’s a shift in priority, it’s one that I have a happily and willingly accepted. I have been lucky enough to be able to stay home and raise my daughter from birth until now—she is a reflection of me… well, a reflection of me that loves doing cartwheels, and wearing pink and performing impromptu ballets. I wouldn’t dream of trading that for anything on this Earth. These last five years have made me accountable, she has relied on me to be present, to be man enough to step above my fishing priorities and to focus on her and on being awake and patient and willing to teach her and care for her—not cranky and half asleep because I stayed out all night long five out of seven again.
But I feel that it’s time for me to refocus myself as a surfcaster. Don’t get me wrong, I have fished a lot in these last five years, but I have spent many of those nights just trying to catch a few fish and have fun. Who can blame me for that? After all, fun is the basis for why we all do this. And I have gone through stretches where I knew the chances were higher than normal for a big fish and I (and/or my fishing partner) have taken some nice fish during those periods. But the relentless pursuit of a big fish is just different. It’s still fun, but the game feels more intense, the stakes seem higher even though the prize is the same: personal satisfaction. I wanted to take on this challenge to reawaken that fire inside myself. To focus on hunting big fish and big fish only again. It’s one of those funny things, it’s an instinctual thing for me, but I have often ignored my instinct in favor of enjoying some fun fishing. This year I plan to do a lot less of that.
These ‘in pursuit’ blog entries are probably going to be pretty heady. So much of how I conduct myself as an angler comes as a result of intense thought. Some might be surprised to learn that I don’t use a fishing log. I used to be embarrassed to admit that, but now with 20 years of surf fishing behind me, I have come to realize that not relying on notes has forced me to become instinctual. It has taught me how to cross-reference location—looking at a place I’ve never been and building a profile of it based on past experiences in places like it. These experiences LIVE in my head and have to be fresh for reference at a moment’s notice, if they were tucked away in a book from 12 years ago, I don’t believe they would do me much good. For better or for worse, everything I do is based on feel and I have honed my ability to make decisions using this ‘sense of feel’ through all of these 20 years of surf fishing and the decade of freshwater fishing that preceded it. Looking back, I wish I had logged it all, there would be a written account of more than half my life there, but I might have become a different type of angler because of it. I feel good about where my instincts have taken me so far, in a way, this will be kind of like logging... maybe I’ll like it.
I’ll say it again, don’t let that number—50—cloud your vision. I honestly don’t care if I hit it or not. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to document my thought processes. Fifty is just a number and the value of a significant catch cannot be measured in pounds. Each big fish is equally significant, personal bests are just a footnote. In fact, when I talk about my PB, I always shy away from the weight, calling it ‘my big fish’ instead. Because she came along as a result of working hard to find big fish—if she was 49 or 59, everything else I did would have been the same. Do you get where I’m coming from here?
I am excited to take this on and I am excited to share what I believe is the best path to lead me to that big fish. The biggest challenge in this whole thing will be writing the blog. It’s going to require a lot more focus than just staying in the big fish mindset. I won’t be giving any locations away—but I will be talking a lot about why I’m picking the types of spots that I am as the season progresses. And I’ll be going into great detail about presentation and mindset and the turmoil that comes from gritting one’s teeth and focusing on one thing for eight months. Someone asked me the other day, “What if you catch a 50-pounder before the end of May, what will you do then?”
“I guess I’ll start looking for a 51.”