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.