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.