By Dave Anderson
If you’ve been following along here then you know that I put a lot of faith in instinct. It is the culmination of everything that I have worked for over the past 21 years of hunting striped bass. The funny thing about fishing instinctually is that you really learn to accept the value of pulling a skunk. Success and failure play an equal role in sharpening your instincts—as long as you don’t get too stubborn or start making choices based on what you want to be true rather than what you feel in your gut.
One night last week I had a strong feeling about a spot that I really love to fish, but the conditions were borderline at best—and I’m talking about personal safety. The feeling was strong enough that I went down there anyway and stared out at the spot. Waves were humping through the gap and blasting over my perch, I knew it wasn’t safe to swim out there and that, even if I did get out there, I’d be putting myself in harm’s way just standing there and trying to fish. I was vocally angry about having to make the decision not to fish there. I sat in my car and stared at my phone, looking at the marine forecast and the WindFinder App, trying to see a fishable window in the dismal forecast.
The following night seemed to present the best opportunity, although the wave heights were right at the edge of ‘safe’. I checked forecast about 891 times throughout the day, half expecting the forecast to change for the worse. That instinctual urge was blaringly present all day long, it’s like a nagging itch in the middle of your back, or a hemorrhoid—impossible to ignore. And despite the fact that I had yet to break 20 pounds on the young season, I suddenly felt confident that I could target and catch a big fish. A fifty? Doubtful. But, I just felt like I had a good shot and notching that first—confidence building—‘good one’ of the year.
The swim was pretty easy, and I soon found myself on a perch I hadn’t seen since last fall. I clipped on one of my own deep diving swimmers in solid yellow and fired a cast over the steep transition on the outside of the rock. Within 10 minutes of being there I felt a hard knock on the plug, I thought it might have been a tailslap so I paused and the plug was crushed. It was one of those fish that didn’t feel big at first. She just kind of wallowed around out there and then pulled out some line and started coming back to me. But then the afterburners came on and I knew the fish was decent, maybe 25 pounds, I figured. When I slid her up beside me, I saw a fish that was well over 30 pounds, officially 35 on the Boga. I caught one more fish that night, about 17 pounds, and then it was over. I really hoped I could go back the following night, but the wind increased and so did the waves and I was unable to fish there again all week!
The next day I got a text from a charter captain friend cluing me in on some big fish up inside Narragansett Bay. He told me a general area and I set my mind to finding a way to access the shore in, what proved to be, a difficult area. This was going to be especially tough because the fish were hitting in daylight. I met my old friend John Lee on the way and we found our way down to the shore.
I am not a big fan of following reports. But what he told me was especially juicy. Quality fish hitting plugs during the day and nowhere near the Canal. I don’t like reports because they so rarely pan out. And I also feel like they cloud ‘organic’ judgement. But I threw all that out the window on a whim, hoping that this would be one of the few times a supposedly ‘can’t miss’ report would bear fruit. This time, it did. After three hours of fishing we landed three bass from 32 to 35 pounds and one 22-pounder. We lost a few other nice fish including at least one that looked to be pushing 40.
So, yeah, it worked out this time… but did it really? Since that day last week, I have gone back there four times, had a few big blowups, but ultimately I have caught ZERO bass since. In that same stretch of time, I have only fished one night tide—right in the middle of dark side of the June. So, while that initial trip delivered the goods and a good shot of adrenalin, it has since taken over enough of my mind that I have stopped fishing instinctually and resorted to fishing impulsively.
So when did I make the right move and when did I make the wrong move? Did I even make a wrong move? I suppose that answer could be different for everyone. But I’m going to concentrate on tuning back in to my senses. What would you do?