Realistic Results

by Louis Bignami

When's the last time you read about a fishing trip where the heroic writer got skunked? Have you seen a fishing show where the heroes didn't catch anything? Probably not, but it happens, and often indeed. That's fine, folks have expanded their results since anglers grew arms to spread. In fact, I consider "catch and release" results limited only by the angler's imagination and the listener's gullibility.

After over 30 years, 35 books and several thousand fishing articles I'm rather tired of all the hype. Fishing isn't about results, it's about recreation. At least such is the case for those who have challenge and risk in their lives. Fishing is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be relaxing. It's supposed to be a democratic activity that all can enjoy. You really don't need 50 rods, ten or so are enough and I've yet to see an artificial that catches as many fish as bait save, or course, for those tiny flies used by anglers in search of anchovy to sardine-sized trout.

I've been there and done that. I've caught billfish, bonefish, salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and thousands of exotic fish in remote and usually either uncomfortable or inconvenient climes. So what do I do to fish for fun? Simple. I either pick up my light fly outfit with its #14 Elk Hair Caddis and catch brook trout from a local creek, or grab some worms and a long bait rod to catch crappie or bluegills. And I live midway between 20-pound B-run steelhead in the Snake and Clearwater Rivers and the 20 pound pike in Coeur d'Alene Lake. But I've learned to keep it simple and, above all, never travel more hours than you can fish.

Unfortunately, today's specialists all insist only they own the keys to the piscatorial kingdom. Fly fishers - and I've done this for 50 years - seem as narrow minded as all true believers. I don't mind the holier-than-thou attitude, I just note that dry fly fishing does remove a third of the challenge of "real fishing" by reducing a three-dimensional sport to two dimensions and in a small stream it's as close to a no-brainer as dunking worms for bluegills..

I don't even mind the "bug species" nonsense and all the other prating of the instantly expert. Instead, I make some rather nice spare change showing how I can catch more fish faster with a cane pole and stump grubs and hook every fish in the lip. Bah, humbug, give me a little creek filled with brook trout that fit in a frying pan and I'm happy. Fortunately, I live in Idaho where everyone fishes the politically correct trophy waters for trout or steelhead and leaves the small streams to old, fat guys

Bass anglers of the bigger is better boat, tackle box, motor and tournament flavor that always wants to fish the other end of the reservoir may be worse. At least fly flingers don't zoom past my canoe at 85 knots! Unfortunately, there's a myth that you need all that high technology to catch a relatively stupid fish like a bass. Such simply isn't the case. Don't forget the world record bass was taken from a 50-cent boat on a dollar lure and eaten for dinner. Consider live minnows and ponds and you'll catch bass without all that racket. Even smarter folks catch smallmouth from rivers or creeks and eat one now and then.

Even better, consider panfish. Worms and a simple rig should get you all the crappie, bluegills - "brim" is War Between the States country, warmouth, pumpkinseeds and whatever. And all of these taste better than most trout and all "truck" or hatchery trout.

Saltwater fishing may be the worse case of angling excess. Billfishing at $600 a day and, according to the Hawaiian Islands Fish and Game Folks, "11 trips on average per billfish" seems sufficiently Veblanesque for the richest of the rich. Here too you sweat all day to catch a fish that's now probably released so it can swim off and come to a bad end by way of a Japanese long liner. Still, with a captain, mate, deckhand and, often, "gofer" on board, this does employ locals.

Saltwater carp fishing, a.k.a. bonefishing, is another case in point. Bonefish are stupid and very easy to catch in deep water on bait, but get spooky on the shallow flats. So that's the PC place to catch them with flies so your rod can spook the fish and the $300 a day guide can tell you conditions were better yesterday.. Stay home, use Italian dry flies - a.k.a. French bread crusts - and you'll have just as much fun.

Some fishing, like winter steelheading. when you stand or float barely liquid water and your line freezes in the guides, is simply so ridiculous that it's neither sensible nor, for most, successful. Then, of course, there's ice fishing that's enriched the vocabulary with terms like "being on thin ice."

Fishing is, you see, far to simple and silly to deserve all this hype. Remember to fish near home so you can get skunked without all that transportation time. Kids know this. Kids can catch panfish with cane poles and bait at the nearest pond and have a great time. Too bad most of us have lost the kid in us that keeps our live simple. I suspect we'd all be better off taking a kid out after panfish to recapture a time when all fish are big and the pleasure of the day isn't tied to the results.

So what's a realistic result? Whatever you get? With little fish like bluegills four to 10 an hour isn't bad - that's several dozen fish on an average day. With trout a fish an hour makes me smile and this is about the same for bass and most smaller saltwater species.

Striped bass from the surf, steelhead or salmon and all the bigger saltwater gamefish catches should be figured on a "fish per week" basis. Bigger fish just take longer, but with appropriate tackle aren't any more fun.