The Angling Experience
Whether Casting From a Boat or a Shoreline, Fishing is a Hobby That Puts Your Mind at Ease While Taking in the Wonders of Nature
Fishing is a pastime and passion that cuts decisively across all walks of American life. Smartly attired fly anglers, dropping thousands of dollars on gear, guides, and eyeglasses, ply the waters of private ponds and streams with their long, wispy poles and looping lines. City kids from low-income families fling worm-baited hooks under bobbers in urban ponds, perhaps receiving their stubby rods and reels from a free “Take a Kid Fishing” program sponsored by a state wildlife agency or conservation organization.
In-between those extremes, countless other anglers routinely incorporate fishing into their outings with RVs from glitzy motorhomes to modest camping trailers. Fishing is so embedded in the American outdoor culture that it’s listed among the activities most popular with people out camping in any part of the country. In my family, any camping trip that puts us close to water involves fishing. An old home movie shows me catching my first brook trout as a preschooler. More than 50 years later I’ve not lost my passion for angling. Here are the two factors that keep me ever on the lookout for a chance to go fishing.
Trout fin the waters of some of the most beautiful places on the continent. Shortly after I began writing fishing articles for magazines, I took an assignment to complete a story on Rock Creek, a popular trout destination east of Missoula, Montana.
The midsummer afternoon was hot—too hot, actually—for good fishing. I composed some needed scenic photos along the broad creek bottom but failed to tempt a single trout from its underwater lair. As evening approached, foreboding dark clouds boiled above the creek, soon erasing the bright blue overhead and replacing it with dull gray. When the raindrops started, my first inclination was to escape back to the trailer. But a sudden deluge made driving back to it senseless.
The storm rolled through in scarcely more than a half-hour. I stepped from the pickup into deliciously cool air and the sight of trout rising to feed on the surface of the creek. Wet meadow grass parted between my footsteps as I wandered upstream. Blundering smack dab into a feeding frenzy, I pulled numerous trout from a deep hole.
Lost in the moment, the sound of nearby voices startled me. Two anglers were approaching from downriver. Their sloppy smiles told the whole story when I queried “how’s the fishing?”
The two southerners had escaped a business meeting in Missoula to try their hands at trout fishing. As we spoke, the sun pierced the dissipating clouds in the western sky to light a brilliant rainbow against a backdrop of dark storm clouds.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” murmured one of the awestruck duo. Nor had I. Though the ephemeral storm spawned incredible fishing, that’s not my dominant memory of the day. It’s the mental picture of a beautiful rainbow, a quiet moment in nature, and the three humble humans fortunate enough to witness the spectacle.
But it’s not just trout that inhabit soulful environments. Bass, bluegill, perch, and pickerel also find homes in lovely places. In fact, there’s a soothing something about being on the water to fish, no matter what the surroundings.
Some years ago, I worked on a project documenting fishing opportunities in the metro area of Denver, Colorado. I cast from the banks of urban ponds and plumbed the waters of a couple of streams. One evening, as the din of commuters’ tires humming on the asphalt and revving engines cut the air, I inflated a float tube along the side of a large pond on the backside of a popular city park. I waded gingerly into the water, then finned toward a line of reeds where I suspected a smallmouth bass might find a home.
The bass wasn’t answering the dinner bell in the form of a minnow imitation cast from my fly line. But a chorus of frogs shortly plucked up a melody and a blue heron glided into the yonder end of the pond to try its own hand, er, bill, at fishing.
If you keep an angling score strictly in terms of the catch, I got skunked. But how is it anything but successful to sit quietly in a float tube, serenaded by frogs and fascinated by the intensity of a stick-legged heron, oblivious to the commotion of “civilization” beyond the waters of a pretty pond?
Seated in the front seat of a canoe, my daughter contemplated a red-and-white bobber floating motionless on the surface of a small lake. Her first fishing trip with dad, the 4-year-old soon hit me with a very serious question.
“The fish should be coming; when will the fish be coming?”
The fish in question were bluegills, midgets in the world of sport fishing, but very willing nibblers of nightcrawlers that have turned thousands of toddlers into anglers. Zoe didn’t have to wait long. Within a couple of minutes, her bobber began lurching and burping on the surface, then plunged underwater. She soon reeled in a plump panfish with an olive back and orange belly. An hour later she had a bucket full of bluegills for her father to fillet.
At home that evening, I battered and fried the itty-bitty fillets in hot oil. My newly minted fishing partner decided she liked eating bluegills just about as much as catching them. Now a college student, Zoe has fished for trout, bass, pike, perch, and other species. But there’s nothing she likes better than baiting a hook and bobbing for bluegills. And there’s no other angling experience I’d rather share with my daughter.
“Variety is the spice of life,” advises a popular saying bandied about by inquisitive souls in my youth. It resonates with folks constantly itching for new horizons and adventures, who effortlessly apply it to fishing.
I grew up angling for trout with worms and spoons cast from a spinning rod. Intrigued with a new pastime, I spent most of my 30s perfecting the art of tempting trout with fly tackle. Not too many years ago an opportunity arose to pen a story on saltwater fly-fishing. It’s now among my most favorite angling endeavors.
A serene morning at sunrise greeted me and my wife, Lisa, as we propelled our kayaks seaward from Pine Island, not far from Fort Myers, Florida. A pair of clownish brown pelicans casually eyed our progress from their perches on the posts of a dock. We caught several speckled sea trout before anchoring near a tiny island covered with mangroves whose waxy green leaves glowed in the first rays of the rising sun.
Casting to the shallow water just at the edge of the treeline, I felt a fish take the fly and immediately set the hook. It surged powerfully toward the entangling roots of the mangrove canopy. Butt of the rod braced against my hip, I applied as much pressure to the line as I dared to turn the fish. It reluctantly altered its trajectory a rod-length from the island then surged toward deeper water. The fight was fun against this formidable fish. But what was it?
There are times when it’s possible to “sight fish” in the saltwater shallows to a singular species. Otherwise, the bite may involve several varieties of fish. In this case, the culprit was a red drum or redfish, a beautiful specimen at last brought to boat after an exhilarating battle. By the time we beached the kayaks for lunch, we’d also caught ladyfish, a plucky little blue runner, and snook. Variety indeed.
Many are the pursuits of people. But there’s perhaps nothing quite so fulfilling and fun as fishing.
Ugly Stik GX2 Travel Spinning Combo
I’m a sucker for highly portable, functional fishing gear that travels easily in an RV, SUV, or airplane. This durable spinning rod combo (stainless-steel guides, graphite/fiberglass construction) fits the bill at an attractive price. A cloth rod-and-reel travel bag is included.
Rapala Fish ‘N Fillet Knife with Sheath
Filleting or otherwise cutting up a fish is a job made much easier with a quality knife. I’ve used Rapala fillet knives for many years. I like the feel of the birch handle on this model. Match the blade length to the size of your catch and you can’t go wrong with this attractive knife.
Yak-Gear Fish Grip
Landing and handling toothy or spiny fish is a much easier job with a fish grip. This handy, lightweight tool has locking jaws that secure to the lip of a fish for easier hook removal and handling without harming the fish. It floats and comes with a lanyard to prevent accidental loss.
Timing Isn’t Everything, But it Sure Helps
The best moment to fish is when the opportunity presents itself. But timing an outing in relation to the daily habits, seasonal conditions, and known routines of fish consistently yields the most success.
When planning a trip, research seasonal influences. Late spring and early summer often bring weeks of “run-off” to Rocky Mountain streams when melting snowpack dirties the water and increases the volume, making fishing virtually impossible. Hot August days suppress trout feeding, which typically picks up again in autumn. Seasonal movements and migrations also occur in lakes and saltwater environments. Know before you go.
Current weather is also a factor. Warm-water species such as largemouth bass get more active as water temperature increases and may “shut down” after a cold front. Cold-water fish such as trout often react oppositely, perking up in midsummer after a cool spell.
Saltwater angling means keeping track of the tides. Almost without exception, inshore saltwater species feed most actively when the tide is moving in or out.
Daily rhythms are also important. Daybreak and dusk are typically prime times to fish. But if it’s a bit cooler than a species’ preferred temperature, action may pick up at midday as the water warms.