Vol 37 | Num 1 | May 2, 2012
Article by Capt. Mark Sampson
Whether you’re a captain, a fishing guide or just someone with a boat who occasionally takes friends or family out fishing, you’ve probably come to realize that the fishing skills of those who go out with you can greatly affect the amount of fish that are caught throughout the day. While it’s often said that “a carpenter is only as good as his tools,” I think it’s also fair to say that a really good carpenter can make-do with lousy tools and still produce fine work. In the same respect, really good fishermen can produce fish even when the anglers they have to work with are lacking in fishing skills themselves.
So often we hear accounts of folks who go out fishing for their very first time and land some giant blue marlin, tuna or other monster-size fish. Though the media will often headline such stories as “beginners luck,” and those who don’t know a lot about fishing will pass it off as just happenstance that someone with no fishing skills was able to land such a prize, the full story usually reveals that somewhere in the process there was an experienced angler involved who helped set the stage so that his friend or client could hook and land such a fish. This is not to suggest that the beginner angler might not have hooked, fought and landed the fish by following normal fishing ethics and standards. The catch can be 100-percent legitimate and the angler deserving of all due credit. However, somewhere in the background there probably stands another fisherman, a captain, guide, or friend who deserves just as much recognition for the catch, because if it weren’t for them the fish would never have been landed.
Just like a carpenter who might have really sharp and precise power tools to work with one day and nothing but a hatchet to do the same job with the next, from my own charter business I’ve come to know that whenever I take people out fishing there will be days when I have clients aboard who have fishing skills that really help to make my day easy and other times when every catch is a struggle. But I don’t complain about the skills of my clients because if everyone were an expert angler then there would be little request for those in my occupation. My clients are the tools I have to work with each day, and if I’m a good enough fisherman we should be able to pull off a decent catch even when my tools aren’t very sharp.
It’s all a matter of capitalizing on the strengths and working around the weaknesses of each angler. Say for instance you’re offshore trolling with a man, his wife and a couple young kids. If the goal is to have everyone in the group catch fish then it might not be prudent to target strictly blue marlin and bigeye tuna on heavy tackle because the kids and possibly the wife won’t be able to handle the physical demands of such a fight. A trolling spread that includes a couple heavy rods rigged for the big fish (for dad) along with some lighter tackle with smaller baits intended for dolphin, bonito and white marlin for the rest of the family might be just the ticket for providing that group with the kind of action they can both handle and enjoy.
Sometimes an angler’s skill level is not apparent until they’re actually put to the task of working a big fish to the boat. Those with experience can make it look easy; lift the rod – crank it down – lift the rod – crank it down, and don’t crank if the fish is taking line. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done, but during the heat of the battle not everyone can get that rhythm no matter how much you coach them, and that’s were a good captain can make up for lousy angler skills. By turning the boat so that the fish is always behind it and then slowly moving ahead just fast enough to keep tension on the line, all the angler has to do is concentrate on cranking the reel. If the angler gets tired, the captain might be able to slowly back down on the fish to help them regain line without so much physical work.
Poor casting ability is another aspect of fishing that can be a real challenge for a guide to overcome. But, where there’s a will there’s a way! I’ve spent a lot of time taking people out to cast lures for bluefish and stripers in our inlet and back bay waters and for other fish down in Florida. Many times the fish will be holding in a specific location making lure placement crucial to getting a bite and sloppy casting just won’t cut it. On such occasions when the “tools” I have aboard for making those casts (i.e. my clients) can’t make it happen, I’ve often anchored the boat up-current and put floating/diving plugs on their lines so that they can just drift their lures back to where the fish are laid up and then crank them back into the current and through the strike-zone. We’ve done the same thing when using jigs and even bait by adding a small float to the line so that the offering can be floated instead of cast to the fish.
Boat positioning is most critical when working with fly-fishermen to ensure that the fish are within the effective range of each angler, the vessel is angled such that back-casts won’t come back and foul on the boat, the wind is at the fisherman’s back whenever possible and current will allow the flies to find their way into the strike zone. Whether using fly or conventional tackle, good casting always makes life easier for the guy running the boat. But when necessary, an experienced captain will use creative tactics to make up for angling deficiencies by his crew.
It’s easy for someone to pin the blame for a poor catch on the lack of skill of the people they took out with them. But just as a great carpenter can build a beautiful home with little more than a handsaw and a hammer, the mark of a great fisherman might be that he’s able to pull off a decent catch no matter what “tools” he has to work with.
Captain Mark Sampson is an outdoor writer and captain of the charter boat “Fish Finder”, docked at the Ocean City Fishing Center.