Now that’s not to say that I don’t catch a few fish. Why, some days I’m even the hot rod on the lake or river. Most importantly, I enjoy myself as much or more than darned near anyone. But in terms of skill, expertise and competence, things can get pretty ugly!
This last winter was typical. I was able to catch half a hundred nice salmon on the stream. It was a great year, and lots of big fish were charging up to spawn. Time was also on my side. Having recently retired, I was able to spend lots of days at my favorite pastime. My track record, however, was none too good.
I got skunked on a good many occasions. On at least a half-dozen days, I was the only angler on the river who didn’t catch a fish! There I was, fishing with an angler’s dream of wonderful gear and great clothes, and getting outfished by every variety of angler who managed to drag an old rod and reel down to the creek. It was pretty pathetic. To what do I owe this sorry turn of events?
Like a late great bow hunter wrote in the preface of several of his books, “The most important thing to take into the field is your excuses!” Well I’ve got a million of them!
The first of these are physical. NO, I can’t claim to be disabled or handicapped in any major way, but I do have a lot of problems! First, my fingers don’t work worth a darn. My small motion dexterity is lousy. Not only have I failed at being able to tie flies (despite the efforts of many experts to teach me the tricks of the trade), I can’t even do a respectable knot. Sure, over the past fifty years of trying, I’ve managed to get my fingers to tie a couple that usually work. But this last season I lost a good handful of fish because the knots I tied were shy a loop or a wrap, and the fish needed only one good run to pull them loose! Like any good angler I blamed the line manufacturer—“this stuff is junk, those darned foreigners don’t know how to make decent line and leaders!” But it was me, plain and simple. When I reeled in, I didn’t find broken line, but rather naked swivels, a silent memory of a knot poorly tied.
Then I lost fish because I was too lazy to change line. My leader had been frayed or nicked by a fish’s teeth, or more likely a snag, tree limb or sticker bush. I should have taken the time to change it, but the effort of tying on a new outfit was just too much.
I also have dismal reflexes. Most old anglers have developed muscle memory that gives them an edge in setting a hook or responding to a downed bobber. Not me. My brain goes dead on the water. I feel the tug, see the line stop, notice that the bright orange bobber is no longer on the water’s surface and go blank for a critical moment before slamming the rod skyward, retrieving the slack, and setting the hook home. Naturally, this leads to lots of missed fish, plenty of weak sets, and lots of hooks that find only water!
Finally, I’m too stubborn to try new things. You would think that my beloved collection of antique fishing gear would clue me in that my sport is constantly changing. It may be true that the same fish brains are out in the water as were there thousands of years ago. But those old lures didn’t work all that well. Prehistoric methods are inferior to the latest techniques, and other anglers are constantly improving. But I’m always the last one to change. I’ve got to see everyone else switch and outfish me before I’ll give in and learn the skills to improve. This year, like most, I’ve made a resolution to try a lot of different things and I will, maybe.
Most likely, I’ll revert to past practices. Sometimes I’ll even go retro, rigging up with rods and reels, lines and lures from the ‘20s and ‘30s and give it a go. How do I do? Generally awful. The equipment is too bulky, works poorly and is easy for the fish to figure out. But it’s still good for an article or two!
What is the point of this long-winded sob story? If you are getting on in years, haven’t done much fishing, and would like to try something new, give it a shot! You don’t have to be a multi-generational fisherman to be good at it. Some of us old timers are just awful. You may discover that you have a knack for it. You may have good hand skills, good dexterity, quick reflexes, and most importantly, the open mindedness to learn and improve. It’s a great hobby and one you can enjoy throughout your travels. More people fish than do almost any other outdoor activity, and we all love to talk about our experiences.
And remember, when you go to the stream, lake or river, catch a lot of fish and see some old timer who is fuddling along with weird looking knots, poor technique, and horrible reflexes, be nice to him and offer to share a fish or two. He may be a very good friend of mine!
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