Updated: May 28
Fishing is boring, or at least that is what I hear from people whose only exposure to fishing is by dunking a worm as a child. I beg to differ. While fishing I have stumbled across bear tracks, had a close encounter with a shark, and seen some of the most amazing scenery on Earth. And in some cases, these adventures have concluded with a satisfying seafood dinner.
My first fishing memory is tagging along behind my grandpa as he cast a hook into the Atlantic Ocean near his home in Rhode Island. The first fish I caught was probably a bluegill in Maryland after that same grandpa moved back to his home state. The first fish I remember keeping for dinner was a catfish in the Potomac River, again with that same grandpa. Are you seeing a trend? My exposure to fishing was through my grandpa who wanted to pass along his love of fishing to the rising generation. During these fishing trips, I would hear his own fish tales, about catching “bluebacks” (kokanee salmon) and the big trout my mother lost on that same lake in Northern Idaho. I heard about catching bluefish in the ocean and fly fishing for Appalachian trout. My young mind was, well, hooked.
Most teens look forward to driving so they could start dating. Maybe I was a late bloomer, but I just wanted to fish the tailwaters of East Fork Lake near my home in Ohio. On one trip to that tailwater, I hooked into a carp that was so big it broke my rod, likely due to my inexperience in fighting big fish. I did land the fish, unhooked in and watched it flop back into the brown waters of the stream, near the same spot where my brother and I had discovered a snapping turtle. When my father saw my broken rod, I couldn’t help but smile as I told the story of Jason versus the carp.
During those same formative years, our family took a vacation to Nags Head, North Carolina. We met my grandparents and a few other relatives there. Grandpa and I caught numerous spot, croaker, and mullet, which slowly began to fill the freezer in anticipation for the coming fish fry at the end of the week. When fishing was slow, I would take my boogie board out into the surf and ride some waves. I vividly recall resting on my board in about 4 or 5 feet of water and looking to my left, only to see a dorsal fin cutting the water about 10 yards away. There was a shark feeding in the same water I was swimming in. I rode the next wave in and pointed the fin out to my grandpa. By this point others on the beach had noticed too.
“Grandpa, that’s not a dolphin, is it.” It wasn’t really a question I was asking.
“Nope. Grab your rod.”
For the next 30 minutes or so, grandpa and I stood knee deep in the surf cast to where the shark was swimming. Not to catch the shark, but rather to catch the fish it was also eating.
I turned 20 in the Amazon jungle in Brazil. I was living there as a missionary and was about halfway through my two-year assignment. Shortly after my birthday, I was living in a small town called Tefe. One of the local members of our fledgling congregation asked if he could take the four of us (at this time there were four of us missionaries living there, two Americans and two Brazilians) out to a nearby fishing spot in the jungle on our day off. It was a short hike out to the spot, a hike made even more exciting after we found a boa constrictor and decided to take pictures of each of us holding it. The spot must have been well enough known as there were two teenage boys fishing there when we arrived. Make no mistake, fishing as the locals fish in Tefe had nothing to do with the rod and reel I was accustomed to. The two boys were walking through the water in single file, the boy in the lead jabbing the path in front of him with a long pole to scare away any stingrays which might be lurking under the chocolate colored water. The boys eventually made their way to the shore near where I was sitting and threw their tarrafa, or net, into the water just below me. They pulled out a large shovelnose tiger catfish. Satisfied with their catch, they disappeared into the jungle on their way home. Meanwhile our friend had caught an assortment of fish, including some piranhas, which we gutted and grilled on the river’s edge with salt and lemon as seasoning. As Jim Shockey is fond of saying, we ate like kings.
When I was young and still learning what fishing was all about, I was happy to catch anything. As I have matured, I became more confident in my ability to catch fish and began to focus on size and quality over quantity. While on a work trip to Alaska several years ago, I decided to hire a guide to catch some salmon, a species which I had never fished for before. It ruined me for life. The guide put our small group on a hole full of salmon, which I cast into and landed a salmon on nearly every other cast. I released all but two, limiting out easily. The power and strength of these anadromous fish was intoxicating. A month later, I returned to Alaska for additional meetings, though this time I brought my 8-weight fly rod and plied the waters of a nearby creek where the coho salmon were running. I could see hordes of pink salmon all around me, but wasn’t able to catch any. I watched what others were doing and decided to add more weight to my set up. Immediately, I began catching and releasing countless pink salmon. As the tide washed in, the cohos came as well. I had watched a video on YouTube about how to catch coho salmon on the fly and saw that you can use top water tactics similar to bass fishing. The first coho fell to a bright pink topwater plug being dragged slowly across the surface. The bite was very subtle, yet I saw the whole thing happen, almost in slow motion. The second succumbed shortly afterwards.
For those who seek it, fishing can be an adventure. There is no reason why anyone should be bored. In fishing, if a set up isn’t catching fish, then the fisherman must try something new. If fishing is boring, try a new approach. Cast in the surf, grab a fly rod or tenkara rod, or maybe attempt spear or bow fishing, Sometimes, just trying a new place is good enough. When I travel for work, if I know I will have some down time, I bring my fly rod. In many of those instances, I have rarely cared about catching fish and have simply enjoyed the splendor of a new location.
Lastly, when possible, take someone with you, especially if it is someone who has never fished before. Children especially love the outing. My kids spent as much or more time during our “fishing” trips looking for frogs or other aquatic life. They loved watching the ospreys circle then dive into the water, rising with a trout in their talons. We’ve watched many sunsets together as caddis flies flitted across the surface of a pond while hungry trout rolled below the surface, feeding on the hatch. Adventure is found by those who seek it.