We all have those days where we head out with our hearts full of optimism and a head full of ideas. The perfect plan intact for success only to meet with defeat. We had a plan. It worked before and should work again. All our gear, knowledge, and expertise fine-tuned for the quarry. In fact — it worked the day before. Why not today? There are no guarantees in fishing. Every single trip is unique. Welcome to the world of the angler.
Afterward, we reevaluate the day – what could we have done different? Were there adjustments that could have been made that would have led to success. The constant analysis will yield better results for the future, but what could we have done different as the day unfolded. I call it fishing in the moment — what makes for fishing success.
Fishing is a state of mind. There is so much more to it than technical aspects. So much more than careful preparation. You absolutely must be able to “fish in the moment.” Case in point. I was fishing July fourth weekend on a return trip back to my old striper grounds in the Northeast and it was a very busy day on the water. There were five kayakers all trolling the same small grid and all using a similar technique. Trolling and casting live eels – a sure fire way to connect with a hungry striper! After four hours all that effort produced zero fish for four of the five anglers. Only one angler went five for eight on jumbos. The rest got skunked. You would have thought there were no fish present at all if the fifth angler hadn’t shown up. That premise couldn’t have been any further from the truth. Today I was that fifth guy and safely released five New England jumbos.
There is always that one guy who catches the fish. No matter what the conditions. Even when everyone else goes home empty. So, what makes the difference? We were all using eels — all kayaks — all similar techniques and in the same water. The subtleties of fishing prevailed. Difference’s so minute only the most observant would have noticed.
Problem solving 101 — how to turn a bad day into a success
Fishing is a constant state of mind. It adapts as conditions unfold. Always alert — always observant. You must block out all else and be in the moment. Observe and adjust – make the necessary changes or go home empty handed.
I saw one guy fishing in the same spot. The same fifty square feet of water. I instantly knew one thing about him. He had at one point in time caught a fish there! For three hours he never left that fifty-yard square of water. He trolled that grid the exact same way every time. Never varying his speed. Never adjusting his entry or exit points. Never fingering the line to impart additional action to his live bait. The perfect example of not fishing in the moment. I noticed that the other three anglers were all trolling live frisky eels and just off the drop off. Common sense would say a good plan. Only trouble – on that day it wasn’t working. Time to try something else. I always keep my tired or spent bait in the cooler. I quickly switched out my live eel for a dead one and cast in tight to the rocks. Three short retrieves and a twitch – fish on! It’s difficult to pitch a live eel that tight into cover. They will quickly bury their noses into any obstruction found and get you fouled. A dead or dying bait is the perfect choice for working it tight to structure. I keep them for just this purpose. This same tactic will work for almost any live bait cast tight to cover. While eight out of ten days the method using live frisky bait is the ticket, on the other two days – try something different! Fishing in the moment.
Occasionally, do the exact opposite of what experience has taught you. Fish will surprise you. Three of the five fish caught that day were caught doing the opposite of commonsense rules that I had learned and applied in this very same area. It yielded a beautiful result!
Outside the box
Necessity is the mother of invention and the same applies to fishing. So many times, we are forced outside our comfort zone or point of reference and when we embrace the path forward good things can happen. I was reminded of this recently while looking for fresh live bait for an afternoon’s outing of peacock bass fishing. The tackle shop was out so I checked the frozen bait section and found some pilchards. I know they’re primarily used in salt water, but mahi love them so why not? I caught my largest peacock of the prior three weeks that trip on a dead pilchard and they lit them up! So much for salt vs freshwater bait and live vs frozen. I took this lesson with me to the salt next time I went mahi fishing and couldn’t find live pilchards. I took two dozen freshwater shiners. Guess what – when pitching to schoolies they stayed alive just long enough for the mahi to eat them! Lesson learned. I’ve since used this same technique for snook in the salt, pitching freshwater shiners to hungry fish.
Do not fall prey to experience mandating how you interpret the signs. We were fishing a busy Saturday out of Palm Beach Inlet when a school of skipjack tuna appeared. The fish were busting everywhere and the boats around me quickly pursued and began casting franticly to the fast-moving fish. I sat for a moment and watched. Something was different – what? These fish were not moving in an organized fashion chasing their quarry. They were busting the water in every direction. Frantically trying to clear the surface – they were not the hunters this day. They were being hunted! I quickly reached into the live-well for a twelve-inch blue runner. I always keep one jumbo bait and a sturdy standup outfit on board for just this occasion — when a large predator arrives on the scene looking to feed. Five minutes into the drift our stand-up rod doubled over, and the reel began to scream — big fish on! When after an hours long battle that dragged us miles offshore, she finally came broadside, I was happy to release a still very healthy and ticked off estimated four hundred-pound Florida blue marlin! Was this luck or being prepared to make the unforeseen adjustments that lead to success?
Before heading out I always have an alternate plan and associated gear for when your target species is just not cooperating. Being able to make quick adjustments and having a “plan-b” can often save an otherwise non-productive day and sometimes lead to the catch of a lifetime.
If you cannot make adjustments, most times you will go home empty-handed. Guaranteed. Fishing in real life rarely meets expected results. Very rarely do you have that one day where everything goes your way. You must make adjustments and learn to fish in the moment.
Mark Ambert / Author – Avid outdoorsman, sportswriter, and photographer.
Follow me on Instagram @marksgonefishing or contact me at email@example.com
Gear Used: Coastal Fishing Company