Never Stop Learning

Being well educated is a valuable asset when it comes to harvesting and enjoying your time outdoors.

By Mark Martin

Two things come to mind when I start pondering the reasons why you are reading this article. One: You want to be entertained. Two: you want to learn how to harvest more fish and game.

Enjoying your time on the water and in the woods—whether the bite’s on or off, and the deer are moving or not—and being well educated are valuable assets when it comes to harvesting and taking pleasure in your moments outdoors.

I’ve been a professional angler a long time. I started guiding when I was in my 20’s, and then worked my way up the ranks in the prestigious Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) tournaments shortly after.

Much has changed since my start in the business. One thing, however, has not: I never, and I mean never quit learning. And because of that I truly love my job. I always have.

Inside out

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “Think outside your box”. In general, it means to look beyond what you do in your every-day life, take notice what others are doing, and then learn from those observations. As a professional walleye angler, I’ve had to think outside my box a lot. Had I not, I’d never have gone as far in my career as I have.

Now thinking outside your box doesn’t mean copying what others are doing to a tee, either. Rather, it’s to examine, get ideas and devise your own tricks and techniques. It’s amazing the things you learn when you do.

One example would be what I’ve learned about catching walleyes from others who are not targeting them. Bass anglers often catch walleyes; so, too, salmon and trout anglers; perch anglers, as well. And the list goes on and on.

I not only talk to other anglers about their catches, but fish for all these species as well, to discover firsthand what the other pros are talking about. Understanding that experiencing something hands-on rather than just reading about it was, itself, a lesson well learned.

What I’ve taken from those who target species other than walleyes, as well those times I fish for them myself, is all the “other places” these fickle fish might reside as well the additional lures and methods that fool them in to striking. And the knowledge I’ve gathered has paid off, big time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d never give up my go-tos like jigging with Rapala Jigging Raps and Shads and Northland spoons and bladebaits in the places I know walleyes readily swim. But it’s always good to have a backup plan, whether I’m under pressure while fishing in a tournament or relaxed and catching fish with my family and friends in open water or on the ice. They are the places and systems that allow me one more bite.

What was, what is

To tell you the truth, I can’t help but to sport a smile and snicker under my breath little when I think of the mindsets of anglers back in my early days. I know my thoughts on the matter were not nearly as open as they are today.

Take jigging, for example. When I was a kid, anglers jigged for walleye with live bait… and that was it. That’s all changed today. While reaching into my Plano bait bucket and grabbing a lively minnow is never out of the question, neither is nipping on a Berkley GULP! Minnow. I’ve found the imitation has just as much fish appeal as the real thing. Sometimes more.

In fact, that was a similar frame of mind of most all professional walleye anglers the first half of my career. There were only a few tactics that we would employee and only on very specific kinds of structure. But as we fished, we evolved. And, we invented.

Take the in-line planer boards we use in open water nowadays, as another case in point. Before the 1990’s, most of us trolled with lures running right behind the boat. (Yes, we caught fish with the technique, and still do to this day, but not nearly as many.)

It would be the extremely rare day you’d find me pulling lures and crawler harnesses—my Fenwick rods and ABU Garcia reels set snug in my rod holders—without the aid of Church Tackle planer boards pulling the lures out from behind my boat. In fact, I even take them with me during my fly-in trips to PK Resorts in Ontario, Canada. When using in-line planer boards, I can get more lines out and figure out the bite faster, and, without getting tangled up.

Even something as common as fishing line has changed how many fish I catch verses how many strikes I might miss out on. Without the willingness to try different equipment rather than the same old thing, I would never have realized what a difference something as simple as line could make. While I’ve used Berkley Trilene XL and XT since day one, I’d never fully understand the uses of Berkley Fluorocarbon or Berkley FireLine had I not been willing to try. Mono, fluoro and superline all have their place.

No better than the rest

It was a few years back when myself and other professional anglers started teaching one on one as instructors with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/Schools (icefishingvacationschool.com). One thing I have taken from these school events is, even as the educator, I still never quit learning.

Students come from all walks of life, all diverse careers, and even more so all-different abilities when it comes to catching fish. Every day of each and every Ice-Fishing Vacation/Schools I learn something from my students. And then together we teach those around us the tips, tricks or techniques they just enlightened me on.

Again, I never quit learning.

If you take anything from this article, I hope it’s that you realize if you want to be a better angler or hunter this coming season, spend more time outdoors with others. Listen. Learn. Then give back by teaching.

But most of all have fun.

Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament pro and instructor with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/Schools, who lives in Michigan’s Southwest Lower Peninsula. For more information, check out his website at markmartins.net, as well icefishingvacationschool.com.