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Filling your fishing bucket of knowledge

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Becoming a better angler is a matter of methodically gathering tips, advice and insight

Becoming a better angler is a matter of methodically gathering tips, advice and insight

At some point in your fishing “career,” you’ll probably want to improve — be it more fish or bigger ones. It’s a natural progression people make after deciding fishing is something that fits into their lifestyle and one of their favorite means of putting their boat to use.

Having made the decision to invest time and money in the pursuit of fishing, how does one go about getting better at it?

Captain for hire

One of the best ways is to charter a boat or a captain. Chartering a larger boat than yours ensures room for the whole family or group, possibly getting in a day when the weather is so-so, more than your vessel can safely handle.

Many charter boat pros can catch anything that swims while others might specialize in, say, landing outsized striped bass, a high priority today. Nothing turns heads quicker at the water cooler than a picture of a gleaming 40-pound bass held up by you or your crew. Your colleagues at first might not believe you landed such a trophy — but land it you did — all part of the charter fee (not to mention the instruction you received watching the skipper handle the boat, the tackle and rigs used and any advice offered). Good instruction is often the quickest way from Point A to Point B.

I’ve met many busy executives who rely solely on charters, their schedule too much to maintain their own boat. Such people are often prized by charter operations for their repeat business. Many captains put a little extra into such trips trying to please these clients.

Another take on this might be to hire a captain that comes to your boat and, for a fee, will take you out and offer tips on anything from boat handling and maintenance to how to rig a line for target species and then where to find them.

Such a day could include some expense money if travel is involved or maybe even ponying up a night in a motel. Some would-be anglers often pool their resources, going out on a friend’s 30-plus footer — all six buddies aboard and profiting from individual instruction in this floating classroom. A check of the phone book or back page of regional fishing magazines often turns up leads for such professionals.

Narrow the field

If, however, you want to do it without charter fees, how about limiting yourself to just one fishery? Instead of looking at the whole barrel of apples, start slowly with one fruit, taking one bite at a time.

For instance, fluke fishing is popular in the Northeast during the summer, offering fun and some great eating afterwards. Why not dedicate yourself and free time to just the summer flounder and nothing else?

If necessary, keep notes and keep eyes open. If someone at the marina comes up with a bragging 12-pounder, ask questions. Fishermen are often secretive, not wanting to give away a hard-won hot spot, but compliments and honest inquiries sometimes bear fruit. Maybe you won’t get the GPS numbers, but instead, sound tips on rigging and bait. It all helps, drop-by-drop filling a bucket with bits of knowledge you didn’t have last week or last year. One old pro told me if you learn one new thing each time you head out, the day is on the right track.

Many DVDs are on sale, offering instruction in all types of fishing. These are moderately priced and can save lots of trial and error, not to mention fuel. It might pay to watch the show once, and then come back to it a second or third time, picking up something overlooked the first time around.

Where the action is

Most fish hang around some type of structure. Granted, fluke in particular are often caught on a sandy bottom offshore of a busy summer swimming beach, but the big ones live around some type of bottom bump, ledge, wreck, something besides flat, featureless sand. Here the fish find shelter and food, two key ingredients for longer life in a watery world.

Getting to know where these places are is often a large part of the battle after getting an idea of what bait and rigs work best.

You find these by asking the clerk in the tackle shop to help after you buy something in his or her store. And, a steady customer often gets better treatment than the one-timer. Don’t make the mistake of looking for a lengthy schooling on a busy Saturday when the shop is full of customers. Plan your visit for a Tuesday or maybe stop by on some cold winter weekday when the owner has the time to pull out a chart and mark it up.

Keep a record of these spots in a notebook or on your chart plotter, an invaluable tool for the small-boat angler. Try to get as many such places in a limited area, not only to save fuel, but to keep your lines in the water more of the time, not spending much of your day off running the boat instead of fishing.

Fluke might not bite on one tide but oblige on the next. Or, they might bite well at the end of the tide during those times of the month when the tides are strongest. Then again, you might need to use heavier sinkers to get near the bottom when tides run hardest. These are some of the variables that go into making a good fluke fisherman.

Off the water

During the off-season, many boating and fishing clubs offer shows to non-members. For a small fee you and your son or wife or buddy can listen in as a local hot shot explains how he catches X amount of large fluke per season. Some clubs throw in a spaghetti dinner with the price of admission. One tip or GPS number makes the whole evening worthwhile.

If your spouse plays bingo with the spouse of a retired or active commercial fisherman, ask her to ask him if he’d give you an idea where to catch fluke inshore during the summer. Many commercial anglers fish offshore beyond the range of small boats, but others tow their nets along the beach so they know just what you’re looking for.

Learning to catch more fish is a matter of small steps, one insight at a time. With each step you know more, understand better and begin to bring home more in the cooler.

And, during the process, Lady Luck may smile, dropping your hook on just the right spot at the right time. On the way back to show off your catch, remember what you did and where you did it — another drop in the bucket of knowledge and another step to becoming a better angler.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.