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Fishing - Knowledge: a key tool in the tacklebox

Finding and catching fish starts with focusing your hunt and tapping multiple sources of information

Finding and catching fish starts with focusing your hunt and tapping multiple sources of information

Fishing is about knowing. It’s about knowing where to go and what to use once you arrive. It’s about knowing spots, techniques and the nature of your quarry as well as knowing the lay of the bottom.

Taken together, these all contribute to success. How then does one come about such information, given the limitations daily life often places on time spent on the water?

One suggestion might be to limit oneself to one type of fishing in one defined area. This may not be for all, the repetition dulling to some. But for those who can, you begin to learn more about how to catch the critters, discarding that which does not work and building on the limited success we all seem to have at first.

Reading books and watching informative videos or TV shows all help, but nothing beats time-in-grade, trial and error, and keeping at a project after missteps and backfires. A thick skin will also help in light of any pot shots you might receive back at the docks at the end of an unsuccessful fishing day.

Winter seminars put on at yacht clubs, fishing organizations or large consumer shows all help, especially if there’s time after for questions. Just one tip from a local pro saves considerable time and fuel, and is worth the small price of admission some of these events require. Sometimes the speaker will part with a GPS number or mark a chart where drifting for fluke is better than others, or where drifting in deeper water with whole, large bait will produce more than drifting in 20 feet just off the swimming beach.

Tackle shops are a great source of information, particularly in the winter when people behind the counter are not rushed as they often are on a July Saturday. If you buy some tackle, or a new reel, you are in a prime position to ask for advice after the purchase. The owner or clerk, usually both expert anglers, will take time to show you how to rig right or point you to the all-important spot where your quarry resides.

If you become a regular at the store, expect to receive updates as you spend more of your “fish budget” at the premises. The fellow in charge talks to all manner of fishermen, often saving timely tips for good customers. Fishing conditions change constantly, so the freshest information is the best.

Chartering a boat is another way to pick up information. Just watching the mate rig up can pay dividends. Here’s a fellow who spends almost each day on the water, and readily parts with tricks of the trade.

Folks interested in targeting large striped bass often hire boats that specialize in the same, usually learning a game much quicker than those who do not. There are hundreds of charter skippers up and down the coast. Asking around at the dock, or using the Internet or phone will put you in touch with someone who specializes in that which you wish to master.

Buying someone a beer at the end of a day or doing a good turn often results in a tip in thanks or maybe an invite to go along with Joe two slips east of yours, the very same Joe who won the club fishing contest.

I knew a retired Marine major who once found a charter captain’s Loran book, filled with years of fishing spots, lying on a dock where it had fallen. Instead of keeping it, he called the man to return it. The captain repaid the kindness by supplying him with dozens of numbers to catch codfish on Cox’s Ledge, a prime area at that time many years back.

Networking by offering help pays off time and time again. Instead of chuckling at the poor guy who can’t quite dock his boat just yet, go over to lend a hand with dock lines or a quiet but friendly critique. And, don’t be surprised if the same fellow, maybe not a fisherman even, repays you in kind. One angler who did this found out the fellow he helped ran a marine electronics store and was able to offer a substantial discount on a chart plotter.

There is also the short tale of a man who dropped some fish off to an elderly, housebound lady who just happened to be good buddies with another lady whose husband was a commercial fisherman who ran a small, inshore dragger. The captain kept a book of bottom hangs, places he snagged his nets while dragging. These spots are often hot spots for sea bass, porgies and other tasty targets. Lady 1 asked her friend if she would put in a good word to borrow the log. In the end, the deed resulted in a treasure trove of bearings.

Then there is the story about a fellow who lives around Sanibel, Fla., who bought a home from a real estate agent who was also a fisherman. In addition to getting a house, the man also received several great locations to catch large gag grouper a long ride offshore — no problem for the new home owner since he’d just bought a 27-footer with twin 200s. You just never know what fishing information might lie around the next bend in the road.

Once you start a store of knowledge, keep it in your head or on paper or on screen, referring to it time and again, continually adding to it. Rather than looking on bad trips as a waste of a precious day off, think of them as building blocks. Getting skunked occasionally can offer a valuable lesson in what not to do and put you that much closer to your goal the next time out.

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.