Can Fishing Be Too Good?

Think back, have you ever been on a fishing trip and said to your partner “this fishing is fantastic, let’s go home?” Who in their right mind would utter a statement like that while landing their fiftieth fish?  Believe it or not I’ve spoken those exact words on several occasions. Can fishing actually be too good?

Before I explain let’s analyze for a moment the reasons why we fish.  It’s relaxing, I get to spend time with my fishing buddies. It’s reasonably cheap entertainment and last but not least, it’s challenging. What if we took that last reason out of the equation?

After retiring my wife and I spent the next five winters in the Florida Keys, the Marathon area to be exact.  Every winter we hooked up our twenty foot, center console bay boat and headed south. 

Figuring out a new fishing area is always tough. In areas where guides make a living taking northerners fishing, information can be very tough to come by. They want to take you fishing, not tell you where to fish. Locals would rather give up their first born child than give up their favorite fishing holes.

My first year in the Keys I got lucky. I met the owner of a small tackle shop that was willing to share some knowledge. He told me about the fantastic spanish mackerel fishing on the Gulf of Mexico side of Marathon. He directed me off shore 8 to thirteen miles straight west. In this region of the Gulf the water is only 8 to twelve feet deep and covered with grass beds, the type of habitat mackerel love. The shop owner sold me a box of chum and a chum bag. He told me to throw it overboard, wait fifteen minutes and start fishing.

His info couldn’t have been more accurate. We caught a spanish mackerel every time our flies hit the water. We’d created a fishing frenzy . It would not be an understatement to say we could’ve covered the bottom of the boat with spanish mackerel, each measuring two feet. I said to my partner “it doesn’t get any better than this.” We repeated the scenario every time we headed west out of Marathon.

I returned to the Keys the next winter excited at the prospect of filling my boat with mackerel. Nothing had changed, the mackerel were still there and hungry as ever. Our arms ached at the end of the day, but something had changed. Where was the challenge?

We knew that 9 times out of ten if we threw a fly overboard, anywhere overboard, we would catch a two foot mackerel. One of the key components of why we fish was missing: we actually got bored catching big fish.  

When you know what species of fish you’re going to catch and exactly how big it’s going to be, the element of surprise was gone, as was the challenge.

I’ve had a similar experience here in my home state of Indiana. Fishermen on the east side of the state get very excited about the white bass run on the East Fork of the Whitewater River. It happens every spring as the bass leave Brookville Reservoir and head upstream to spawn. No one knows exactly how many fish make the annual migration, but everyone agrees that it’s thousands upon thousands.

At the peak of the run you can catch all the fish you want if you use the right technique. The number of fish you catch is simply determined by how long you stay on the river. Over a hundred fish per day is not uncommon.

On one trip to the East Fork my friend Dick and I decided to have a contest to see who could catch the most fish in row. Dick caught twenty-six bass on twenty-six casts. I was one short with only twenty-five. We repeated the contest, it ended exactly like the first one.

As I gracefully aged I discovered I had become somewhat bored with catching white bass and other schooling fish. The fishing was enjoyable but something was missing. Once again the challenge was gone. Just like the mackerel fishing, it was predictable. I knew that on practically every cast I was going to catch a white bass ten to fourteen inches in length.

This caliber of fishing only occurs when you chase fish that school in large numbers either to spawn or feed. In fresh water it might be white bass, bluegill, crappie, walleye or any number of fish that meet the criteria. As far as salt water is concerned, the species are too numerous to mention.

Don’t misunderstand me, I still pursue schooling fish, it’s a springtime ritual that shouldn’t be missed. This coming May I’ll be waist deep in the East Fork with fly rod in hand.

Likewise I’ll be sitting in my belly boat on a local farm pond plucking hand-sized bluegill from their nests. Even though I find this enjoyable it still lacks the challenge and mystery. 

Years ago there was a story in one of the popular outdoor magazines about an avid fly fisherman. This guy had a reputation for being a real jerk. When he died he found himself knee deep in the most beautiful trout stream he had ever seen.  He assumed he was in heaven.  

On his first cast he caught a two pound rainbow trout. He was thrilled. His excitement soon waned when he discovered no matter where he cast his fly he caught a two pound rainbow.He was destined to spend eternity catching the same trout on the same fly. 

This was his hell.

Dean Shadley
Shadley’s interest in hunting, fishing and a ton of other outdoor activities started at a very young age. He was hunting and fly-fishing on his own when he was eleven; it’s always been his passion. He was employed by the Indiana DNR as a conservation officer for 34 years. For the first 17 years, Shadley worked southeastern Indiana as a field officer. For the last 17 years he was in charge of Indiana’s Turn In a Poacher program (TIP) and was the chief public relations officer for the law enforcement division. Since his retirement he’s spent most of his time fly-fishing, shooting sporting clays, hunting and photographing wildlife. Shadley is Fishing Editor of Sportsman Magazine

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