September 10, 2012
You hear a lot of clichés in the fishing industry. Our sport is 10 percent skill and 90 percent luck. Ten percent of the anglers catch 90 percent of the fish. My favorite overused, albeit forever sage axiom holds that luck occurs when opportunity meets preparation.
Indeed, fishing is an opportunistic sport, and those who prepare not only for their primary mission, but also for countless contingencies are most likely to keep the rods bent.
To frame this premise, consider that food is the most common motivator in fish behavior. They'll risk a little danger, tolerate uncomfortable conditions and deal with obnoxious neighbors when meals avail. You can't change sea temperatures, weather or water clarity, but the one area in which anglers can appeal to a fish is their appetite. That means you should keep something edible - or a good imposter - on standby at all times.
Offshore anglers targeting reefs, wrecks, ledges and other hard bottom for grouper and snapper know that blackfin tuna, kingfish and barracuda frequently patrol the mid-depths to surface waters. There's not much you can do about the ones that snip off your bottom baits as they descend, but you can often score a nice bonus by flat-lining a live sardine, threadfin herring or cigar minnow behind the boat for whoever wanders into range.
Likewise, keeping pitching bait handy can convert sightings into hookups when cobia or sailfish show themselves. Dead ballyhoo can often do the trick, but nothing beats a live baitfish (or eel for cobia). Leaving a hooked bait in the livewell is a recipe for tangling, but detaining a lone bait in a bucket of water maintains hassle-free readiness.
One key area of opportunistic preparation arises in shallow water sight fishing. Here, the common scenario finds one angler on the bow and another on the poling platform. The latter's main job is propulsion, but an angler on a platform is still an angler. And an angler without a rod is simply an ill-equipped angler.
Are you feelin' me?
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In whisper-thin brine, redfish - the common sight-fishing target in southern coastal waters - will spot you long before the bow angler notices the first wake. However, the elevated perch of a poling platform greatly facilitates long-range detection, and thereby facilitates prompt reaction.
You're back there to look and to push, but think multi-tasking. The bow angler won't always hit the mark and sometimes, a fish just doesn't want to eat what you throw at him. That's when a backup rod comes in handy.
The poler can keep himself in the game by sticking a rod butt in his back pocket, in his waistband or between his knees. (Rod holders mounted to the poling platform are helpful.) If his partner blows the cast or if multiple targets appear, that second shot can prove invaluable.
Intrinsic to this logic is diversity. Two of the same bait can mean double rejection from picky fish. Moreover, duplication violates the principle of tactical options. If the bow angler is probing with a topwater plug or a gold spoon, the angler on push pole duties should arm himself with a jig or a soft plastic jerk bait.
If a fish boils on a topwater or follows a spoon without striking, a well-placed plastic can often push him over the edge. Often, you just have to make the bait available right when the fish is keyed up with interest. One entrée may not tickle his fancy, but something a little different dropping onto his radar screen could be just the ticket.
A few things for polers to keep in mind:
- Don't lay a rod on the platform between uses. This is a tripping hazard and a very good way to damage a rod, if not kick it overboard.
- Don't dangle a bait in the water. Boatside strikes from reds, snook, tarpon and other sportfish are rare, but jacks, small sharks and catfish don't seem to mind where they find their food. One good tug and you've donated your outfit.
- When a poler hooks up, or even when he needs to pause and work an area, the push pole can quickly become an unnecessary encumbrance. Clinching the pole between your knees is a quick fix, but for optimal control, stake out by sinking the tip into the bottom, slipping a looped line over the foot and tying off to the platform.
Other considerations for angling readiness include keeping decks clear of clutter, communication among crew members, and an overall awareness of your surroundings. Focus on your objective, but don't fish with blinders. Remain alert and the sea will often yield a bounty of opportunity. You just have to be ready.