By Nick Simonson
Not every aspect of angling is as easy as sitting on the bank, casting out a bobber over a hook full of worms and hoping for a bite, the way many of us started out fishing. With each varying twist on the sport, there is more to learn and practice than there was at the level before. Jigging, flipping and fly casting each have a certain amount of precision that takes time to master. Even trolling and presenting baits at certain depths for greater effectiveness have elements of physics, geometry and those “Train A leaves Chicago at noon” type of calculations I could never figure out in Mr. Stites’ Algebra III class.
Many of us made it up some portions of the fish-catching curve on our own. Through trial and error, we were able to figure out what new baits worked where and how to offer them up and how new styles of fishing paid off with more and bigger fish. Other times, we imitated what we saw on TV or read in the pages of a magazine, whether it was Texas-rigging for bass like Bill Dance or selecting swimbaits for walleyes on the advice of Al Lindner. However, the times that learning new forms of angling seem to stick with me the most have been in the second seat on a fishing trip with a friend, taking bits of advice and a few borrowed lures and learning by doing under the mentorship of another angler.
If you’re reading this, then odds are you have a chance to be that mentor. You get to be the other angler that shares his or her wisdom and well-developed tactics to help another, more often younger person, climb up that same learning curve, and do so in a way that makes it a bit easier than you might have had it. By being prepared, positioned for success and, ultimately, patient, the role of outdoors instructor is a whole lot easier and those a-ha moments come a lot faster for the student.
Preparation is key for any presentation, whether it’s a class in physics or fishing. Have the knowledge and the tools you need to pass along the angling information before setting out on the water. For me, I learned fly casting from my mentor on a gym floor at the University of North Dakota many months before I set my first fly on the waters of the nearby Turtle River for stocked rainbow trout. Explaining advanced forms of angling to someone trying them for the first time can be aided by hands on practice and a number of online articles or books that can be digested before an outing. While it’s probably obvious, make sure that equipment is in good working order and there are lots of lures to share.
If it’s an on-the-water learning session, make sure that success can be reasonably achieved, and the easier it can be done, the better. Psychologists stress that positive reinforcement results in better learning and behavior retention, so fish where there is a high likelihood of success. This past week, I helped a young angler learn the mechanics and connect with his first fish on the fly rod. While I assisted with the casting effort, the pull-and-lift hookset was all his own and he smiled as the bluegill splashed and swirled its way to shore, accompanied by four or five others that followed it in. There was no doubt in my mind when we set up on the small pond that he’d catch a fish, making his first attempt at long-rod angling a successful one, because I had fished there before and knew there were many willing panfish in the water.
After two or three successful releases of bluegills coming on a bead-head nymph, my student went back to the bobber and caught a few dozen more fish. In my mind, that was fine. Line tangles, flies snag tree branches and brush, and fly fishing just doesn’t come easy. By being patient, and letting the student dictate when class time is up, there’s less chance of frustration or burn-out. Have other options, or more familiar methods of angling at the ready, in case the topic of the day becomes too difficult or simply is not succeeding at that particular time. There’s always the prospect of another day down the road, whether next week or next year, where you can continue the lesson of an advanced form of angling, and sometimes waiting for that opportunity is the hardest – but wisest – part of being patient.
By being prepared to pass on what you know, with the right rods, baits and gear in that perfect learning environment where fish are present (and biting), peppered with a little patience and recognizing when it’s time to wrap it up, say when nightcrawler races start happening in the carpet of the front of the boat, you’ll be ready to help another angler make the transition from bobbers and basics to more advanced angling…in our outdoors.