By Nick Simonson
When making it through a long and chilly week like the past one, I often find myself debating…myself. Perhaps it’s a symptom of cabin fever here at midwinter, but the inner dialogue (monologue?) at the lure-making bench does tend to get interesting. One of my favorite debates raged on in the negative-20s of Wednesday night, and the topic of “is it better to catch one big fish, or a bunch of average fish?” circled around each jig I tied up. Could you go on all day struggling, knowing that a monster will come, or are you contented by fast action – fish that just can’t stay off the hook, even though they aren’t of legendary proportion? Of course, there are all sorts of caveats to the question – the species, the reason for fishing, and the manner of angling. Situationally speaking, the answer may change on any given day, but a number of factors come into play, if you’re ever forced to make the decision.
If you’re talking walleyes, or crappies, or any fish for the fryer, I think the answer is pretty simple – quantity. A big walleye is 30 inches and will most likely be photographed and released or maybe mounted; but a bunch of average ones are 14 to 16 inches, meaning one meal for sure, and probably a few packaged up in the freezer. So while a big one may fill a hole in the décor of the den, a slew of eaters will help fill your belly this week, and in the weeks to come.
But when targeting big fish like pike, muskies or those species that are normally catch-and-release like largemouth and smallmouth bass, that one monster will make an outing. Maybe you’re the kind of angler who goes out with big fish in mind, so instead of throwing that four-inch tube for bass, it’s a seven-inch worm to keep the small fish off while searching for that lunker. Especially for elusive species like muskellunge, one fish can turn a day without a strike into a memory struck into legend. In these instances, it’s quality, quality, quality.
Maybe you’re just starting out or getting the hang of a particular form of angling. When it all came together for me, it was nights full of white bass under Baldhill Dam on the Sheyenne River near my hometown. Hundred fish days from shore taught me everything I needed to know, and while these silver panfish rarely topped more than two or three pounds, they gave me the start I needed to find out more about the world of angling.
On the fly, nothing beats dozens of willing sunnies rising to a dry fly or slamming a pheasant tail nymph. Finally, when conditions are bad, nothing helps one forget the cold, or the rain (or the snow) than an active bobber, or a jig that gets pounded on every cast.
Then again, one big fish can do it all – win a bet with a buddy or take an entire tournament, put you on the podium and make you the angler to envy – proving that you’ve got what it takes from all that practice with every fish you’ve hooked up with until that point; giving you the chance to recount how you handled the pressure when your rod was doubled over, and your drag screamed for mercy and landed the fish of a lifetime.
Lakes and rivers vary. Some get hit hard, and some are sleepers for trophies; but they’re all around in all different states of development, flux and production levels. Some are loaded with eater ‘eyes and plenty of pannies for your fish basket, and others give up great ghosts – monsters that come but once in a blue moon. Hopefully, there’s one or two (or ten or more) near you that can give you the opportunity to test your skills and help you find whatever you’re after – quality or quantity – and answer the question for yourself on the ice now and in the openwater seasons to come.
Featured Photo: One Big One. Sometimes it only takes one fish – like this 27″ walleye – to make a trip. Simonson Photo.