I have been fishing for as long as I can remember. I have old, family photos showing me with a rod in my hand at the age of 3 and every year after that. I took up saltwater flats fishing when we moved to Florida when I was eight years old. Geez, 39 years later, I still love it. When I was 15, I took up saltwater fly fishing. It turned from a new challenge to a passion and later to a career. I have been blessed in my career and had the opportunity to learn from Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, Chico Fernandez and many people that are not as "famous" as those; in fact, I really cannot think of anyone that I haven't learned from (sometimes it is learning what not to do, but it is still learning). I have also taught hundreds of people how to fly fish and tie flies. I say this, to say that I am quite confident in my fishing abilities. I say that to say this: no matter how confident you are, there are times when the fish will reach right up and smack your ego in the nose, laugh at you, and humble you so bad that you may even consider giving the sport up. While I didn't think about giving up the sport, I did have one of those days last week. I'm sharing this story so that everyone knows they happen to all of us (I've seen it with the finest anglers in the world, including some of those mentioned above). I will say that I take it to a whole new level though; I find new, artistic ways to have these types of days.
Last Thursday was one of those days that should have been stellar. I launched the boat on a day that there was little traffic, plenty of sun, and although a decent breeze was blowing, it was from a good direction. I really didn't have a plan, I just wanted to be on the water after not being for almost a week, due to weather and commitments. I wasn't worried if I got to catch anything, I just wanted the peace and tranquility that the water brings. The morning run was beautiful: the light breeze across the face, the warmth of the rising sun against the skin, and nature providing sights that only she can provide. As I ran the boat I headed to the tidal waters, to see if the tides were returning to normal after some passing storms. I found them to be perfect for sight fishing.
My first spot was a bust. Something wasn't quite right and the fish were not showing themselves. Still, it felt good to be standing on the poling platform and hunting. So, I headed to my second spot. Here, everything was perfect. As I approached an oyster bar, I saw two tailing redfish. I wasn't within casting range, so i continued easing toward them. They disappeared, dropping off the oyster bar, only to reappear right in front of the boat and spook off. I'm not sure why this always seems to be the case; when a fish disappears, they seem attracted to the bow of the boat. at least I knew there were fish in the area. A few moments later, I had a single fish cruising the mangrove roots and heading my direction. I prepared to make my cast and staked the skiff out. He was 50 feet out, cruising left to right, back exposed, and right up against the mangrove roots. These are the shots I dream of. I made two false casts and sent the fly in his direction. 50 feet and three inches later, the fly landed on an overhanging mangrove branch, two inches above the water. I tried to gently ease the fly off the branch and it immediately plopped into the water, right on top of the fish's head. Needless to say, he did not appreciate this and the last I saw of him was a mud puff and a shadow fleeing at about Mach 2.
Before I could bring the Powerpole up and begin poling again, I saw a second fish. This one crashed something along the shoreline, about 100 feet in front of the boat. Again, the perfect target in the way he was coming. I eased within range and made my cast. Two twitches of the fly and I had a hook-up! I landed that fish, took a quick photo, and felt redemption. My confidence was back and I had a feeling this was going to be a banner day.
Well, I won't bore you with blow-by-blow details on the next ten fish, over the next hour. I will suffice to say that each one was a perfect target, providing plenty of opportunity. I didn't hook another fish. Instead, I found new ways to completely blow these shots. Mangrove stems and roots ate two flies; literally, they were swallowed into the labyrinth of these trees, never to be seen again. Then there were shots so far off target that I had a better chance of catching the moon than the fish. Others were so accurate that they surprised the fish and caused them to run for other countries. With each fish and mistake, I grew more upset with myself. My clients will tell you that I NEVER get upset when they miss a shot; we simply gather ourselves and prepare for the next shot. I cannot say the same thing about myself. In fact, my wife laughs, saying she has never heard anyone else call themselves a moron, an idiot, or worse. She laughs, reminds me I am human, and that I always tell her that anyone can have these days.
Yes, going 1 for 12 on fish that are giving you perfect opportunities is frustrating so say the least. But, you can still learn from it. I reminded myself that fish eat with their mouths, not their butts (I already knew this, but confirmed it several times). I also reminded myself that you look where you want the cast to go, not at the fish. There were numerous reminders of what not to do that day; but in the end, you know what stuck in my head? That second fish! The way the cast landed perfectly, the way he lit up when he saw the fly twitch, the excitement as he rushed forward, opened his mouth, and swallowed the fly. That is the whole reason we keep coming back, no matter how much our ego suffers from the other fish.
I write this as a reminder to all, that no matter how much experience, knowledge, and ability you have, everyone can have one of those days. It is also why I NEVER get upset when clients make mistakes. I hear about other guides that scream and cuss when an angler misses a shot. I've never been able to understand that. I know these guides and I know, because I have witnessed many of them in person, they blow shots too. So keep that ego in check, or nature has a way of putting it in check for you! If you are new to the sport, don't let those bad days get to you! They happen! Instead, look at the things that went right, even if you don't catch a single fish, you were out there, enjoying the outdoors and not in some office building, traffic jam, or stuck in line at a store.
When you are having those days, here's a tip. Stop what you are doing. Put the rod down, grab a drink and just take a few moments to take in the natural world around you. Watch a crab swim by, maybe a a bird overhead looking for dinner, and take a deep breath. Then, get back up there and go again. Many times that brief moment can re-set everything for you and get you back on track. Sometimes, you just go 0 for the next 6. Either way, you're out enjoying the water and that's not a bad thing!
Have a tip for those bad days, or want to share a similar story? Post it, I would love to hear it!