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"Expert" anglers


Al Agnew

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Yesterday, I suddenly realized about noon that it was a beautiful day for fishing and I should have planned a trip for the day.  The reason I hadn't was mainly that I thought the nearby river stretches would be blown out from the rain the day before, but a check of the gauges showed that it had little effect.  So, I loaded up the boat and took off for a stretch of middle Big River.

It was a pretty decent afternoon.  I didn't catch many fish, but caught about a dozen that were all over 13 inches.  A couple 15-16 inch spotted bass.  A 16 and 17 inch largemouth.  A couple 15 inch smallmouth and an 18 incher.  Several on topwaters, the rest on my homemade crankbait.

As I was driving the hour or so back to the house, I was thinking about whether most anglers could have done that well or better, given the conditions--higher than normal flow, visibility about 18 inches.  We all like to think we are GOOD.  But I wonder sometimes if there aren't a lot of other anglers that are better than I am.  Which got me thinking about the various considerations of what makes a good river bass angler...and why some are probably better, in many ways, than I am.

I know guys who fish the river tournaments who catch plenty of fish, and enough big fish, to win regularly.  That's fishing weekends with a bunch of other good anglers, some on the same waters.  I doubt I could go and fish one of the Meramec River tournaments and do all that well.  Why?  Because, as much as I love the Meramec, I don't KNOW any one stretch well enough to know exactly where enough catchable big fish are.  Time on the water, and time on one stretch of water, is of paramount importance on rivers the size of the middle Meramec, Gasconade, and Current.  The fact is that the smaller the water, the easier it is to fish.  Fishing wadeable and marginally floatable streams, as I do most of the time in the summer, is far from rocket science.  The fish are pretty much exactly in the most obvious places, because there isn't anywhere else they CAN be.  And river bass being as aggressive as they are, put a lure in front of them and chances are that some will go after it.  The water is never deep enough (especially not in the places where the bass are going to be) that they can't see your presentation or otherwise sense it, and move the few feet necessary to take it.  Put any experienced angler on any wadeable stream in the Ozarks and he'll catch fish, no matter whether he's been there before or not.

But as the size of the stream goes up, two things happen.  It gets more quality fishing pressure, and there is more water that does not hold enough fish to make it worthwhile fishing.  And that water is not always obviously not good.  Plus, there is also a lot more water, area-wise, that CAN hold a lot of fish.   Picture one of my favorite spots on upper Big River.  It's about 50 yards long, 3-5 feet deep, mud bank studded with rocks and a log or two, a few big chunk rocks off the bank.  The other side is too shallow to hold any fish.  The middle is clean gravel bottom, no cover, 3 feet deep, no reason for bass to be there.  All you have to do is fish that bank with the chunk rocks and bare mud, making sure you make good casts to the logs, too.

Now, picture a spot, and not really a very big one, that I've fished a lot on the middle Meramec.  It's a hundred yards long.  Rocky bank on one side, mud bank with logs on the other.  Width is well over 30 yards.  Depth ranges from a foot to 12 feet.  Water comes out of the fast riffle above, makes a sharp turn, deep eddy on the inside of the turn, drop-off into deeper water at the edge of the eddy and foot of the riffle.  A few logs sunk in the middle.  Fact is that the fish could be almost anywhere in that pool, including in water most people don't think to fish...drop-offs they don't know are there, eddies with no cover, logs too deep to see.  Never mind the obvious spots along the rocky bank that most people fish.  I've found the fish in the logs on the other side, on the drop-off into the pool, on the current seam at the eddy beside the riffle.  And fishing with somebody like Hog Wally has turned me on to all those very subtle structures on the bottom and in the current that are far from obvious to the casual angler, yet I still don't know a tenth of what he knows about where the fish can be in his stretches of river.

At the same time, that pool is surrounded by long runs that do NOT hold many fish.  There was once a time on the middle Meramec, when I floated it in a canoe all the time, when I just drifted and casted, doing nothing but "bank-shooting", casting to visible targets, and fishing everything I came to.  And back then I caught lots of fish that way.  But now, with the fishing pressure the middle Meramec gets, there are long stretches where that strategy doesn't work...the fish aren't in the obvious spots, nor the little logs and such along the bank in nondescript runs.

Getting back to yesterday, middle Big River is intermediate in size.  In low summer water levels, it's obvious where the fish have to be.  But in the high water conditions I encountered yesterday, coupled with water murky enough that the fish couldn't see far, it is far from obvious where to fish.  So what I did yesterday was mostly bank-shoot, and hope to find some shallow, active fish.  Which I obviously did.  But could somebody who had fished that section all the time in all kinds of water conditions for many years have used a different strategy and done better?  Were there lots of places I should have fished and didn't?  I caught the easy ones.  But surely there were a lot of fish that weren't as easy that someone else could have caught.

My problem is that I don't live right on any river.  A trip to the middle Meramec, or middle Big River takes an hour to an hour and a half driving.  I'm not often going to fish it for a few hours in the afternoon like I did yesterday.  In reality, I probably don't fish any given river stretch more than three or four times a year.  That's not nearly enough to learn it well, unless it's like upper Big River, that's easy to figure and that I've been fishing those three or four times a year for more than 40 years.

So when it comes to learning all the nuances of fishing a given stretch of river, I just don't have it.  What I am, perhaps, is a generalist.  Put me on any stream in the Ozarks and I can catch at least a few fish.  Put me on any of the non-jetboatable streams and I can probably hold my own with anybody.  But I do not know any given stretch of the bigger rivers well enough to compete with those who do.  I'm a cherry-picker.  I fish for the easy fish.  The guys who are the very best at it can catch the difficult fish more regularly than I can.

Next...some other stuff that makes a good angler.

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Pretty much how I feel Al. I get to fish maybe 7-10 times a year. I will say one thing in our defense (the guys who don't fish the river tourneys). It's kind of an unspoken fact that fish get relocated to certain spots before river tourneys. The fish pretty much stay there until they get moved again. If you are the mover, you have an obvious advantage. If you aren't the mover, the only way to take advantage of the situation, is to ramp camp at the last weigh in spot.

I'm still amazed by that river tagging study...50% of the fish tagged were caught in the first few weeks. So don't be so hard on yourself!??

"Honor is a man's gift to himself" Rob Roy McGregor

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I can guarantee that any one can out fish me. I'm just not going to try that hard anymore. I chased those bass tournament dreams for a lot of years. Glad I no longer have those dreams. These days i'm just as likely to paddle over a good looking spot searching for the monster that lives there as I am to make a cast. My only competition is the fish. I'd say we are even currently.

Not that I'm against anybody that is striving to be the expert. Beer there, done that, understand it.  

 

 

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Recently I downloaded the MOTV app so that I could watch the "exclusive coverage" of the MLF top finishers.  This is where the camera is on the "winner" throughout the whole period and isn't cut or edited.  

I can tell you that watching guys like James Watson (who I think is a really cool guy by the way),  Kieth Poche, Mark Rose, Lefebre, Palinuk, Chris Lane and several others including veteran Gary Klein.....Makes me pretty darn proud of myself.   The boat control, the casting accuracy, the looking around and not paying attention when they should be, handling a good fish at the side of the boat.....And all kinds of other things.  Honestly in some cases it's like watching a 12 year old fish.   It truly left me thinking "Dude, how the hell did you get where you are in this sport?"   It's way deeper than just someone having an "off day".

Now Mike Iaconelli (even though his antics annoy me), and Greg Hackney, Denny Brauer, Mark Davis.....Those boys are on their game!  The boat positioning is thought out, the casts aren't wasted and are on target, their eyes are focused where they need to be, ect.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I recognize a truly good angler when I see one.....Whether he catches a fish or not.  

Being truly good, or better than most, doesn't mean you're gonna win.    It SHOULD.....But it doesn't.

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I may be called crazy and hey I've been called worse, but there are also some folks out there who are more "fishy" than others... The guys who catch fish without trying... or maybe without having the perfect technique or even gear.

These folks will just catch fish no matter how hard they try not to.  I know this fishing luck may seem silly like a magical unicorn, but there are times even when I have had it, where 2 of my buddies using same line, lure, technique, and in some cases the same rod setup who stand next to me and cast and cast and cast, while I'm reeling in fish consistently.

Not sure what to call it, but I do love when I get to be that guy.  One thing I always try to remember is to always fish happy.  Getting frustrated for me always ends up in just more frustration and negates the whole point of me being out there in the first place.

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I may be called crazy and hey I've been called worse, but there are also some folks out there who are more "fishy" than others... The guys who catch fish without trying... or maybe without having the perfect technique or even gear.

These folks will just catch fish no matter how hard they try not to.  I know this fishing luck may seem silly like a magical unicorn, but there are times even when I have had it, where 2 of my buddies using same line, lure, technique, and in some cases the same rod setup who stand next to me and cast and cast and cast, while I'm reeling in fish consistently.

Not sure what to call it, but I do love when I get to be that guy.  One thing I always try to remember is to always fish happy.  Getting frustrated for me always ends up in just more frustration and negates the whole point of me being out there in the first place.

Good points, JestersHK.  Some dudes are fish whisperers for sure.  

The very act of fishing makes me happy . . . and is not something I have to remind myself to "fish happy".  

As for experts . . . I am more than content with never becoming one.  I bank shoot . . . . and I find it satisfying, and the randomness of my success or failure under difficult conditions or on unfamiliar waters doesn't bother me terribly.  In fact, I think its the randomness that keeps me interested.  I like to fish new places and I often struggle adapting.  I eventually will figure it out.  < okay, maybe not the GD#$^@! Meramec>.

Show me someone who can consistently catch big fish out of their familiar waters, and I can't say that it impresses me much.  Is that really an expert?  or is that someone that has specific dialed-in knowledge of that water and has a few "pet fish" that he has become acquainted with on previous occasions.  Good for them. 

 

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One thing I always try to remember is to always fish happy.  Getting frustrated for me always ends up in just more frustration and negates the whole point of me being out there in the first place.

Exactly !   When things aren't working out and I'm at a loss as to what I should do, that's the time to just put the rod down, sit down and eat a sandwich or smoke a cigarette, or go for a boat ride.  Better yet pick up the phone and call your wife.... It'll clear your mind, make her day, and score you some brownie points so that even if you fail to catch fish you'll still have something to look forward to later. ??

After a tough day I always figure out what I SHOULD have done later that night.  Hindsight=20/20

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That's the part about tournament fishing that I enjoy the most. Even when you struggle, somebody else always catches them. In my opinion, if you know how river bass function, you can go catch fish without a problem on any of the rivers in our area. I know some guys who go prefish and all that jazz for tourneys, but I never have bothered with it. I go fishing and try to figure out a pattern and then hop around and try to replicate it. I think going in a with a plan hurts guys a lot because they spend all day trying to chase that pattern and it just never works out for them. They aren't that complicated usually, just go fishing and put the pieces together as you go. That's how I approach all types of fishing. The only time I'm dead set on how I am fishing is when the water gets really clear. It boggles my mind that guys hate fishing clear water so much. That's my favorite time to fish.

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The very act of fishing makes me happy . . . and is not something I have to remind myself to "fish happy".  

I've always been this way, I just really like to fish.  Saturday I spent all day trying to catch hybrids with just a small largemouth and a large white bass to show for it.  I had a great day!

 

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It a

mps drives ne nuts to have another in the boat with me. They talk move around trying to get my attention and like seceral ha e don staamp on the bottom of the boat.I always do better by myself. In LOZ it is about useless to realy fish docks the way you should with two people in the boat. I see them trying to do it all the tome. But to me it would get very distracting. when I am on my game It is almost like my mind is locked in. I know part of that is because I do not hear. But knowing some I am suree not alone. 

 

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