Back in the day when wooden boat paddles powered fishing boats and a bass tackle box wasn’t big big enough to hold a pair of today’s basketball shoes, we simply had a load of fun fishing. Even when they didn’t bite.
There was pressure, mind you. Not to win a trophy or earn a patch in the Bass Club or make Facebook, but to catch supper. If we spent money to buy bait and took the time to go spend a day on the lake, results were expected.
Hardly a day went by when loading up the boat and heading to the lake, we didn’t hear the same thing.
“When will you be home? I’ll have the grease hot.”
Now that’s pressure. But if the root of your piscatorial pursuits isn’t simply having fun, then you have already gotten a backlash in your fish basket. You see, fishing has to be fun, or it isn’t fishing.
“God did never make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling,” wrote Izaak Walton in The Compleat Angler, one of the most reprinted books in the English language other than the Bible. He was right. Read that again and remember it.
Smell like a fish
If fish must be supplied for supper and you can’t buy a bite, there’s always the fish market. Just make sure if you have to resort to that, rub a few filets on your hands and arms so you will at least smell fishy when you deliver the goods to the kitchen. Because, you know, the fish didn’t always cooperate.
Back in the day, we didn’t know much about Solunar Tables or barometric pressure or have any devices to see fish under the water to show us where to drop our bait. We didn’t have YouTube videos to teach us to bait our hooks. We just went fishing when we had a chance to go fishing.
But if you play your cards right, there’s no such thing as a slow day fishing.
I spent a great deal of my younger years fishing with an old friend, Gary Cooper. No, not the actor. The one who struck me out every single time at bat in Little League.
We were competitive on and off the water. In almost everything from ping pong to Tiddly Winks, he would usually beat me. But when we fished, I had the upper hand. There was always a prize for the first one that caught a fish, or a penalty for the one that didn’t. Maybe it was a Dr. Pepper or a Ding Dong for the winner, or maybe the loser had to bury the fish heads. If we caught any, that is.
Never a slow day
But we never had a slow day fishing. Never. Here’s why.
“See that big cypress stump over there? Let’s see who can cast the closest to it.”
And the competition was on. I would come within a foot. Then Gary would come within six inches. Then I’d cast and hit the stump. If you hit the stump and didn’t get hung up, you were the automatic winner . . . Champion of the world baitcasting contest! Hand me that Dr. Pepper, please.
It was most often the best out of three, but some contests went on and on, depending on the reality that the fish really might never start biting that day.
There was a special baitcasting contest that I liked. Distance casting.
“How far can you hurl this Hot Spot?” We didn’t have Rat-L-Traps back then, you know.
We had to both cast at the same time and at the same distant object. A backlash meant instant defeat. When the Little George lure, a huge hunk of pure lead, came along, it opened up a whole new level of distance bait casting. It taught us important lessons. Like, never hold a distance bait casting contest into the wind, especially with an open-faced reel. There are no winners there except the sporting goods.
My favorite fish-not-biting sport, though, was always bait racing.
We picked out an object and the rules were simple. You had to cast out as close to that object as you could so both lures would be the same distance away, both at the same time, and we had to reel as fast as we could. Bait that hit the tip of the rod first on the retrieve was the winner.
One time, it took a series of bait racing losses before Gary discovered that my bright shiny new silver Ambassadeur 5000C had a 5.1 gear ratio in it, compared to the 4.1 ratio of his little old red Ambassadeur 5000. Little things like a “C” can make a lot of difference in professional bait racing competition.
Occasionally what really made these special activities memorable was that during the nonsense, one of us would actually catch a bass. It was awesome. But if you caught a bass during a bait race, there was no way you could win. But it did help in the effort to make the grease stink at the end of the day.
More than once, our activities would get us the side eye from some professional angler with patches on his shirt and his name on his boat, but bah, humbug, they probably never had any fun.
Cast at Yonder Coot
Sometimes a very unique and perhaps the most challenging event of all presented itself — the Cast at Yonder Coot Contest. Coots would be innocently milling around the edge of a grass bed and presented a fun, moving target. You got bonus points if you got close enough to make it scoot across the water; double points if that scared up other coots. By the way, if casting at coots is against some obscure migratory game law, we really didn’t do it. I am just lying.
Despite the technological war on our wallets and our minds, it’s still not too late to go back to fun things like this.
What do you do when the fish aren’t biting? I hope it isn’t to go home. Or get grumpy. There’s a world of fun to be had out there, you just have to let go and remember you are fishing for fun.
Say, I bet I can cast this new Rat-L-Trap further than you can…. And keep your eyes out for coots!