Inlets, flats, creeks, feeders, sloughs, marshes, pushes, pulls, pilings, piers; incoming, outgoing, slack, half, negative, or flood. Whatever your style, tide, or condition of saltwater angling happens to be you have probably noticed the same influx of boats in recent years that I have. This is a phenomenon that is to be expected in today’s day and age where knowledge and accessibility are readily available at the opening of a laptop. Sure, it takes some clout and courage to read something online about an unfamiliar place, formulate a plan, and make it come to fruition in the form of fish over the gunnel. What most fishermen have unknowingly left out of the equation is that there is life outside of where Google claims you can catch fish. It is an easy trap to fall into when the tools at our disposal make everything… well, easy. However, what the fishing community seems to have forgotten is that fish are WILD. They go where they please, when they please, eat what they want, when they want, and remain hidden in conditions when they should be chasing bait like DiCaprio after an Oscar. To be a successful inshore, specifically “skinnywater”, fisherman you must break the mold. You have to get out of your comfort zone.No algorithm, software, or database is ever going to be able predict the circadian rhythms of a fish. There is no question that fish act in a certain manner in certain geographic or seasonal circumstances but the one who thinks that they have the pattern written on the back of their hand is the first one left empty handed. Inshore saltwater fishing has become exponentially more popular in recent years, which carries both positive and negative undertones for those who live and breathe the archaic air of the estuary. On one hand, there is a relative flood of revenue going toward conservation programs with every new line that goes tight for the first time. On the other, there are millions of lines being cast into coastal waters every year, which only add to the insurmountable pressure our marine life already faces.
Anyway, that is beside the point I want to make. For me, one of the greatest feelings in the world is putting someone on their first redfish. I know I am not alone in that sentiment because someone once put me on my first redfish and I am positive they were far more excited than I was. However, holding that copper colored, evolutionary marvel in my hands for the first time I knew I would never truly let go. When I was younger I always felt like somehow I would achieve some level of primal mastery pertaining to man versus fish. Knowing what I know now, anyone who claims to have mastered a fishery or any of its subsets has been drinking the same Kool-Aid that made pirates believe they had dominated the ocean. You cannot master something that is forever changing. Plain and simple. That being said, you can gain an unbelievable understanding of the water, landscapes, and patterns of an area. So many anglers, myself included, get comfortable with “homewaters” that are often times overcrowded, overfished, and overrated. It is human nature to want to feel comfortable. However, it is not solely human nature to seek security.
What I am getting at is that security and comfort are innate cogs in the evolutionary clock for all animals in the food chain. Fish seek security and comfort but often times their properties of coziness rub very close to the edge of your comfort zone. It only takes so many tide cycles sitting high and dry to realize that where a redfish thrives, you are well beyond your comfort zone. Being beyond that threshold is a sacred place, however. There are very few aspects of my life where I consider being out of my comfort zone a good thing. As a matter of fact, that is usually when the “fight or flight” instinct takes over and it’s typically a response that is a tragic mixture of both. I hate roller coasters, airplanes, being underground, basically anything that gives me the proverbial “pit in my stomach”. The one feeling of anxiety and uncertainty that I relish, however, is knowing that I am putting hooks in front of fish that have never seen them before. There are so many things that go through your head when you are on a mission like that. The unease that I feel in circumstances like that come from the fact that I have spent countless hours stranded in the middle of an estuary myriad. A maze that would put whatever fiction is in The Hunger Games to shame. And yes, they may have dragons, demons, etc. but they DO NOT have “no-see-ums”.
This underappreciated gift of exploration is something that has been lost on the fishing community since the dawn of “better-than-you-at-fishing” emporiums and websites. Obviously I am not referring to the community as a whole because in every group there are outliers. Outliers who enjoy that uncertainty on a primordial level. Outliers who haven’t lost that sense of exploration that takes you off the grid. My favorite days on the water have come after taking a spontaneous late night drive to Nowheresville, USA and spending the night in a forty dollar motel only to wake up surrounded by miles and miles of water I have never fished. That is when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. To me, it is like learning another language. You are never really fluent until you have immersed yourself completely in the culture. Fishing is no different. You can spend all the time in the world plugged into blogs, Google Earth, myspace, Guiness Book of World Record for crying out loud it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that nothing will teach you the language that fish speak like getting lost in their world. Trust me, fish “worlds” are not so far apart either. Redfish, in particular, may act a certain way in one area only to behave like an entirely different fish a couple hundred yards away. No, you will not be different than anyone else who is willing to break the mold. You will fail and fail miserably. Nothing worth knowing is gained easily though.
One thing I do know for sure is that fish have an extraordinary propensity for hiding in plain sight. But that is only when you get to places where fish are careFREE and you have to be careFUL. The community fishing holes will always be there and yes they will probably always hold fish but there is something more satisfying about finding something of your own. Next time you see that spot on a map that looks fishy beyond all comprehension its probably because it is. I’m not saying go out into unforgiving marsh wilderness with reckless abandoned but there is nothing wrong with going out of your comfort zone. Do your homework, experiment with the tide, take your time. Everything you are programmed to do when you crank up that motor on a balmy spring morning tells you to play it safe and go where you have seen fish on multiple occasions. It’s a natural occurrence seeing how humans are incentive based. The risk taken to go to unspoiled fishing grounds is the ultimate reward in my book. Get lost to find your way.
The day that you stop exploring the waters around you is the day that you become complacent and obsolete as a fisherman. Animals that do not adapt to the condition in any given circumstance are the first ones to be eliminated. As much as we like to think we are removed from this enigma, we are not. Granted, you are not going to be wiped off the face of the Earth if you come home empty handed but you will be falling behind the curve. The conditions that the fishing community faces today would be akin to what two million wildebeest experience on their annual migration across the Serengeti. Everywhere you turn there is someone impeding on your space, on your green grass so to speak. You have two options, you can play bumper boats all day, competing with someone over a worn out fishing ground. Or you can stake your own claim of pristine marsh where the grass is greener and the fish are more than willing to cooperate. Yes, some #%@$ will eventually come along and ruin all of your hard work in the sense that he rings the dinner bell for the rest of the wildebeest herd. That’s fishing though. At least you got to have a miniscule slice of this world all to yourself for the moment, however short it may have been. That is a kind of solace that very few people in today’s day and age even know exists let alone know what it feels like. I have started to evaluate my days on the water very differently since I really committed myself to finding places far beyond the comings and goings. Do I think that the fishing is better in these forgotten sanctuaries? I am positive of that. Is that what I really seek these sanctuaries out for? Maybe originally.
The experience is different and carries any number of meanings depending on the fisherman. For me, it stopped being about the fish and became about watching everything unfold right before me; unfold as it was intended to, uninhibited by the long reach of human sprawl. These tiny little pieces of nowhere are all connected but they are all microcosms in the same regard. Each one has something completely unique about it. I don’t know much but I do know that you will have a much deeper appreciation for the water that surrounds you if you can make it cough up its secrets. Chances are they will be well guarded by an oyster vault or a rapidly dropping tide but the marsh is not unwilling to divulge them. So wander and wind your way to the edge of your comfort zone. Go up that creek that gives you an uneasy feeling when you pass it. Pole to the far reaches of that grass flat that seems to meld together with the horizon. Get out of the boat when it gets stuck. Bring a rod or don’t. If you do nothing else when you’re in one of these places do yourself a favor and just keep your eyes open. Oh yeah, and bring a camera. You’ll be glad you did.
Until next time, think like a baitfish,