Perceptive anglers know that a successful day on the water requires a nimble mind. “Successful” in this case refers to the art of figuring things out; a raised fish, a hooked fish, a lost fish, or a landed fish are all better than the alternative. Nimble anglers are the ones who adapt tactics to conditions. Yes, the bite’s been good, and this lure has worked. But now the weather changes, or you lose the lure, or the fish have moved on. What do you do then? Bad anglers continue forcing the same pattern into the water. Good anglers adapt, with mixed results. Great anglers are struck by a figural bolt of lightning, and do something brilliant, eccentric, or simply crazy.
I put myself in the middle tier. Take for example a good late summer bass bite I fished on the Haw River not long ago. Early September is when the shadows hurry to grow long, and the water, clear from a dry summer, moved in a cool, unhurried flow. Topwater action had been hot all summer long so I reverted to habit: poppers and plugs. But this was a section of river notorious for its deep, narrow channels and fish that hesitated to rise. After an hour of failing to persuade the fish, I switched my bait from a noisy topwater plug to a jointed sub-surface lure. The tactical change obtained the desired result, and fish that were in no mood to strike at the surface chase down a lure that swam a foot below the air. Stubborn adherence to established pattern – out. Largemouth Bass on every other cast – in. Granted, this was not the grind of a tournament event, where pressure and exhaustion come into play.
Monte Burke’s engaging and well-written Sowbelly offers the literary analog to the versatility I have in mind. Mind you, I refer to the book. Most of the anglers depicted in it are another matter. Continue reading