I’ve been fishing long enough to realize that the number-one mistake anglers make—be that on a bonefish flat, or on a trout river—is that they try to impose their will on the fish, instead of letting the fish dictate the tone and tempo of what ultimately happens.
A little bit of knowledge and motivation can be dangerous things. Even if you’ve paid the dues to develop a prolific cast, for example, the “high art,” in practical terms, is knowing exactly when to let that cast fly… or, perhaps more importantly, when not to. I’ve seen more fish lost as a result of perfect casts that deliver perfect flies, at imperfect times, than I can remember.
I had a great example happen the other day as I was fishing a bonefish flat in Bimini. I saw a big ghost moving along the edge of some mangroves, and I had a shot window that was maybe 10 seconds long. But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have my fly ready; I wasn’t firm in my footing; my line was coiled. So I held off.
Now, truth is, the difference between the angler I was in my 20s and the angler I am in my 40s, is that, in my 20s, I would have made relentless pursuit of that fish around the mangroves. I’d have fired long, fairly desperate shots. And there may have been a 50-50 chance that I could have dropped the fly close enough that the fish would have taken notice, and maybe even eaten it.
But the older me walked to the shoreline. I walked around those mangroves. And I waited for 10 minutes as the fish worked the flat, sight unseen. Of course, there was a good chance that the bonefish could have veered in a different direction. But I had a hunch, and I stuck with it. And sure enough, that silver blade of a fin eventually sliced into view, and I dropped a short cast at the intersection. And you might guess what happened after that. (Hint: the story had a happy ending.)
One of my favorite jazz tunes of all time is “I Waited for You.” It’s been recorded by many of the immortals, from Billy Eckstine to Chet Baker, but it was written by none other than Be-Bop master Dizzy Gillespie, who happens to be my favorite jazz music icon of all. I like to think that this song—perhaps the most “soulful” muse Dizzy ever created—reflects a deep, hard-earned understanding that anything (or anyone) that’s truly worth having, is indeed worth waiting for.
For the angler, that may mean walking around the mangroves. Factoring in the currents. And anticipating where the fish really wants to go, then being there when it arrives.
A good friend of mine recently asked me what I thought was my best asset as an angler. I can’t cast better than many. I can’t tie or even pick flies better.
But I can wait. And watch. And let the game come to me.