Every year more than thirty million people in the United States go fishing. Behind this vast migration to our streams, lakes, bays, and oceans, there lies a greater motivation than the desire for food and exercise. It is simply that fishing is fun—so much fun that it is one of the nation’s fastest growing family sports.
But as one of the thirty million, and perhaps one of the most avid, let me make one thing very clear—fishing is most fun when you catch fish. The joy of being out in the open, the incomparable beauties of nature, the unparalleled opportunity for relaxation and reflection—virtues so often alluded to as the agreeable rewards of angling—all must take their proper position behind this one overpoweringly significant fact.
And to accomplish our mission—to catch fish, not by chance, but by design—we must expend every effort to present our bait so that the fish will take it, either as food or from curiosity. We must know how to sink the hook that is attached to that bait, how to play the strike and land him safely.
There are three basic methods of fishing:
- Still fishing. This is the simplest, often the starting point of one’s interest in the sport. The equipment required is elementary: a rod—this can range from expensive fishing tackle to a bamboo pole; a length of line; a float or bobber; and a hook. The hook carries a natural bait— worms, minnows, hellgrammites, crayfish, grubs, insects— and lies static beneath the water until a fish bites.
- Trolling. In this method, the hook, with bait or artificial lure attached, is drawn through the water by a slow-moving boat. Trolling is practiced on the ocean, on freshwater lakes, and in rivers that are wide enough and deepenough to give your lure unobstructed passage
- Casting. Here the angler employs the action of his rod to “throw” an artificial lure over the water, then retrieve the lure so that it imitates the action of live bait. (At times, live bait is cast in the same manner.) The principal casting techniques are bait, spin, and fly casting for freshwater fish, and surf casting in salt water.
The question that’s often put to me is, “Why bother to learn to cast when you can just drop a line in the water and still fish?” There are three obvious answers that come to mind immediately, and a dozen more that may occur to any of you who have tried both methods.
First, it’s much more fun and more sporting to catch a fish by casting. Second, when casting, you can present your lure in good fishing spots that can’t be reached by still fishing. Third, while the still-fisherman can present his bait only to the fish in his immediate vicinity, the caster can reach much farther, has a greater potential number of fish within his range. His chances of taking a trophy catch—the ultimate goal of nine out of ten anglers—increase correspondingly.
Fortunately, you can practice casting at home on the lawn, in a park, or over water. Remember that casting practice is as helpful to the angler as driving practice is to the golfer or batting practice to the baseball player.
There is one very important consideration which all fishermen, whether beginners or experts, should keep in mind —and that is conservation. Undersized fish—state laws specify the minimum size and the numbers that can be taken in fresh water—and those that you don’t plan to eat, should be released immediately after they have been landed. (The method of releasing fish is discussed in Chapter 7.)
While marine biologists are agreed that no important fresh- or salt-water game fish are, at present, in danger of extinction, past experience with many land creatures in all parts of the world seems to warrant a policy of caution and farsightedness. The history of conservation in this country has been largely the story of locking the barn after the horses are stolen. Today, as more and more people are discovering the pleasures of angling, we must all practice conservation if our sport is to continue to provide us with enjoyment in the years to come.
For most fresh-water angling, a fishing license is required. These are granted by individual state governments and are usually available at county courthouses, town halls, and quite often at fishing-tackle shops. The fees range anywhere from 75¢ to $3.50 for residents; $2.00 to $15.00 for non-residents. With the license you also receive a copy of the state’s fishing laws and, of course, they must be followed to the letter. As a rule, no license is required for salt-water angling, but there are exceptions in some states. Check with local authorities or the United States Coast Guard if you are in doubt.
In almost all states there are open and closed seasons on many fresh-water species; before you fish any waters be sure the season is open for the species you plan to catch. (If a fish is caught that is protected by a closed season, it must be released immediately.) This is especially true when you plan a trip to out-of-state waters. To obtain this information, write to the Director of the Conservation Department of the state where you are planning to fish. A letter so addressed, sent to the state capital, will reach the proper source. Ask (1) for a free copy of that state’s fishing laws; (2) for information about license fees and data on the open and closed seasons (usually contained in the law booklet); (3) what weeks are best for given species; and (4) where the best fishing and accommodations can be found.
You won’t learn to fish just buying fishing gears and reading this article. But you’ll find that your hours of apprenticeship on the water will be greatly shortened if you know something about the sport before you start. Nobody would expect to play baseball in the major leagues as soon as he bought his first glove, and no golfer would expect to win the National Open as soon as he has acquired his first clubs. Bring the same patience and persistence to fishing as you would to these other sports: you’ll be in the ranks of the expert a lot sooner than you would expect. .