After much introspection during our recent down time, I have decided that there are some confessions I want to make. I realize that some of you may be shocked and saddened by some of what you’re about to read, but I feel the need to unload these deep secrets. So hang on; here we go.
A real lady-killer
I like ladyfish. There, I said it. And not just as bait for something “better.” They are crazy fun to catch, especially on light tackle or on fly, as they run helter-skelter all around the boat and jump frantically to shake the hook (which they manage to do quite often). When I’m within casting range of a full-blown ladyfish feeding frenzy, it’s hard not to get excited. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — I even laugh when they poop on my shoes.
Who needs big ones?
I may have to turn in my “man card” over this next one, but here it is: I usually prefer to stay busy catching lots of smaller fish rather than hold out for larger fish. It may be a function of old age but I don’t get much joy from the back-breaking labor involved with pulling on big strong fish. Jewfish? You can have them. Big sharks? I’ll stick with the little guys. Ten-pound bass? You spend the day hoping for that bite while I go catch a bunch of bluegill.
One for the table
Here’s one that is sure to offend someone: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with (legally!) killing a fish to eat once in a while. I am happy to let the people who we pay to manage our fisheries figure out what species can withstand harvest and what size limits, bag limits and closed seasons are needed to keep the stocks healthy. I pay attention to those rules, and I eat a few fish.
I’m a fish counter. I know, I know — it’s fun just being out there and it’s not just all about what you catch. I get that, and I truly believe it. But, if I head out onto the creek I’ll have a mental tally running of all the fish I catch and release: Nine bluegill, six stumpknockers, three bass and a Mayan cichlid. If it’s an expedition in the Harbor, the score might be 12 snook, three redfish, two trout and a sailcat. Or whatever comes along. I really do enjoy every trip out there, even if nothing much is caught — but I am a fish counter nonetheless.
Love to fly
I prefer fly fishing. I like all types of fishing, but given my choice, I would really prefer to catch just about any species on fly if it’s at all practical. Actually, even when it’s really not all that practical. Yes, sometimes a fly rod is the best way to catch a given fish, but in Southwest Florida those situations are pretty rare. Most of the time you are imposing a handicap on yourself by opting for the fly. My preference for fly fishing is especially confounding in light of my fish-counting predilection. Go figure.
Count the rods
In a related vein, I think I might be a fly rod hoarder. Scratch that — I’m pretty sure I am a fly rod hoarder. I have so many that I couldn’t tell you the number without going out to the garage and counting them. I have at least a half-dozen that I’ve never even fished.
I hoard fly tying materials too. I have countless bins, tubs and drawers jammed with fur, feathers, skins and synthetics. I have all shapes and sizes of hooks, beads, chains, dumbbell eyes, fuse wire, threads, glues and paints. If I dropped everything else in my life and did nothing but tie flies, I might start to run low on materials in a decade or two.
Here’s one that might get me drummed out of the fraternity of serious fly fishermen: I don’t always strip strike. Sometimes I set the hook with the rod. I think I just heard a collective gasp from all the fly fishermen (and fly fisherwomen) who are reading this.
I have heard all the arguments in favor of strip striking and I agree with most (but not all) of them. Sometimes I do strip strike. But there are times that I just want to lift or sweep that rod to hook my fish. And you know what? I seem to hook my share. Yes, I do sometimes pull the fly away on a missed strike. When that happens, I just cuss a little and try again.
Here’s a warning just in case there are any fly fishermen who haven’t yet given up on me: Things are about to get worse. Much, much worse. Because I don’t really care too much about how good my loops look. Unless I really need to reach a long ways out there with a cast, I just let ‘er go. Give it a rip or just a little flip. Not worrying about your loops is about as sacrilegious as you can get in the fly fishing world. Well, it’s not as bad as sticking bait on your fly, but it’s right up there.
Roller coaster ride
Sometimes we get surprised by weather conditions and things can get dicey enough that we need to not be there. But when I’m alone and there is no one else aboard that I need to worry about, I like running boats in a little bad weather.
Crossing the Harbor in a skiff when it’s gnarly enough that you actually have to drive the boat into and around the waves rather than just steering gives me a bit of a thrill. Running out in the Gulf when the waves are big enough that you have to do some controlled surfing on the downslope and hope that you don’t bury the bow in the back of that next wave is plenty exciting.
To help make sure I don’t get a letter from somebody’s lawyer, please understand clearly that I am not advocating that you go boating in bad weather or in any unsafe conditions. Leave that to the nut jobs like me.
I’ve got a bunch more, but fortunately I’ve run out of space.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.