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For the Love of the Game

This time of year in the Northeast where I live always sneaks up on me and then Bam! we’re fishing again. It gets fairly intense as we begin conniving to find some time to chase striped bass. I find I can accomplish a lot more in my day if I start it off by harassing a few fish before work. There’s something that feels deliciously illicit about stealing out of the house to get after them while the world sleeps.

Jason Y. Wood and a mahi-mahi

But then fishing memories push to the surface one after another like daisy-chaining bluefish if I let them. In fact I’m reminded of a time I was fishing in a shark tournament off the coast of Massachusetts years ago. Actually I had secured a spot on a tournament boat specifically not to fish, but to observe and hopefully learn about this kind of fishing, which at the time I had never seen first hand. My hope was to write about it for a magazine. Ah youth. Things didn’t really work out as planned.

I was pretty green then and I remember watching the setup of the heavy tackle with great interest. This crew tied their Bimini Twists as a two-man job, and for a long time after I didn’t know there was any other way to do it. As we set to catching cod for baits—big baits—I learned that that activity would often draw the attention of the kind of fish we were really after—makos and porbeagles.

We drifted for a while as the sun rose higher, warming the day. I chatted idly with one crew member or another, and sure enough one of the baits got bit. As the angler—or the guy I thought was going to be the angler—hooked the fish, the skipper came up behind me and took my ready camera and notepad from my hands (remember, I said I was green) and buckled me into a gimbal belt and kidney harness. 

As the—ahem—battle royale began, the sunscreen I had so diligently applied now ran into my eyes and burned like hell—I was completely blind! The line seemed to be going in the wrong direction, off the reel, endlessly. Of course, when I did eventually manage to get the fish in close—a fair-size porbeagle from the reports of those aboard who knew what they were looking at—the thing swam directly under the transom. And even though I kneeled on the covering boards to get that rod tip as low as I could in the water, the line parted, most likely hung up on the running gear. 

My fight was over. And so was the day, as we didn’t see anything else until lines out. No wonder the crew was so disappointed when I lost that fish. The rest of that day was tough, but I learned a few things.

And yet now that I think back, it was really just another school day in an ongoing education that’s lasted my whole life. I’ve pursued fish whenever it made sense and sometimes when it didn’t, in both fresh water and salt, on foot and from boats. 

The jobs I’ve held have given me access to some of the best anglers in the world, whether I’m editing or interviewing them, or looking at their photos. They’ve all taught me something, whether they intended to or not. What you notice is their attitude, which sums up nicely as if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

I’ve actually made the transition at times and joined the faculty: I find nothing more gratifying than showing someone how to fish as properly as I can, from interested kids to friends my age who grew up stunted and unloved (must have, since they weren’t fishing, right?), to my dad, whom I gave an impromptu casting lesson one afternoon. He never had the time for fishing, though he always likes the stories about it.

It all fits together. Fishing, and sharing stories, and laughing, and learning more about fishing. That’s the best part of the tales to my mind, aside from the punch line: There’s always a lesson, and sometimes a nugget of you’ve never heard of this happening before.

Have you got a fish story to share? We’d love to hear it, and see photos too. Maybe your lessons will help us all enjoy our time on the water more. Drop me a line at jwood@aimmedia.com.

And I’ll try to respond in short order, but it may be a while. You see, I’ll probably be out fishing.

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