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Here’s why it’s not called “catching.”

Fish or Cut Bait

A bad day fishing is better than … well pretty much anything but a good day fishing.

Jason Y. Wood

Say that again,” I said, turning away from the task at hand to look at my fishing partner, Max. I don’t know exactly when my demeanor that morning became that of a gunfighter in a Hollywood western, but in hindsight that’s just where my mind had sunk at that point. The sun rising into the sky certainly improved my squint, even as it eroded my resolve.

“I said, ‘At least we didn’t get skunked,’” Max said, the emphasis on the last word once again setting my teeth on edge.

“I don’t know if this counts,” I retorted, swinging the bowed spinning rod tip over the side to boat a foul-hooked bunker. There were rafts of them—simply thousands, really—pushing up into the film of the water’s surface, lazily giving away their every location—they were everywhere. And not one of them was scared by any kind of predator, least of all us.

It was July 12th, a hot Sunday morning on Long Island Sound, and the best fishing probably was over anywhere from three to nine hours prior, based on the tide and the rise and set of the moon—if you believe in such things.

Five Ways to Be Fishy When They Aren’t Biting

1. Look at your rigging. Replace leaders, and get that proper line spooled up so you’re ready for the bite next time.

2. Take inventory. What lures and terminal gear are you missing? Miserable to have that one lure/rig/fly that’s working get lost or ruined and it was your only one.

3. Work on the boat. My dad taught me long ago that machinery that is well cared for runs when you need it. And regardless of whether it’s in your head or not, it’s also good for your soul.

4. Swing by the bait shop. Those guys are tremendous sources of information—the good ones are at least—and your 5 a.m. trips don’t always leave a lot of time for small talk. Go when you have some time, you may be surprised what you learn.

5. Read Anglers Journal . Helping us understand the why of fishing, and doing it with some of the best writing and photography around, is what this magazine is all about. Order your subscription here.

Problem is, I do. I believe in anything and everything that will help me catch some fish, more fish, bigger fish, more fish than you, more fish than the guys in that other boat, more than I did last time I was out. And that delves into the deep science of when the bunker get too big and when the alewives run and how warm the water is and what color are the grass shrimp this year and why? And yet, I ignore it all sometimes.

Because my angling touchstones also veer into the ridiculous. And I know that it is ridiculous too, but still I work really hard at not crossing the line with the supernatural as well—hey, you never know. Yes, I’m superstitious. There’s a lot we still don’t know. So if I were to see a rabbit on the way to fishing, well, I’ll still go, but at least I’ll know why I didn’t catch anything. My neighborhood is overrun with rabbits. And it doesn’t help if you run them over after seeing them either. (Full disclosure: I don’t know about the running-over part based on personal experience. I would never do such a thing. So please don’t e-mail me about it.)

Everyone fixates on bananas, too. And I don’t rule them out of the equation, but that wasn’t the problem on this day. It was fairly easy to track the outing’s trajectory from the minute we hit on the idea of fishing. Or should I say, I hit on it. Max seems to have a preternatural sense about these things and he had no intention of fishing when I reached out to him with that first text. Here’s the exchange:

Me: How’s Indefatigable? [that’s his boat, a Whaler walkaround he rescued from a boatyard and with which he has summarily fallen out of love. Hey, it happens.]
Max: Haaa. She’s for sale.
Me: Yeah, she running? [I get right to it, don’t I?]
Max: Yes. Still needs pump. [Max is being kind here. One half of his pair of two-stroke Johnson outboards has, shall we say, its head in the clouds. Of pungent blue smoke.]
Me: You thinking of fishing at all today?
Max: Doubt it: Should I call if I do?

So needless to say, I prevailed upon him (I’m a very convincing texter) and against Max’s better judgment we set out. It was against my better judgment too, but that just sounds like more hindsight as I write it. Sometimes it’s just an itch that needs a scratch.

Fishing is a problem, but it’s a pretty good one to have: Sure it can cost a lot and takes up a lot of time, but it can be fulfilling and somewhat wholesome. Not like that heroin you read about so much these days. But I hear people can kick their heroin habit. Never hear about that happening with fishing.

And so there we were, the whole of Long Island Sound stretching before us, the greasy-smooth surface undulating with a gentle swell. Like I am wont to do, I jointed up my flyrod, knowing I had neither the right fly, nor the right line rigged, nor anywhere to stow it. It’s the eternal optimism that keeps you coming back.

So we put some big WildEye Storm Shads on a couple of Max’s light spinning rods and took some casts here and there. Then we cut into the mouth of a cove and drifted, and that’s where I foul-hooked that bunker. We were casting close around the bait schools in hopes that big bass or bluefish were harassing them from below. But those bunker were so … chill, there’s simply no other word for it. I’ve never seen something so near the bottom of the food chain so plainly happy and blissed-out.

We tried a couple more spots. And the sun beat down harder as it rose higher in the sky. I even lashed away uselessly with my 9-weight for a while, putting Max and me and anything within a 40-foot radius in danger of being hooked. Except of course, a striped bass. All for naught. It was Max that broke the spell, or was it a curse?

“Well, I gotta be back by 11,” he said, seemingly trying to convince himself as well as me. When I thought about it, I also needed to get back, or stop, or do something else. 

And as we parted ways in the parking lot, I said, “Thanks, Max. Let’s get out again.”

“Yeah we should.”

The next text I got from him was to talk pricing on selling Indefatigable. And the one after, a few days later, was him telling me she sold.

Me: That didn’t take long …
Max: Nope, guy up in Fall River …
Me: What are you getting next?
Max: I don’t know I saw one of these… [and he pasted in a link.]
Me: Looks cool. Can’t wait to get out again.

And the eternal optimism lives on.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.