Three Lessons from a Great Fisherman

I used to fish a lot with a great fisherman and friend named Louie Z. He lived to fish and fished with the enthusiasm of a little kid – he just had piles of energy. And no one has more enthusiasm than little kids, my midlife crisis not withstanding!

He’d often see and hear things no one else did! No, he wasn’t nuts like some of my other friends are, but he almost always heard and saw fish that no one else would. The surf might be crashing and the wind blowing, but he’d hear fish breaking no one else did. The water might be dirty and it might be night, but he’d see fish.

Now I have other friends who see and hear fish I’m convinced aren’t there. Not Louie.
Louie caught those fish. They existed for sure. Fishing with Louie drove you to fish harder. Conditions might be tough, but Louie would almost always pull in a fish, proving they were there and they were catchable.

Louie fished for just about everything, including stripers with a passion. We spent an entire month in the fall on Marthas Vineyard several times. Louie didn’t sleep well during the day, so he’d get up constantly wandering around our rented house like a semi-zombie, only to come fully alive at nightfall, prime striped bass time.

Many times when we had a tough night, he pull out a lone fish, often a 20-30 pounder. He was simply amazing at times.

So why was Louie such a great fisherman? I’ve thought many times about this, and boiled it down to three things.

1) Time on The Water
The more you fish, the better you get. The more time you spend on the water, fishing or not, the better you get. Now I’ve stolen the “Time on The Water” line from Lou Tabory, and it fits Louie Z perfectly.

Louie fished constantly. He was a striper nut like me, but if the stripers weren’t around, he was still fishing. He’s icefish tidal rivers for smelt in the winter. Go south to chase stripers before and after they were in his home state of Maine. He’d be the one digging clams, scallops, and oysters and cooking them up for all of us.
Louie was on the water all the time, or at least as much as possible. It definitely made him a better fisherman.

2) Use all your senses
How many people mindlessly, although usually very happily, go though the motions of fishing? I know I sometimes do, enjoying the scenery and the salt air and more.
Louie never fished mindlessly. He always enjoyed fishing, but he used all his senses possible to pursue his quarry. Now I’m not going to go through all six senses (there are at least six, right?).

You can always see. It might be dark, but you can still see somewhat, even on a dark night.
Most fishermen do not try to see fish very hard. My friend The Loom often spots stripers at night at Nauset Beach in the waves. Louie would see fish, or bait, or whatever most of us would miss.

A day on the flats with a decent bonefishing guide will teach you a few things about seeing fish, most notable how most of us suck at it! I can tell you after a few days bonefishing I can see maybe 100 times as well as the first. Yeah, time on the water again.

Often you’ll see birds. We all know about birds diving wildly over fish, but sometimes they’ll be a few quietly feeding and be able to see what they’re feeding on.

Sometimes you might just see a dark patch, maybe it looks like a shadow of a cloud. My two most amazing cloud shadows, barely discernable, turned out to be massive schools of fish. One was a few hundred feet from where I’m typing and was a school of acres and acres of bluefish!

Also listen. Dump that iPod or whatever. You can hear fish breaking sometimes, birds feeding, and more that you might never see. Louie almost always heard fish. I’d call him a liar if he didn’t usually catch them!

The sense of touch or feel is important too, right? It’s important for all types of fishing. Now I’m not much of a bait fisherman; I usually flyfish, but it matters there too. I remember bait fishing with Louie and Coop up island on the Vineyard, and we were all getting nibbles, but they were hooking the fish and I wasn’t/ Hey, we were fishing dead hunks of meat on the bottom and the sense of touch make an enormous difference.

You probably don’t need to imagine how much more important touch is when fly fishing. Or when wading at dark. Or walking over slippery rocks.
Smell? Well, old timers swear they can smell bass and they supposedly smell like watermelon, but I’m not sure I buy that. I do know I have smelled oily baitfish being chomped and driven up on shore and it has led me to fish.

3) Keep Learning
Great fisherman are always learning. Whether it’s new spots (or relearning old spots as they change), new techniques, new areas, or learning more about their quarry.
Personally I’ve done lots of “cross training” – and techniques I learned from fishing for trout in New Zealand, bonefish on the flats, and even feeding dried cranberries to fish off of a dock with my kids , have taught me things I use to catch bass.
Louie always had a new spot, new lure, and more, and was on more Striper conservation and management committees (if I’ve got the terms right here) than I can remember. Constantly learning, constantly improving.
So there you got it; to become a much better fishermen, and we can all improve (certainly I can!), spend a lot of time on the water, use all your senses, and keep learning!

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