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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Thursday, March 21, 2019
Dollars and Sense
Thursday, April 25, 2019
Picking your poison

As Seen On TV
Like you, I watch fishing on television. Most of the time, I do so with casual interest, hoping to find a small nugget I can file for future reference. If I really learn something, I consider that a bonus. What I don’t like to do is unlearn something.

The problem — as I see it — is that even professionals can have bad habits. Or, they ascribe to some of the same balderdash we often do. To be clear, I’m not referring to strategy or lure choices or any of the mental gymnastics required of a cast-for-cash fisherman. No, I’m talking about mechanics. You know, the muscle-memory basics of putting a fish in the boat; the stuff we no longer have to consciously think about.

Of all the transgressions at an angler’s fingertips, the one you would assume professionals have overcome are those committed right at the boat. I mean exactly at the location where one would expect every fiber of their being and every second of their experience to be used with absolute precision. Yet, over the last two decades or so, this is where most of the experimentation has taken place.

I’m not sure of the exact chronology, but a sea change in landing technique sent a wave of pros running back to the driver’s console where, among a veritable parts list of potential trouble spots including power shifter, electronics, windshield and steering wheel, they collectively decided this was the most effective place to cradle and land a fish. Closer to the water, alright, fair enough. But also in a seated position, which pretty much makes this decision a full-commit proposition. If something does go terribly wrong, getting back up and back into the fight — particularly if one is encumbered by a heavy jacket or rain gear — throws up some huge question marks. Strategi­cally imaginative or tactically insane?

If you believe in coincidences (which I do not), this penchant for landing fish in perhaps the most congested area of the boat magically coincided with another questionable activity. At more or less the same time, it became fashionable to scramble around the boat dodging cameramen and other less mobile objects in completing the process. In a professional sport where the participants are constantly alluding to eliminating mistakes, making good decisions and streamlining their performances, I can’t see how any of this bass boat ballet (my apologies to ballerinas everywhere) even remotely checked any of those boxes.

Does the need ever arise for doing something crazy? Of course it does. The very nature of fishing sometimes puts us in situations where one needs to be creative. But, unless you are constantly out of position and always fishing in areas resembling the apocalyptic world of a Mad Max movie, it is usually the exception, not the rule. It is even less the rule — or should be — for anyone fishing out of an $85,000 bass boat. I sometimes wonder what their troll­ing motor sponsors are thinking. “What?” Our motor wasn’t working?”

And, while we’re on the subject of bigger fish, may I offer my humble professional opinion? In a career largely predicated on catching bigger fish, I can say with absolute certainty that among the options available to an angler in subduing a mammoth fish, running around the boat should not be your first instinct. Remaining under control should be. Remember, every movement of your rod is just as important after the hookset as it is before.

Modern fishing rods are responsive, powerful and ridiculously lightweight, producing maximum output from minimum input. Coupled with low-stretch braid and fluorocarbon, the fish knows what you’re trying to do. If you’re under duress or in tight quarters, there’s pretty much no other choice than putting the wood to them. But, in the vast majority of big fish encounters, the key is in leading them to the boat, not forcing them. With larger specimens, there is a premium on being counterintuitive. Rod movements should be smooth and purposeful, done calmly and without violent or sudden changes in angle or force. This, of course, rules out what is commonly called crossing over.

Crossing over the rod is a rather self-descriptive phrase in that it describes the rapid movement of the rod from one side to the other which, up until a few decades ago, identified an angler as someone lacking in basic fish-fighting skills. Then, somehow, it became a thing, one adopted by crankbait fishermen who considered this risky maneuver a worthwhile risk in attempting to get a better hookset.

So, let’s follow the logic here: You work hard to catch a fish. You hook one. Then, at the most critical juncture of the fish-fighting process, you swing your rod violently across the compass in hopes of affecting a more positive hookset? Pardon me if I pause for a moment to slip on my hip boots. While I have been fortunate enough to share the boat with a veritable Who’s Who of great anglers, I have never seen this technique work with any degree of consistency — in real life, or on tele­vision — that would entice me to include it in my personal skill set. Yet, the practice persists nearly every weekend on a cable channel near you.

Just why anyone would adopt techniques where the downside leads underground and the upside could barely peek over a blade of grass is beyond me. Math was never my strength but I do understand percentages. What I’m probably overlooking is the power of the television camera. It makes people do strange things. It also makes the people who watch these strange things do them. Don’t.

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