by Shawn Good, Vermont Fish and Wildlife
Some anglers peg themselves into a specific fishing box. A bass angler. A trout angler. A fly angler. A big-water troller. I understand how rewarding it is to really be able to dial in a particular species and be good at catching it. That’s Stage 4 Fishing. Mastering a challenging species or technique.
But at the same time, I’ve always tried to encourage folks to look beyond that. Get outside their comfort zone. Fish outside the box.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen this: I’ll be out with any one of a number of friends who consider themselves bass anglers. We’re having fun and getting excited when a 4- or 5-pound largemouth or a 3-pound smallmouth is caught.
And then, something happens that I have a hard time wrapping my head around.
My fishing buddy sets the hook on what’s clearly a much larger fish, and they’re jumping around in the boat like a kid, saying, “Oh, it’s a big one! It’s a hawg. Get the net!”
And then, a 15-pound freshwater drum, a 12-pound pike or an impressive bowfin rolls up, and I watch the air deflate from their chest and the sparkle leave their eye.
Sometimes, they don’t even try to land it. They throw slack in their line and try to shake it off at the side of the boat. Like it’s not worth their time pulling it in.
Dejected, they mutter, “Dammit, it’s just a drum.”
Wait, what? How was that experience disappointing? I watched them go from being super excited, to feeling let down, just because that big fish wasn’t the species they wanted. If big fish are what revs their engine, they just landed a fish that’s two or three times bigger than any bass that would make them whoop and holler like they won the lottery.
Part of the thrill of fishing I’ve come to appreciate is the surprise I get when I reel in something I wasn’t expecting. Our waters and fish communities are so diverse, you never know what you’re going to catch. And that’s exciting to me.
I’d like to see anglers take a minute to appreciate and enjoy every fish they catch—whether purposeful or accidental. Get stoked and see the value in each one. Be a kid again. I’ve yet to see a kid reel in any fish species and not be happy about it.
Spread your wings (or your fins) and give something else a try. On purpose. You just might find a whole new box you like just as much.