For all you men and women out there who have served or are serving in one of our armed forces, thank you. You may read this column at ease. For the rest of you — well, I guess you don’t have to stand at attention either. I would think that reading anything while standing at attention would put a crick in your neck and, of course, I don’t want you uncomfortable when you’re trying to read and learn about fishing.
When I think of the term “stand at attention,” I think of soldiers in boot camp who are taught to jump to their feet when a drill sergeant walks into the barracks or when they’re in the presence of a higher-ranking officer. Soldiers are taught to stand in a certain way with their heads and eyes locked in a fixed forward position.
There’s no talking and no body movement, so they can hear and see what is being said and taught to them. They’re taught to do this on command, which sounds kind of callous — but if soldiers don’t pay attention to their commanding officers during training, it could cost them their lives when they’re called into duty.
Irrelevant to fishing? Hardly. I think this same method could be used to teach new fishermen to become better anglers more quickly. Take out the screaming and yelling, push-ups, long hikes with heavy backpacks and horrible food, and we might be onto something here.
Imagine if every time you walked out on a pier or stepped foot into a boat, your brain automatically went into a heightened sense of awareness about your fishing place of choice. You can’t tell me that you wouldn’t become a better angler if that happened.
Let’s wade across a flat with our new heightened sense of awareness. When you start your expedition onto the flat, what do you see? Most new anglers see a scary place they know nothing about and just start casting around aimlessly hoping to catch something — anything.
But a new angler with proper instruction sees a battlefield waiting to be conquered. He uses stealthy movements so he doesn’t spook anything. He looks for areas that seem fishy (potholes, oyster beds, wading birds). He listens closely for fishy sounds (jumping or feeding fish). Once he’s identified potential targets, he works them thoroughly and with a few different baits, then commits what he’s learned — good or bad — to memory.
When you’re fishing from a boat (or a bridge, or a beach, or a seawall), you should be looking for the subtle signs nature gives that let you know where the fish are. Something as simple as small bubbles on the surface of a canal can let you know where a snook just sucked down a snack. How about birds running up and down a small portion of seawall? That’s probably where some sort of baitfish are holding — and we all know where there’s bait there are bigger fish.
Diving birds offshore, ripples on a calm flat, fins sticking out of the water and popping or slurping noises under mangroves or bridges are all giveaways as to where fish might be. Did you notice I said “might be?” Even if there are no fish when you get to one of these signs, it was still worth checking out — the next time, you might hit the mother lode.
Teaching yourself to stand at attention when you’re out on the water is a good thing. After a while, understanding what you’re seeing and hearing out there will become second nature. You’ll instinctively know the difference between a redfish wake and a mullet wake, or the sound of a snook busting as opposed to a squirrel falling out of a mangrove tree.
Next thing you know, your fishing partners will be asking you the same question a good charter captain hears on almost every trip: “How did you know that fish was there?” And you’ll try to explain, and they won’t get it, and you’re one step closer to “living legend” status.
Standing at attention in the fishing world is nothing more than taking careful notice of your surroundings with the intent to learn how to fish better. Master this technique, and I promise you will catch more fish. Now drop down and give Josh Olive 20 — pictures of the fish you catch, that is.
Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Having fished the waters all along the Southwest Florida coast for more than 40 years, he has the experience to put anglers on the fish they want. His specialties are sharks, tarpon and the nearshore Gulf waters. For more info, visit ReelShark.com or call Capt. Mike at 941-416-8047.