You hear it all the time: “That guy has no clue how to fish.” “I saw some moron out there casting a topwater plug to a bunch of mullet.” “I can’t believe how many idiots there are on the water.”
I’m sorry — were you born knowing everything about how to boat and fish in Southwest Florida? No? Then you must have learned what you know somewhere along the way. And I’ll bet you didn’t learn it by osmosis. You learned it because someone took the time to explain it to you or show you. Instead of getting mad at those “idiots” or making fun of them, how about you share a little bit of your superior knowledge?
Let’s say you walk past a guy fishing on the pier. He’s using a 12-foot surf rod, a huge reel spooled with 50-pound line, a 3-ounce sinker and one of those pre-made wire leaders. For bait, he’s got a bag of brined finger mullet and he’s spearing them onto a 10/0 hook. How do you react? You could mutter under your breath about the stupid Yankees trying to fish, or you could point and laugh, or you could say, “Hey, stupid — you’re doing it wrong!” Or you could strike up a conversation, ask him what he’s catching, and maybe offer some helpful hints.
How about someone at the boat ramp who’s having a tough time trying to get their vessel on the trailer? If you can see what he’s doing wrong, why not let him know? I really doubt he wants to make a fool of himself, but if he doesn’t have enough experience to know that the trailer is too far out of the water or can’t figure out the right angle to back his truck down, it won’t hurt you any to offer his a little helpful advice.
A lot of people are uncomfortable with pointing out someone else’s mistakes. But I find as long as it’s done in a respectful way, most people respond positively and are grateful. It’s true that some people don’t take constructive criticism well. No matter how nice you are about trying to point them in the right direction, there are folks who will just take it as an insult. If someone doesn’t want my advice, I stop offering it. Still, that doesn’t stop me from trying to help out the next guy. Maybe he’ll be more appreciative.
If you’re still in the beginner class and are worried about being the one everyone is rolling their eyes about, I’ve got a suggestion for you: Swallow your pride and ask for help. If you see everyone else is catching fish and you’re not, watch them and try to figure out what they’re doing. But if the mystery doesn’t clear up, don’t be too shy to ask for some pointers. Most of the time, you’ll find people are willing to help if you’ll just ask. If you need to get your boat on the trailer but you’re not quite sure of the proper procedure, it’s much better to ask a fellow boater for advice than to bumble through it and tie up the ramp for 20 minutes. It might be embarrassing to ask for assistance, but it’s worse to have everyone staring daggers at you because you’re gumming up the works.
Of course, the best way to learn is to have a good teacher. A good local tackle shop is helpful in figuring out what sort of tackle will actually work, so you can avoid wasting money on stuff you don’t need. Walk out on the piers and talk to people who are actually catching fish. If you can identify the regulars, they’re usually full of good info. Read local boating and fishing publications, which have lots of information that is specific to this area. The Internet can be a useful resource, though you’ll have to sort through huge piles of junk to get to the good stuff. Hang out at the boat ramp and talk to the charter captains who are waiting for clients to show up. Join a boating or fishing club and make friends.
A lot of times, the best people to talk to are the guys who are out there all the time. That seems obvious in a way — those are the guys who have the most information — but on the other hand, it can be a little intimidating to chat up some of them. But they’re the ones who are most likely to give you solid, useful tips. Most of them won’t feel threatened by providing you with a few hints – they know so much that it’s no big deal to share a little info. Ask a guy who only knows how to fish one spot or catch one kind of fish, and he might hold back because he doesn’t want the competition.
If you need actual tutoring, those fishing club friends can be helpful. Invite them out on your boat and pick their brains. You can also hire a guide to come aboard your boat and teach you how to operate it, where to go, how to fish certain spots — whatever you want to know. Of course, any education costs, but that’s because it’s worth it.
I’m never afraid to help a newbie out, because I remember back when I was just getting started. If some people hadn’t been kind enough to help me out, I don’t know what I’d be doing today. And I’m not too worried about giving out “secret” information. If I share my secrets, that just means I’ll have to learn more of them, and that’s not a bad thing.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.