big snook dock

Photo provided

Christopher Edgar with a 40-inch snook — his personal best — caught and released from his backyard dock on a soft plastic swimbait. Before hooking into this slob, he was having fun catching fish in the 20-inch class.

Ever notice how some anglers consistently outfish others? How do you suppose they do it? Is it luck? Instinct? Skill? Or something else entirely? I’ve seen beginners outfish all of us, and every blind squirrel finds an occasional nut. I’ll offer some tips to help you out, but the real secret will be at the end.

How many times have we encountered the one individual in a group that is getting the bites and catching the fish? We try to duplicate what he or she is doing, and they still outfish us. Attitude is a huge factor. Stay positive and optimistic. Don’t let things bother you. Be aware of your surroundings.

Be in the moment. Concentrate on what you are doing right now — not what happened five minutes ago, or what might happen in an hour, but right now. It’s easy to drift back into things that bother us and lose focus on the moment. Successful anglers are focused on what they are doing.

One of the reasons many fish is to forget other issues. Real life is full of bummers. Focusing on fishing allows us to temporarily forget those hassles we need to get over. It’s therapy (so we can justify more investment in equipment, because we are healing our souls). I could be serious here. Don’t go overboard, but allow yourself the luxury of becoming engrossed in something you like to do. Focusing on distractions pulls us into a relaxed, happy place — if only for a while.

Take fly fishing, for example. Focus on the rod distracts from everyday headaches. If you can’t learn to allow the rod to become a natural extension of your body, you can’t cast! Try it. Explore fly casting for fun, for a distraction, and to become a better caster.

Fly casting can teach you to be a better caster with a spinning rod, too. It forces you to master rod control, which will increase your distance and accuracy. Learning how to load a rod lets you cast rather than throw your offerings. Consider how much effort you put into casting. Then load your rod tip like a fly caster and amaze yourself with how easy it becomes.

We have awesome composite materials incorporated into our rods these days, but a lot of anglers cast like they’re using the old fiberglass sticks. Move your rod’s tip, not the big end. Try a two-handed grip and pivot.

Back to why one out-fishes the rest: Yes, skill can be a factor. But we have all seen the beginner’s luck syndrome. What is the real story? Consider that the newbie might be a better listener. This especially applies to ladies and children, since men have an attitude of pride to overcome. Others want to learn first, and listening produces positive results.

It’s always confounded me that men pay dearly for golf and tennis lessons, yet have a problem paying to learn to fish. How about it, Coach Josh? Have you encountered this? (Editor’s note: You know I have. This is why I love teaching a husband-and-wife team — I can show techniques to her, and he can nod in agreement. — Capt. Josh.)

Most of us try to emulate any productive methods we observe. But we can match their rod actions and lure selection and they’ll still out-catch us. I have personally experienced this and it’s frustrating. Usually there’s some little piece of the puzzle missing. Is it a dark-colored hook? A slightly slower or faster retrieve? Don’t overlook fluorocarbon leaders; they are harder for fish to see.

Way back in the Miller’s Tarpon Tide Tournaments days, we had a cold front run all the tarpon out of Boca Grande Pass. We fished into extreme overtime and no one even saw a silver king all day. It was a bust. That same evening, every silver king in the world came charging back into the Big Pass just before dark. It was impressive. Everyone caught tarpon until they hurt too much to fish anymore or ran out of bait.

Capt. Steve Doss on the Double Header invited me to ride along for a fun trip to catch fish. We enjoyed the hottest bite ever! Ever bait got bite but mine. I was trying too hard and expected the bite. After a few fish by everyone else and a few adult beverages, I didn’t care as much and loosened up. That’s when I started catching fish too. We lost count at 70 — yes, seventy — tarpon jumped. Our arms ached for days, but it’s a vivid memory reminding me of this: Let them bite; don’t try to make them bite.

With beginner’s luck, consider that they don’t share our expectations. They’re along for the ride and just want to have fun. Could they be enjoying good vibrations? Does our energy transmit down to our baits? Your guess is as good as mine, but something works for them. I don’t argue with what works.

You ready for the absolute secret? Well, here it is: Don’t try too hard. Go to have fun and do your best, but don’t expect fish. Just do your part and let fish happen. Seriously — the more we want it, the harder it is to achieve it. I’ve seen this happen many times.

I remember two brothers who couldn’t catch a tarpon to mount. But their wives did so well every trip they eventually stopped bringing them. Three years in a row, the girls fished less and both caught tarpon. The brothers finally got into a hot bite and landed a double header only one pound apart.

Enjoy your time of the water with family and friends. Relax and let them bite.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or


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