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The Beauty of Tough Fishing

Brad Reed was as good a childhood friend as a young man could have. We first fished together off Jacksonville some 40 years ago. We barely had a truck between us, what we did have was capable of pulling a 16 foot non-seaworthy boat to the closest ramp, from which we would run way too far offshore.

We struck gold when his dad bought a 33 foot Stuart Angler capable of a whole 10 knots of blazing speed, which meant it was only 8 hours from the marina to the edge of the gulfstream. We bought the first generation of big game trolling lures, rigged them with double 12/0 hooks on 400 pound leader. We threw them out over 20 miles offshore and ran east until the wahoo covered us up. We caught marlin, wahoo, sailfish, and huge dolphin. Brad and his dad may well have caught the first recreational Florida swordfish north of Miami. We didn't change lures very often and we certainly never lightened up our tackle. We were "marlin fishermen."

Brad was always smarter than me and he left the ocean long enough ago to build a very successful career. Now that he's retired, he recently called and gave me the news we'd see each other on the break the following morning. I arrived at my favorite rock pile pretty early and dropped the Dos Amigo's outriggers filled with anticipation. Out went my naked ballyhoo rigged on 100-pound fluorocarbon and the rock pile came alive with wahoo, tuna, and dolphin. I was glad to see Brad arrive on the spot, even if there was little time for radio chit-chat. Feeling awfully proud of myself for sharing my honey hole, it was hours later that I realized Brad really wasn't catching fish, in fact he hadn't had a bite.

That's when it hit me. Brad was still pulling the kind of tackle we pulled back in the day. Brad had missed all the innovations that bad fishing had brought us. You see, when fishing's good, we rarely strive to improve our methods. It was getting skunked so many times, that made better fishermen than me question, “I wonder if my leader is too big, or if a natural bait would get them biting?”  Realizing my buddy was planning a sniper hit to my tuna tower, I immediately backed up to his bow and tossed him a bag of 100-pound fluorocarbon leaders and some medium ballyhoo.

All this was really pounded home to me last week in Alaska. I fished for halibut with some great Coast Guard guys stationed on Kodiak Island. They catch 14-inches live herring for bait. They then cut them into 4 chunks. They stick 2 chunks on a short double rig with 12/0 hook, using 300-pound leader. They then anchor it with 4 pounds of lead. It looked exactly like the bottom rigs I had used as a party boat mate in the early 70's.

We clobbered the halibut up to 94 pounds. When I suggested they someday drop to a single six foot long leader with an 8/0 hook and a live herring they looked at me like I was a space alien. They obviously didn't need to change a thing. Here's hoping they never will.

Ah, the beauty of tough fishing. Just remember, the next time you can't get a bite, those are the days that make you better.

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