For the first time in a while, I find myself in the shop, tinkering with tackle. Once a ritual performed several times weekly, lately Iíve gotten away from the intricate aspects of fishing; those that well up inside some of us whose hobby is often termed an obsession. A few have found ways to justify such behavior to society by turning it into a profession. In America, professions are acceptable.
Iím reminded of a recent piece I read on Takahiro Omori, Japanís most successful tournament angler, who apparently was never able to convince his parents that his tinkering would someday lead him to his lifeís pinnacle. And while I was never banished to an island for my infatuation with fishing, I too found bumps in the road toward approval.
Upon moving to Florida a few years back, I stepped away from tournament competition; Iíd be a liar if I told you I didnít reflect on that nearly every day. Tournaments bring a facet to the sport that simply canít be duplicated in any way. Itís not the fame or fortune, but the aspect of pushing oneís self further than ever before, searching to unlock a secret where no one else is able.
Tonight, I play with saltwater plugs. Throughout my life, Iíve often switched gears like this, enamored with some other specie for a while, be it muskies or walleyes, crappies or perch, redfish or sea trout. My new friends in the Sunshine State joke that theyíve seen this same progression repeated time and again: a bass junkie goes inshore, then offshore. Bigger fish in a bigger pond. A quest for endless possibilities.
Thereís a different aspect to angling when youíre fishing for dinner. The harvest seems to bring a primal urge comparative to hunting; a certain component of the sport thatís likely rooted in its original purist form. Here, in my new rural home, itís more apparent, as many of the locals donít care what kind of fish they catch, as long as itís big enough to go to the cleaning table.
I follow along with my new saltwater pursuit. Sometimes I swear I feel just as nervous fighting a nice redfish - knowing it can provide several quality meals for my wife and I - as I once did fighting a bass worth tens of thousands of dollars. Itís silly, I know. I could simply quit fishing, bank all the cash Iíve spent on this tackle and buy a fish whenever I had the urge to eat one. But that wouldnít scratch the itch.
The catch-and-keep mentality has again grabbed hold as I sort through this new aspect of fishing. Iíve realized Iím under-gunned, as saltwater fishing at any level completely redefines what I once considered heavy line or stout hooks. The same holds true for the wear and tear on gear - and the boats themselves - as salt, Iím finding, is one of the most destructive elements in the world. I push on, determined to come out ahead on tomorrowís grocery bill.
My upbringing was based on such sustenance mentality as my father, and his before him, packed coolers full of Great Lakes fish every weekend. I donít recall witnessing a member of my family ever buying fish in a market, or ordering one in a restaurant, for that matter, for the entirety of my youth. Perhaps my lineage is to blame.
Yet somehow, I always seem to turn back to bass. Just today, with a beautiful spring day warming local waters to a magic number, I found myself sidetracked by a scouting mission to remote ponds in the Ocala National Forest, for a glimpse at what may be the biggest bass in the country, or the world for that matter, as she moves toward a spawning bed where nobody thinks to look. I never drew a rod from the locker, or even thought to. Just seeing a big bass is enough.
As night falls, I ponder my prejudice. While my mouth hass watered each time Iíve hooked a mahi, I often canít find it in me to place a trophy bass in the livewell for even more than a minute. My biggest largemouth, a brute pushing 29 inches, was never held long enough for a proper photo, so concerned was I for her prompt release.
Where did such thinking come from? Certainly not from an upbringing of filling stringers and cleaning fish for hours, in a part of the world where bass are regarded as table fare when the walleyes quit biting. Maybe itís from days like today, where just a glimpse still sends a chill down my spine.
I suppose Iíll never know. For now, I just tinker.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)