fishing in crowds
Great thread Nathan! I think the subject deserves some attention.
I sent the following post a while back to a fly fishing email list I am on. It seems to be appropriate to the present discussion, so here it is. There is no ill intention, but I think it speaks to some of Josko's points.
Fishing in Crowds.
Fishing the flats of Cape Cod has become as much an exercise of avoiding fishermen as it is about finding striped bass and bluefish. And it seems to get a little worse, the avoiding fishermen part, with each year. In part, the exploding interest in fly fishing is to blame. But so are the fishing magazines – it seems that not a month goes by that there isn't at least one article on fishing the flats of Cape Cod, usually Monomoy Island. Adding insult to injury, there are the web sites -- with more sites appearing each day.
Most damaging, in relation to attracting ever more anglers to the limited area of Cape Cod's flats, or anywhere else for that matter, are the ‘kiss-and-tell' articles that appear in the fishing magazines. The typical scenario goes something like this. The writer booked a guide to fish the flats of Monomoy, and spent a day of glorious weather on picture perfect flats casting to hundreds, or even thousands, of striped bass. Many bass were caught, including some real monsters, and the writer vowed to return for another trip every year from now until his death.
Now of course, not everyone who reads the article will pick up the phone and book a guide for a day in the coming summer, but many will. But what's worse, even more anglers won't book a guide, but will make plans to head to the Cape Cod for a ‘do-it-yourself' attack on the flats. Why not? The article makes it sound so easy, with fish just about pushing one another out of the way to get to your fly. Hell, anyone can do it.
The thing is, as with any type of fishing some specialized knowledge is required for sight fishing in shallow water, no matter where that water might be. It is true for dry fly fishing or successfully fishing a nymph through moving water in search of trout, and so it is for sight fishing the flats of Cape Cod for striped bass and bluefish. I can't count the number of times I've been packing up after a good day on the flats and encountered other anglers who are dejected after a day of seeing few or no fish. Many times, I will have seen these anglers from a distance earlier in the day fishing the same flats as me. Or maybe when they describe where they were fishing it turns out they were in a spot where I caught a nice fish not long before or after they passed through. I'm no world-class angler, but I can't be lucky that often. I think it pretty much comes down to knowing about where they are fishing and how to go about it. Too often, these folks seem to expect everything to be straightforeward and easy. If it was, I wouldn't pursue it with the energy and passion I do. I would move on to something else. I've talked to many a dry fly fishermen who feel the same way about their pursuit.
When fishing the flats, the whole point is to see the fish moving across the flat, or perhaps feeding, and then cast a fly to that sighted fish. It is very much a stalking/hunting type of endeavor. Nothing pains me more than to see anglers trudge across a flat, splashing loudly as they go, to get to the edge, where the flat drops off into deeper water. They strip line off the reel and start blindcasting into the depths.
This approach does a couple of things. First, the angler's casting motion and the movement of the fly line over the flat behind him on his backcast will frighten many fish as they cruise through the shallow water. Second, by standing on the edge of the flat, he is basically blocking off a portion of the entrance and exit avenues for fish moving between the flat and the deeper water. Worse yet, he is scaring the stripes off the fish cruising the edge, because these fish often follow shallow troughs onto the inner parts of the sand flat. All of these mistakes make the fishing harder for me, or whoever else might be sight fishing on that flat. Even if the spooked fish do continue to move across the flat rather than flee to the deep water, they are on an even higher-level sense of alert than normal. In other words, the ‘head to the edge and blindcast the depths' approach ruins the flat for sight fishing. This isn't theory, I've watched it happen. I've experienced it.
Just last week I was casting to fish that were cruising on the deep side of a shallow dropoff where the incoming tide pushes water from an area only a few inches deep to the slightly deeper flat. The difference in depth is perhaps 3 inches. I was standing in ankle-deep water casting to fish in water maybe twice that deep. A party of fly anglers walking up the beach decided to enter the water about 50 yards downstream from me – very bad because the fish generally swim against the current, so they were probably spooking fish that were on their way
to the spot I was standing. The whole lot of them, I counted 8 anglers, followed the ‘head to the edge and blindcast the depths' approach. After a half hour of casting with no luck, one of them actually splashed his way over to me and asked if I was having any luck, if I was seeing any fish. I said ‘no', and left.
My view is that if you want to blind cast into deep water, the coasts of Cape Cod and the rest of New England are full of such opportunities, and great shots at good fish.
Something that many of these new flats anglers don't realize is that fish on the flats are very sensitive to things that don't fit. The fish can hear these anglers as they splash noisily across the flat, or yell to one another (the group I just mentioned did a lot of yelling), and especially the slap of fly line on the water with careless casts. The key here is stealth and too often the approach of these guys is far from stealthy.
Another angler characteristic I know this is true elsewhere and with other types of fishing, but one that still rubs me raw, is the magnet factor. This happens when anglers without fish see anglers fighting a fish and gravitate toward the spot. This is especially irritating to me because there is a damn good chance that the place these guys just left has at least as many fish as the place I am fishing, and even if it doesn't sight fishing doesn't work with a crowd. To make matters worse, so often these types of anglers are hell bent to blind cast anyway, so they just bring their self-imposed defeat with them.
One time, I was engrossed in fighting a fish, not a big fish, but a fish nonetheless, when I suddenly became aware of someone behind me. A guy straight out of the catalog had moved into position not 15 feet from me and started casting to the spot he must have thought my fish came from. He never said a word. I released my fish and left. Since that time, I will often lower my rod to the side with the rod tip in the water to fight a fish so that I am not so easily noticed. Sad, isn't it?
The thing is, I'm more than willing to help someone out, or give what advice I can, but usually I'm not asked. And most of the times I have volunteered some helpful tips to an angler who is obviously struggling I get rebuffed. So much for helping out.
The thing of it is that sight fishing on the flats is as much about the process and place as it is about catching fish. There is something about the expanse of clear water over light sand, or the fact that a fish so large will be in water so shallow, or that a crab no larger than a nickel will be considered a meal by a fish that pushes 20 pounds. The clear blue sky reflected in the water surface, and bright summer sun rippled onto the sand below. The image of an aqua-hued bullet cruising effortlessly in the ribbon of water that covers the sand for only a few hours on each tide are what it's all about.
I know it sounds like I'm whining, and I guess I am. And to think that I've been fishing on the Cape Cod flats for only four years -- since I moved to Massachusetts. I can't imagine the frustration felt by those who were fishing these flats before the hordes descended. Although I guess some of those folks are partly responsible for attracting attention to the area – those that are now guides and fly shop owners. But for those anglers who have been quietly fishing the flats for years, I feel for you. I really do. I know how much quieter it was only a few years ago, compared to now. I can only imagine how great it was to fish the flats without encountering another angler, to cast to fish that weren't already spooked by someone else thrashing the water with ill-timed casts and poorly thrown flies, to cast to, fight, and catch a fish without having to worry about being besieged by anglers attracted by the sight of a bent rod and splashing fish. I guess those were the days.
I guess to a certain extent this is true in many places. I have read the kiss-and-tell articles about some of the better trout waters in the west, and I have heard the corresponding laments for a better, less crowded time from folks who have fished these areas for years. I have heard how the quality of fishing has declined, as has the experience of fishing the once-wild waters. I guess I should take comfort in that I am not alone in my frustration. But I don't. I am disturbed by the trend of search and exploit that our avocation seems to be adopting. I do know that I keep the stories of the good fishing days to myself more often than not, which I didn't use to do. If I do let it out I never say where. It generally means fishing alone a lot more, but I am taking more joy from that. I guess times are just changing and I'm not ready to give in yet.
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