As a longtime Minnesota angler, I am amazed at the number of anglers who strive to project an aura of expertise.
What a mistake.
The best way to enjoy a fishing trip with friends is to act incompetent. Perceived ineptitude is one of the great fishing secrets of all time.
I say this based on 60 years of angling experience and decades of watching the doomed life of highly competent people. Think about it. Who works the hardest? Who gets tapped for tough assignments? Who is forced to clear one high bar after another? The highly competent. So, be smart. Fake angling incompetence. It is key to relaxing, salubrious and stress-free fishing because you will be doing less rather than more.
Let me share some of my time-tested fishing secrets:
Selecting a boat: Own a boat, but certainly not one that your friends want to fish from. Be a relaxed passenger in their boat rather than a stressed-out skipper of your own. Owning a modest boat creates the illusion that you are ordinary or even underskilled. That is perfect. However, it does require you to maintain strong bonds with buddies whose boats align with your angling interests. I favor boats that have cushioned seats, shock-absorbing pedestals, wraparound windshield, sonar units fore and aft and spacious rod lockers. Typically, you can save a seat in such a boat year in, year out in exchange for a bottle of Scotch or similar gratuity. This is a great bargain.
Backing a trailer: You should be an exceptional boat-backer, but do not let your buddies know this. There are only two roles to fill at the ever-crowded launch site. One role is the frustrated angler who is stuck in the truck, stuck in the slow-moving launch queue and stuck driving to a distant overflow parking lot or roadside ditch. The other role is the coffee-drinking angler who loiters at the dock, picks up valuable intelligence and at the last second hops into the boat as it is being backed to the water’s edge. Be that person. That person merely putters the boat backward into the water and shouts to the driver things such as, “The plug is in, right?” Make a point telling your buddies how bad you are at backing a boat. This will relieve you of a pain-in-the-butt task.
Dress: Today’s clothing is amazing. Anyone with moola to spare can look the part of a fishing god or goddess. A trendy hat. Polarized sunglasses. Sun-protecting face mask. Leather lanyard. Multi-pocketed shirts and shorts. These and other apparel items clearly convey angling expertise. So be judicious in their use. Your clothing should protect you from unwanted elements — rain, wind, cancer-inducing sun, etc. — yet camouflage your angling prowess. I have found that wearing a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt is an ideal way to keep away most Minnesota anglers. Packers shirts that proclaim “Super Bowl Champs” are especially effective.
Anchoring: You want to avoid this job. Yes, a growing number of boats feature space-age trolling motors that electronically anchor your craft despite shifting winds, buffeting waves and tricky currents. Still, I have found that some friends, despite my constant urging, have yet to invest in such technology. This means someone must employ an anchoring technology that scientists call gravity. Drop. Hoist. Drop. Hoist. This form of place-based fishing gets old in a hurry for two reasons. One, an anchor — have you noticed they get heavier each year? — is deployed when the wind is blowing, the waves are crashing and the bow of the boat is bucking. And two, the aforementioned conditions mean the skipper will want you to anchor the craft, reanchor it and, yes, reanchor it yet again based on sonar blips and detailed hydrographic maps. This can be a real doom loop in foul weather.
It is best to nip anchoring chores before even boarding a boat. Ask fishing partners on the way to the lake, “Does anyone have ibuprofen? My back is killing me.” If no one does, you are in like Flynn.
Netting: Another task that greatly detracts from angling pleasures such as nature watching and daydreaming. Last year I was disappointed when my fishing partner — unaware that my mind was 2,000 miles away on a sunny saltwater flat fly-casting for bonefish — roused me into reality by excitedly shouting, “Get the net! Get the net!”
To nix such disappointments you should master two fundamental incompetencies. The first is the Sploosh and Whoosh, a netting technique that works best when a fish is being led headfirst to the boat. When the fish is close — but not too close — sploosh the net deep into the water and whoosh it wildly until the spooked fish breaks the line, spits the lure or your buddy whacks you atop the head. The other technique to master is the Slow Sweeping Swipe. Use this when a fish is broadside to the boat. To do it correctly, wait until your pal’s rod is arced in half and the fish is swimming away from the both of you. Then, stab the net directly behind the fish’s tail and slowly sweep it forward. The goal is to chase the fish 360 degrees around the boat without ever quite netting it. Anglers who perfect these techniques rarely have their daydreams interrupted by a 2-pound walleye.
Fish cleaning: When the day’s angling is done, fishing parties divide into two groups. One cleans the fish and the other starts a crackling campfire and prepares the evening’s vittles. It is best to be in the latter group because if you are a camp cook and food buyer you are guaranteed to eat what you enjoy. This guarantee of a sumptuous repast is always a good thing. Moreover, the problem with being on this crew is that all night long, as you imbibe pricey beverages, the fragrance of fish slime and anti-bacterial soap wafts up your nose. The odoriferous combo of guts and grease-cleaning bubbles is an insult to the sensitivities of America’s distillers, vintners and brewers ... and who wants to offend them?
There are, of course, many other ineptitudes to master — approaching the dock too fast, splashing your boat passengers with white-capped waves, spilling night crawler bedding onto the floor of carpeted boats — all for another day. Meanwhile, enjoy fishing. And if you see an old coot in a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt at the boat ramp, well, there is no point in pumping him for information. He is a terrible angler. Just ask his friends. They will tell you so.
C.B. Bylander is a freelance writer. He lives near Baxter, Minn.