On The Hook: Scoring fishing skills

BILL WALSH
file photo
Backwater fishing in the Florida Everglades.

Photo by Naples Marco Island Everglades C

file photo Backwater fishing in the Florida Everglades.

A thought: Why is it that folks who fashion themselves as proficient backwater anglers never practice at their sport?

There they are, decked out in Orvis loops and velcro attire, draped in expensive rods, reels and tackle, confronting nature's elements and it's marine creatures, usually without a modicum of preparation. Translation: No practice.

A glance across the sporting aisle, shows golfers either engaged in taking private "lessons" or wailing away emptying buckets of balls into a driving range meadow; all undertaken to improve one's skill level. And don't forget the tennis set preparing for the club's weekend tournament with lessons and exhausting practice sets, again, working on skill level.

And that "practice" model has about the same "run up" preparation for most of the lifelong sports -- swimming, running, cycling, etc. Then, one must ask why fishing, one of the most popular of sporting activities, has none of that practice to improve activity.

My take! It's because fishing results are not reduced to a score. A categorization that measures individual skill and allows comparison and competition with others engaged in the same activity.

A comparative example of that premise: At Saturday's neighborhood cocktail party, Mr. Jones brags that he had a great round of golf that afternoon and "broke 80;" substitute that activity with a fishing trip and it may be reported as "a bummer ... we only boxed two fish" which reports the events result but not Mr. Jones' skill at the sport.

But just suppose we set up a backwater fishing trip that would be evaluated on individual skill performance instead of measuring the event as a composite "fish in the box." A great cast to a swirling current eddy or landing a zooming pompano on 10 pound test line would measure individual mastery of angling skills vs. hooking and landing a fish that had the misfortune of swimming by and capturing your motionless bait.

We tried a trip using skill measurement the week before ISAAC that I hope you'll enjoy hearing about.

The Waring Family makes their annual visit to Marco every August. At least they have done that for the past 10 years and it's been my pleasure to take them fishing a couple times on each trip. The family is a serendipitous grouping of parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins et al from the Northeast that loves to be on the water and to fish.

They fish morning, noon and night from every possible venue in Southwest Florida; but they make these charter trips the "la crema" event of their vacation. They like to do well enough on the trips to take home enough for a seafood cookout that evening but most of all they like to compete.

They compete on first fish, biggest fish, ugliest fish etc with a fervor, so they were naturals when we suggested a trip with a fishing score where certain skill levels would be measured and prizes awarded.

First, the rules for scoring that day: Theresa, the grandmother of the gang would be the scoring referee with minimal assistance from the impartial captain.n A dynamite long cast into a great spot: add one point.

n Cast into a dock or a tree; subtract two points.

n Tangling line with another angler; subtract two points.

n Catching any fish hook up to net; add one point.

n Catching a trophy fish hook to net; add three points.

n A snag, anywhere; subtract one point.

n Any catfish; subtract two points.nHooking any other family member; subtract three points.That morning of the Great Waring Fishout, we had a full load of six participants; five anglers and one reluctant grandmother. Everyone had the rules; grandmom had the scorecard; and off we went.

Our first event was a practice session. We anchored along the edge of the river, distributed fishing rigs sans bait and had them all practice casting for 15 minutes. It was a event to behold. Twice we snagged the antennas on the boat and once, snagged one of the younger cousins. We had one heart stopper, when an wildly errant cast just missed landing in a passing FWC patrol boat.

Anyhow, hopefully with all the bad casts out of our system we headed for our first fishing spot. We picked what I thought was an open water spot hoping to negate the snags and the tangled lines. That didn't work very well as we ran up some serious negative scores especially on tangles in the fast moving current. Grandmom was scoring furiously and everyone was hyper with the activity and the banter; and then there was Uncle Bob.

Having anointed himself as the clan's fishing guru by passing out unsolicited advice to everyone, Uncle Bob had set himself up for some big time heckling from his minions. They just waited for the outrageous blunders that he was family famous for and they didn't have to wait very long.

Even on this open water spot in Capri Pass he was casting like he was trying to reach Naples on the fly. Mentioning to him that the fish were up just behind the boat didn't slow him down one iota. He finally hooked something and yells for everyone to bring in their lines as he has a monster fish on. They all comply reluctantly knowing it's another one of Uncle Bob's "events."

He's straining on the line sweating profusely. I tell him he's snagged on the bottom. "No, No, this is a big fish, I can feel him shaking," he blurts. I tell him that's the tidal current moving the line. He sheepishly hands me the rod after wasting ten minutes of everyone's fishing time. They give him the business and grandmom subtracts four points for him being double dumb.

Over the next couple of hours we fishing three more spots with the enthusiasm level peaking as we neared the finish with two of the young girls in a virtual tie. Angela, a vivacious eight year old, was in process of landing a nice black drum and had the line get caught on the lower unit. Her older sister, Pam, who was tied in points with Angela, graciously helped free the line and let Angela land the fish. They told Grandmom to split the points.

As we headed home, evaluation of the trip was interesting. Primary interest was in the scoring with all it's facets of achievement and disappointment. The day's prize were some fishing trinkets shared by Pam and Angela.

But the most astounding outcome was that no one mentioned, or perhaps cared, to categorize the trip by number of "fish in the box". There were enough there for a family meal but that came secondary once skill was measured.

Why not try the approach on your next family trip; but practice first!

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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