It’s an ageless argument enacted out every day by folks who fish.
It’s a ying and yang thing that seemingly gets played out by the evidence in each instance. For example; take yesterday: fishing with a nice couple from New York down here checking out the domain Marco wannabes who love fishing. He much more than she.
He wants a snook; she wants nature photos. In a weak tide we work spot after spot with slim fishing results but great seabird photos. We are catching other fish but zero snook. He’s disheartened. She gets a couple of bald eagle shots. She’s ecstatic.
Time running out and we hit our last spot of the trip. She asks if I’ll set up a rod for her. Do so; she cast’s feebly just behind the boat.
Screams minutes later as her rod takes a dive with a hooked fish. With help, she lands a nice juvenile snook; small and nothing to brag about but a snook. More photos before release. Her husband racks his rod with gusto and we head home.
This experience is not an isolated instance. It happens so many times you almost think it moves the needle well into the luck category; anathema to the seasoned professional angler.
Some years back we had the crowning run out of this skill versus luck experience that I’d like to tell you about.
If you fish you’ve probably met this guy maybe at the boat ramp or even walking the beach. First sight of him is a vision in khaki like he just stepped out of a Orvis catalog. Loops and pockets everywhere adhered with yards of Velcro. He is finished with headgear that covers everything but his eyes.
His fishing gear matches. He has the finest rods and reels known to mankind loaded with the ultra modern thread. He lugs tackle boxes that look like steamer trunks crammed with every conceivable lure and rig known or unknown.
This guy is ready. Experienced skillful angler that produces great results every time. Sez who ? He does!
Then there was that morning that he came aboard with all the aforementioned regalia and equipment and with his wife, who was aboard that day to take pictures of his catch and, when time permitted, read her book and take some eco photos.
This was an important day for him. He was participating in his club’s round robin fishing tournament that was being held at various locations around Southwest Florida. He had drawn Marco Island as his fishing location. He had called to make the booking with the preamble that he was targeting redfish; big redfish. He wanted his club victory quite badly. I promised I’d do my best.
As we started out that October morning, it was apparent that our angler was well into fishing; he was up to the millisecond on fishing reports; he had charts of the area where he had marked spots where he wanted to fish at exactly what stage of the morning’s incoming tide. He even had a thermometer to measure water temperature and a salinity gauge to measure salt parts per million. He was Mr. Everything.
With all of that direction, it made it easy for me; all I had to do is handle the boat. The onus of results were all his.
Half way through the trip we had worked two or three spots north of the island and the fishing was slow. “The barometric pressure is rising too quickly” reasoned our expert. His wife looked at me and rolled her eyes before going back to her book; she had been through this exercise many times.
On the next couple of spots, things picked up. He had some undersized redfish and snook on spots he had selected. Impressive to say the least. And he made sure his wife and I both knew how well he was doing. But he still hadn’t hooked into his tournament winner.
The morning wore on and we moved staccato style from spot to spot. If we had no action in precisely ten minutes he would belch “Let’s move to Spot X” and we would pick up and go. It was a dizzying experience to say the least.
It’s just past eleven AM and less than an hour to go in the competition and we pulled up to the selected oyster bar with his laments of the waning tide. His wife parked the camera and asked that I rig her a rod. “I hardly ever fish but this is such a beautiful area, I can’t resist.” She cast nicely to the opposite side of the bar.
Now, he was still doing well and landing minimum size slot redfish; ever changing bait and lures trying to entice the lunker to win the competition. She was kicked back and admiring the surroundings when all of a sudden her drag screamed with line peeling to the horizon. She was into the struggle of the day.
She handled the event quite nicely. With some coaching to direct the catch away from the shallow bar and the edges of the boat she brought a mega redfish alongside and into the net. We carefully brought it aboard and onto the ruler. This was a bull redfish that measured out at just over 31” a real trophy. After some quick photos and high fives, we resuscitated the redfish alongside until it thrashed and headed home.
Our hero was an assistant during his wife’s good fortune but you could sense the growing frustration as the competition deadline approached. He even made some hushed comment about beginners luck.
We ran out of time without any more action save some small snappers and sheepshead.
He didn’t say much on the way home except that he was confident that he did all the right things that morning; the results were just one of those outcomes you face in fishing. His wife smiled and returned to her book.
A newspaper article a few days later announced the winner of the club’s redfish tournament with a smaller redfish than his wife had landed.
Now I ask you again skill or luck?
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to email@example.com.