Fishing is a simple sport; until anglers get their hands on it.

If you want that experience, take a brand new angler into any tackle shop and watch the reaction. The array of equipment has the wall shelves groaning from the load of everything under the sun. An immense number of instruments, equipment of every size and color all intended to catch a creature with a cranial capacity of a grain of rice.

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Imagine the overwhelmed cloud closing in on the “rookie” -like ‘where do I start and how much is this exercise going to cost me.

Even when, charter boat captains think they got a handle on everything, which equipment on all those shelves is “must have” sometimes they get a wake-up call. A year of two back, thanks to a diligent youngster, I got my bell rung. That’s what this week’s article is all about.

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As a backdrop, realize that fishing conditions change year to year and season to season. That’s a big part of the challenge. This eventful charter trip was a couple years back where we experienced a real deep freeze. The freeze is well remembered by folks that were here; the water temperatures dipped into the mid 40s that either killed fish or sent them into a catatonic stupor. Last option for the smarter fish was having them racing to the Keys and pure tropical waters.

So, here we had this family from the Heartland that chose a day with these terrible conditions to test our mettle. “Terrible” doesn’t even begin to explain the dead or dying fish in the water as well as the total absence of bait schools. The party was three male adults that were all “experts.” They added a fourth, a young teenager, hip on fishing Lake Michigan or the Wolf River environs. Cold didn’t bother any of them; that’s the way it is in Wisconsin.

Youngsters name was Kevin, assertive and probably was more acclimated to fishing than the adults. While the three adults talked about the Packers game, Kevin was around checking all the equipment especially the rods and reels

The cloudy to downright muddy that morning was the absolute devil. We tried Addison Bay first which has a more docile water flow than its surroundings; thus the expectation of a little slower dirty water flow. We dropped anchor, baited up and had at it.

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Strike inquiries initiated by me all went unanswered after 15-20 minutes.

I weighed anchor but before we moved I showed Kevin how we measure water clarity by checking the visibility of the lower outboard until in the water flow. It was hazy. He kind of shook his head and we moved on empty handed.

We hustled over to Three River Cove that was usually a fishing panacea even on tough days. Kevin was a quick learner; took it on himself to check out the outboard’s sunken visibility. We did hit a couple of minimum size sheepshead, but that wasn’t going to do it for these guys.

As we prepared to move again, Kevin asked a question “How much visibility do you think the fish need to sight presented bait, captain.”

A bit stunned with the question, I stumbled through a reply. “Kevin, shallow water like this, probably between three and four feet.”

“Well, captain let’s make a ‘fish stick’ where we can mark off one foot intervals and we can use it anywhere on the boat.”

With Kevin’s help and few chuckles from the adults, I grabbed on old antenna that was being used as a makeshift gaff and marked it up in four one foot intervals.

With that and Kevin as my mate we tried out three spots over by Bear Point. Interesting he waved me off the first two when the 3’ mark wasn’t visible. Intensity now was an understatement and Kevin pulled the anchor by hand and dropped it again 100’ north. Finally, we could see the three foot mark and see evidence of the one beyond. We set anchor.

Within minutes we finally had our first strike and Intermittent action continued for the remaining time, with the current continuing as good throughout the time, the water clarity made a significant difference. Most fish work on a combination of olfactory and visibility senses to a bait and the improved ability to see the bait made our difference.

We awarded Kevin the fish stick. His dad has emailed me and Kevin is trying to get them patented. Wow! Simple idea with great results. You never stop learning in this business.

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Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to