Every journey begins with a single step
To many years ago an angler was born. My first memory of fishing was with my parents in a slough behind our house. From that day forward, if I am near water I want to fish in it. From this humble beginning I have evolved into the fisherman I am today. Evolution is a gradual process in which something changes into a different and more complex form. Sometimes change is subtle and we do not see it. For instance, learning to skip lures under a dock to catch more fish is a form of evolution. Then there are the major evolutionary changes like learning to cast with your weak hand so you can fish more effectively. Regardless of how subtle changes may appear, we all are evolving in the fishing world. We all know the story of a kid starting out fishing with a cane pole then moving to a spinning rod and then to a bait casting rig right. However, I want to talk about the evolution of an angler thought process.
When I started fishing, the only thing I wanted to do was catch a ton of fish. It did not matter what kind or size I was happy to catch fish. Luckily I had access to plenty of hungry sunfish that were more than happy to fit the bill. I remember catching bluegills and putting them in a glass orange juice jar so I could show off my skill. All that mattered was that I caught plenty of fish. My gear consisted of a cane pole and a can of worms, all the ingredients for a good time. It did not matter where I was I was happy to be fishing. Boy that was fun!
This high success perspective lead to a culling system in which only the large fish were kept. My mother and father imposed the slot limit rule because my fishing trips were supported by the "hook and cook" arrangement. The only way I could keep fishing was to bring home food, I struggled at first but I got the hang of it, so I evolved. These early slot limits made me a specialist. All fish have specific needs and habits that leave them vulnerable to the savvy angler. Specialization lead to new gear, spinning rods and artificial lures. My trips were no longer filled with hundreds of small fish, just a few big ones. Love of fishing had given way to the search for the best each species had to offer. Those were the days when life was easy
Next came the stage in which I was fishing for the taxidermist. My evolution had changed me into the proverbial Captain Ahab in search of the great whale. This step allowed me to hone my skills and strive for perfection. The high numbers and the large size only mind sets were now just a memory; the hunt was a foot. Often these fishing trips failed to yield what I considered a "wall hanger" but I keep on trying. As with all evolution, this step opened my eyes to the reality that there are no shortcuts in the fishing game. Catch and release became second nature because I had no use for small fish on the wall. All I needed to do was catch one largemouth over ten pounds and I would have it immortalized forever. For me that day did come true one Sunday morning. As I held the monster, which was over ten pounds easily, all I saw was a chance to catch her again and the possibility of passing her genes on to another generation of monster bass. Talk about change. The thought process had shifted from my own needs and desires to preserving the gifts that God gave us.
Then we arrive at todays level of evolution. My hook and cook menu is limited to species that can afford to be culled and I immortalize the moment with a picture rather than mounting the treasure on my wall. Now I am like the kid that began fishing along time ago, all we want to do is catch fish and continue to catch fish. My voyage has come full circle and I have enjoyed the ride. Over the course of a lifetime I have caught a multitude of fish from the panfish family to the trash fish that everyone hates, I like them all. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and if I can catch and hold a fish I find beauty in that. Fifteen years ago a carp was just something to shoot if you were bored and today some consider it one if the sharpest game fish out there. Evolution at its finest. There is no pressure for me to perform; I am just a guy fishing because that is all he knows how to do.
This article began with a boy and his family fishing in a slough but it has evolved to reflect the conciseness of the fishing society as a whole. My evolution is not unlike most of the fishermans stories of today. Change is inevitable and we must roll with the punches to survive, therefore we evolve. We change, we learn, and we become more aware of our ever-changing world. The one thing that stands out most in my mind is the rate and ease of evolutionary changes. Boats are a lot nicer and fishing pressure is a lot higher therefore we must evolve. Each time we watch a show that has a new lure or technique we gotta try it. These subtle changes are seldom regarded as evolution but they are. Going from the "hook and cook" philosophy to catch and release is an evolution that fishermen all over the world are proud. When we reflect on our lives, as fisherman, it is easy to see how our thoughts and ideas all come back to the same conclusion; if you have confidence in it fish it. It almost sounds like we are chasing our tails but it is really evolution of an angler at it finest hour.