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Want to be a better angler?

At some point every winter our ice leaves and we typically are left with at least a few days if not weeks of “‘tweener time”–water is not hard enough to walk on, but still too cold for most fish to be very active.  I have some fishing strategies for those times and would tell you I will spend at least some time on the water every month of the year, but I still end up with some time between the ice season and full-out, hard-core open water fishing.  A person can sure spend some time getting equipment ready at those times (e.g. Preparations ), and any one of several tackle boxes always need some organizing and hooks need sharpening or replacement. . . . But, inevitably I still end up with some time when my mind wanders. . . .

One thing I like to do during those times is review my fishing log/fishing notes (e. g. Fishing Log ).  I believe going back and summarizing the past year’s fishing successes, and failures, is a great way to learn things, a great way to learn how to become a better angler.  As I do that I also like to establish some goals for the coming year, some things I would like to accomplish, some improvements I would like to make.  I believe that “luck” has very little to do with being a good angler.  There are certain fundamentals that can be mastered and applied to fishing and an angler can learn to be better; setting goals and then trying to achieve them are a great way to advance, improve, become more skillful.

There is a risk in setting goals for the fishing you do.  So much of our success on the water depends on things we have no control over, weather, water conditions, wild creatures.  So, I try to keep my goal-setting reasonable and do not necessarily set out to catch a new state record bass for example.  As you set fishing goals, be careful that you do not expect so much that in the practice, the experience, it becomes more like work and less like fun.  Fishing is supposed to be FUN!  On the other hand, I definitely try to set goals that our “out there”, that will require me to extend myself, try harder, learn new things, and grow as an angler (and maybe even as a person in the process).

I was recently reading the January/February 2015 issue of Muskie magazine and was reminded of this subject by a story in there by Ryan McMahon.  I have never met Ryan, but his story was spot on, about how reflecting and preparing can make us more successful in the fishing to come.  In that story the author talked about goal-setting and listed some excellent goals.  Let me repeat those here, and add some comments and other goals:

1.  Fish a new body of water.  I will tell you that to become a better angler, pick a limited number of waters and learn how to fish them.  Do not “chase rainbows”, continually run around following the latest, greatest, hottest bite.  If you want to really improve, choose a body of water or two with potential and learn how to fish them.  And then, to expand your horizons, to learn more, pick a new body of water and start mastering it.  Nebraska has a great diversity of waters across the state, and you can learn a lot just by experiencing some of the different waters to be found in Nebraska.  If you have not done that, I would consider that to be an excellent fishing goal for the coming year.


2.  Catch fish using a new method, presentation or technique.  Again, there are so many different ways to catch fish, and they all work at the right time in the right place, that it can become overwhelming.  Start simple, master a few presentations first, but then when you are ready to extend yourself, to go even farther, pick a new class of baits, a new presentation and start learning that.  One of the best skills an angler can have to be consistently successful is versatility.  You may not need to be an expert with every technique, every presentation, but the more you can be proficient with, the more often you will catch fish, the more fish you will catch, and the more big fish you will catch.


3.  Use new baits.  This goal is pretty much the same as #2.  However, let me add that we all naturally have our “confidence baits”–baits we are proficient in using, baits we know will catch fish.  Absolutely, use those baits when they are the best tools for the job, but at other times force yourself to use something different.  Or, when you are whacking fish with one of your “confidence baits” force yourself to pick up something else and try it–maybe it will work even better?  You will not know unless you try those experiments.  Perhaps fish with a partner and spend a trip or two learning about their “confidence baits”.  You might be surprised at how often some of those “new” baits can become new “confidence baits”.  Again, learning to be versatile will produce dividends, big, heavy, slimy dividends.


4.  Fish for a different species of fish.  One of my favorite speeches, speech #644, is that Nebraska has a diversity of fishing opportunities for a diversity of species of fish.  If you want to learn even more versatility and have a lot of fun in the process, pick a species you are less familiar with and spend some time learning how to catch them.  You can have a lot of fun traveling the state seeing how many species you can catch in a year.  Naturally, we will all have our favorites, but again I will tell you that you will be surprised at how much that you learned fishing for one species of fish can be applied to many others.  Or, if you have not gotten hooked by the ice-fishing bug, you will be surprised at how much you learn fishing through a hole in the ice and how that can be applied to the open-water fishing you do.  Think of it as “cross-training”!


5.  Try to catch a “personal best” or trophy fish.  As I said earlier, be very careful with these goals as they can be frustrating.  And remember it is about learning, about the process.  If you set a goal of catching a big fish and do not obtain that goal, you were NOT necessarily a failure.  However, I know of no better measure of success, nor more concrete goal than establishing what the potential is for you on the waters you fish and then shooting for that potential.  If you aim for nothing you are guaranteed to hit it.  There is great satisfaction in catching those personal best fish, and the attainment of those goals breeds confidence.  Then, guess what confidence on the water results in?  Even more success; it becomes a cycle.  I can look back over my years on the water and remember exceptional fish I caught and how those accomplishments took me to new levels.  In reflection, I can tell you that I have caught more and bigger fish than I ever dreamed possible when I was young.  And I ain’t done yet!


6.  Release more fish, especially big fish.  There it is, there I go crawling up on my favorite soap box again, but I truly believe this will make you a better angler.  The less you see fish as fillets in the skillet, or skin mounts on the wall, the more fishing you will do, the more you will invest in the process, and the more you will learn from it.  You can focus more on the learning and improving, more on appreciating the process and the fish, as you learn to watch those big fish swim away after catching them.  In addition it will mean more big fish available for you, and others, to catch again!  “There is no better feeling than watching your trophy swim away”–Musky Hunter Magazine, and it will open your mind to so much more.

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The last one in the Muskies Magazine article by Ryan McMahon, is an excellent one:

7.  Pick somebody to get into fishing.  This is a noble goal especially for the health of sportfishing and our fisheries.  It will also make you a better angler.  One of the best ways to learn something is to learn how to teach it to someone else.  However, in saying that, do not think you have to be an expert.  Find someone you can share your experiences with, teach them what you know, and see what you can learn from each other!  If you really want to take this goal to the next level, how about becoming a Youth Fishing Instructor?


If you sit down and think about it, you can probably come up with some more goals that will help you become a better angler.  These are just a few I was reminded of as I read Muskie magazine, and a few more that I added.  The beauty of fishing is that it can be whatever you want it to be.  Spend some time thinking about that while dreaming and scheming for the open-water fishing that lies ahead of us in 2015.  What do you want out of your fishing this year, how can you improve as an angler, how can you enjoy it more?  At the least it is a fun exercise, and be careful, in the process you will be better for it!

Big fish and more of ’em–that’s my goal!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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