Walk away, and you will benefit from challenging yourself, and future generations will benefit from having more fish to catch.
The fish are everywhere! There is the constant sound of splashing predators, and even some full breaches as schoolies energetically launch themselves at bait. I see rippling corduroy water right in front of me, signifying peanut bunker being pushed to the surface by the hungry fish. Herons have surrounded me on both sides, and there are gulls circling in the dark and diving into the huge mass of prey. While the night may be still, the water is a writhing mass of life; something right out of a National Geographic nature special.
Yet, I can’t get a hit. I have been casting every fly I have in my case to no avail. It’s been well over an hour, and I’m losing my mind with frustration. My teeth are locked in a tight grimace, I’m beat red, and I’m muttering profanity under my breath. All this bait, all these fish, right at my feet – and I can’t even get a hit! Finally, I dig around in the mess that is my fly box and find a small curly-tailed wooly-bugger. In desperation, I put it on. Three casts later, and I’m finally tight to a moderately sized schoolie! From there on out, it’s a fish on or landed every 10 or so minutes for another three hours – but only if I meticulously control my drift and stay focused. Even a small deviation and the fly gets ignored. Ultimately I rack up a tally of 23 fish before I eventually break off the small fly.
Consider this above scenario. While the fish were small, they took a long time to figure out how to catch, and were finicky. I had to work on my presentation and fly selection for over an hour before I could even get a hit. From there on out, it still wasn’t a fish on every cast, and I had to stay extremely focused and present the fly in just the right way to hook-up. Yes, I ended up catching a lot of fish over a couple of hours, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
Now, let me offer another scenario. I walk down to the water and stumble upon the same situation except this time, I get a fish on my very first cast with a popper. Next cast, same result. It’s one of those mornings where I could probably cast out a bare hook and they’d inhale it. In about a half hour, I’ve already also landed 23 fish. I could stand there and probably catch 80 in a couple hours, but should I?
This is a question we all will have to answer on our own. Personally, I fully admit I have engaged in several nights catching 40, 50, or even over 70 fish in a single tide. I am “guilty” of getting pulled into wanting to “rack up” some numbers. Therefore, I am not shaming or lecturing you on this point, particularly if you’ve never had the opportunity to fish a hot bite. However, with the fishery currently experiencing over fishing and a decline in total population, we all need to face ourselves in the mirror and ask what we are willing to do, to do our part to protect this fishery.
What I am proposing here, is try to walk away from schoolie stripers that are easy to catch. This is a simple way to cut down on our impact on the fishery. If you are on your 26th fish on a pencil popper in 30 casts, perhaps it’s time to move on, or try something else. For example, try putting on a bucktail and seeing if you can catch them that way. It can be fun to see if you can catch fish in as many ways as possible, particularly if the action is blistering. Or, perhaps even better, move to another area and see if you can find some bigger fish. The point is, catching schoolie after schoolie with virtually no effort isn’t teaching you anything, it takes no effort, and it’s frankly bad for the fishery so it should be avoided.
However, if you’re on a finicky bite of schoolies that took you an hour to “figure out,” and are now having to focus hard to keep the catch rate going, and then ultimately catch 25 in four hours of fishing, maybe that’s okay. Just treat the fish with respect, release them quickly, and crimp your barbs. True, the line here is very blurry and arbitrary, but my point is that an easy way to be personally accountable is to walk away when the fishing is easy. For the most part, catching schoolies is just that easy. Push yourself to walk away, and you will benefit from challenging yourself, and future generations will benefit from having more fish to catch.