Many people, mostly non-anglers, assume that you can always tell that a fisherman is lying by when his lips are moving. The “fact” that all anglers lie about the fish they catch is one of the most enduring myths about fishing and anglers. I am not sure where this originated, but I am confident that anglers are no more dishonest or loose with the truth than the general population. I personally don’t know of any serious angler who would deliberately lie to a fellow angler, particularly a person they fish with. Now, before you immediately assume this statement is, in fact, also a lie, let us make clear what is lying. Savvy anglers may not tell everything they know. They may withhold the whole truth. This is not lying. For example, if you ask an angler where they caught the big fish, they may reply “In the mouth!“. If you press the point and and inquire about what the fish was caught on, they might well respond “On the lake.” These are factual statements. The angler is justifiably reticent to reveal the exact details of the catch, but they did not lie. Further, is a statement a lie if the teller sincerely believes it to be the truth? I feel much of the “exaggeration” associated with fish stories is actually self-delusion on the part of the angler. Over time many anglers convince themselves that they MUST have caught more and bigger fish than they remember. After all, who would like to admit that they spent numerous hours, not to mention money and effort, to catch two small bluegills they threw back in the water. I found myself falling into this trap. In recalling previous fishing outings, they always seemed to become more successful with each retelling. I wasn’t lying, it was just an honest memory lapse. If I can’t remember exactly what I caught, I might as well make it a little more or a little bigger. This is the main reason that I started keeping detailed records of every fish I catch when I was in high school. I count, measure and record each fish to this day. I use these records to remind me of my successes as well as my dismal outings so at least I know the truth.
Ambiguity can also lead to the impression that one is lying. Take the following statement, typical of what you might hear from an angler hanging around the boat landing or bait shop: “I musta caught couple dozen nice bass, one was twenty inches”. The angler may believe, in their heart, that what they said is accurate. But, what exactly did they say? A “couple dozen” could be anywhere from 13 to 35. It is amazing how many fish you can catch if you don’t count them. I have been with many anglers who, when asked, will tell you they caught about 20 fish when an accurate count would reveal just nine. They just remembered wrong. It is also astonishing how big a fish can be if you never weigh it or place it on a ruler. I know anglers who don’t even have ruler in the boat, yet can tell you how long a fish is within fractions of an inch. I have found, particularly in Door County, that there are two types of 20-inch smallmouth bass. First there is the “Wow, that fish has got to be a 20-incher!” type. These are very common. Then there is the type that measures a full 20 inches from snout to tail when placed on a ruler. These are quite rare. Again, I contend that these are not out and out lies, but self-delusion by the angler in an attempt to bolster your opinion of them not to mention their own self-esteem. This is a human frailty, not dishonesty.
So, all anglers do not lie, at least not any more than do politicians, social media influencers or Aaron Rodgers. Now that I have put the lie to the myth of anglers lying, let me dispel a few other common misconceptions about fishing.
Fishing is just an excuse for drinking
I know of few serious anglers and definitely no guides or pro anglers that drink alcohol when they fish. I personally would not combine these two activities. Each is too meaningful and requires to be savored. Attempting to do both simultaneously would not do justice to either. You either fish or drink. Further, and this is important, if you fish a lot as often as I do and you drink every time you fish, you are not an angler, you are an alcoholic.
10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish
This is perhaps the most repeated axiom about fishing and anglers since Issac Walton. It is most often spouted by those who think they are part of the “10%”. Although this assertion first appears in outdoor magazines in the 1950’s and has been reproduced thousands of times since, I have never seen any reliable studies or data to support this statement. It is one of those things that just feels true, but probably isn’t. What is true is that the people who fish the most, catch the most fish. I catch a lot of fish each year, not because I am particularly more skilled than another angler, but because I have more opportunity. The flip side of that is that the more often you go fishing, the more chances you will have to get “skunked”. I know.
More anglers mean more fish are being caught
A common mistake novice anglers, and even experienced ones, make is to assume that when there are a lot of people fishing in an area, that must be a “hot spot” and a lot of fish are being caught. I have written previously in this space about the “cluster” phenomena observed on many bodies of water. One angler draws another angler who then draws more anglers and so on until you have a large group of people fishing together assuming all the other guys are catching fish. This is seldom the case. Clustering can be observed on the ice targeting whitefish or on the open water in the summer trolling for salmon. To be sure, there are areas on any body of water that are more productive than others. However, fishing where everybody else is fishing just dilutes the effectiveness of each angler. For example, if a certain spot holds 50 active smallmouth bass and there are 25 anglers targeting them, most anglers will get a fish or two. On the other hand, if you fish in a spot that holds 20 fish and you have it to yourself, you have the potential to catch them all. I tend to look for the single angler all by themselves who hasen’t moved for a long time rather than a bunch of boats clustered together. Or just find a spot to be alone.
There is a “best” time or conditions to fish
“Wind from the east, fish bite the least. Wind from the south, blows the bait into the fish’s mouth”. I forget, is it go forth or not go forth when it blows from the north. West is best, I guess. Whatever. I have heard a myriad of opinions as to when it is best to catch fish. Low light mornings and afternoons, dead of night, high sky, cloudy day, during a low barometric pressure, when it is raining, when there is a nice chop on the water, and on and on. Many anglers swear by the astronomical machinations of the sun and the moon to dictate fish activity. All of these may hold some value in particular situations or bodies of water. Now while there are conditions that are the worst times to go fishing, like during severe weather or on your wedding anniversary, I contend the the very best time to go fishing is when you can. There are very few statements about fishing that hold true all of the time, but one is “If you don’t go, you won’t catch ‘em.” Many anglers spend more time thinking about when to go fishing rather than just going. Time on the water is the biggest variable to fishing success. Go when you can, damn the conditions.
You can never have too much tackle
This is not a myth. It is the absolute gospel truth. Ask my wife.
Stay safe and sane.