I strongly believe in local knowledge. If you want to know where the fish are, when to catch them, and what to use for bait, ask a local.
That’s me, a local, at least here on my Potomac River. But the problem was that, up until recently, my kind of knowledge was only good for catching small fish. So I joined the local smallmouth bass club to try to find out what I wasn’t getting right.
At my first meeting the guest speaker had gotten stuck in traffic, so they quickly improvised an “experts panel.” The presenters were just club members whose names regularly appeared in the newsletter’s fishing contest column as winners of the biggest fish, the biggest five fish, and so on.
It was an eye-opener. I found out that my fishing tackle was mostly outdated and much of it was junk. Not using ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene instead of good ol’ monofilament? Shame. Not casting with the latest high modular graphite rod costing upwards of $200? Actually, I mostly fished with a rod I had found in the river. It was clearly time for a makeover.
A question of size. How about lures? I learned that my collection of baits had long been rendered obsolete by a menagerie of molded plastic creatures with names out of a grade B horror film: Strike King Rage, Chigger Quad, Boss Dog, and so on.
OK, I got that. But I still suspected I was still missing something. So after the presentation I sought out one of the speakers, a big man with friendly eyes, and told him my problem about only catching small fish.
“What do you fish with?” he wanted to know.
I told him I mostly use the venerable Mr. Twisters, maybe two inches long, mostly in chartreuse.
“Well, you probably only catch little fish,” he replied.
I felt myself flush as I told him he was right. Only little fish. He took me to the table in the back where one of the club members sells plastic fishing baits. They were big, ugly things packaged in plastic bags that squished between my fingers like pieces of viscera. He helped me picked out a selection, most of them the color of different kinds of manure.
Big lure, big fish. And guess what? I started catching big fish. The big lures were working, or at least seemed to. It was not long before I got confirmation, of a contrary sort.
The day was sunny and the river was lovely, but the fishing was slow. I pulled my kayak up on a little spit of land on the Virginia side of Watkins Island. I needed to try something different. I opened my little box of fishing tackle, and there under a snarl of rusty hooks was a relic from my former life as a little-fish guy. It was a Mr. Twister in chartreuse, two inches long.
The action was almost immediate, although I didn’t realize it at first. I reeled in my first cast, but just before I prepared to flip my lure out again I noticed something moving on my hook. I had snagged a tiny fish, the smallest I have ever caught.
I don’t remember the biggest bass I ever caught, but I’ll never forget the tiniest. Memories aren’t necessary made of local knowledge.