“Well…Excuses Me!” by Dr. Bogus
Did you ever have a bad day, a bad week, a year or awful decade of fishing? Of course you have. So how did you deal with the ignominy of it all, the embarrassment of coming home empty handed? Explaining away your failure to your spouse or friends or neighbors. Did you lament to the fishing gods? Hurl well-chosen pertinent curses at a poor blameless fish? Well if this happens this season, and it will, I have alternatives for you, insults and excuses for the most ardent angler to allay any blame on the obvious. It’s time to point a fickle finger at the real or perceived culprit. Well, to paraphrase Steve Martin, “Excuses Me”!
Topping the list are the myriad of natural and unnatural forces beyond your control. This includes some of the big weather hitters, a spring or late season Nor’easter or worse a hurricane stirring up the seas dirtying the water and blowing the fish to kingdom come. Remember the March 1993 “Storm of the Century” and the evil twin hurricane sisters Bertha and Fran, or the bad boys Dennis and Floyd? Of lesser weather events we have the troublesome east wind, as in “east is least and west is best”? Have you ever had a good fishing day on an east wind?
Even if you don’t have to deal with officially named or unnamed mega storms, we know that any rain event causes runoff, turning the water into something resembling cappuccino and diluting the salinity to eye-popping osmotic lows. And yes we can handle excuses for all possibilities and extremes, since we the recent drought has pushed the salt-line way up the creeks and rivers as well. Neither of those extremes can be good for fishing.
On Bogue Banks we have way less piers that we used to, not only Bertha and Fran and their evil “H-word” cousins but the sweeping hand of the development wrecking ball as well has reduced our once numerous fishing piers to a paltry two piers these days. But which side of the pier is the best to fish on, the east or west? Yes east or west, remember our island is a south-facing beach. So to get your seasonal orientation right, try to remember this Bogue Banks pier-fishing ditty, “In the spring and summer east is least and west is best, but in the fall and winter west is least and east is the beast”. If your seasonal geography is wrong, you will miss the migrating throngs of spots and sea mullet and pompano and the like.
On the other hand there are those pesky calm days when the water is flat and glassy, green and clean, gin clear as it were, you know you’ll never fool a speckled trout under those conditions. Then there are the days where the surf looks cloudy, a milky white right along the surf line, that’s finely powdered calcium carbonate, the stuff of shells suspended in the water. Is there any self-respecting fish that wants to pump that stuff through their gills? I think not!
When we talk about weather, one of the most important factors that influences fish behavior is the water temperature. That’s why I dip the pointy end of my thermometer in the surf and sound on a daily basis. But like in the case of Goldilocks, it always seems to be too hot or too cold, never juuuuust right. And of course a no-no is any rapid temperature change, heating up too fast in the summer or falling like a brick to frigid depths overnight. And then there are those all to frequent cold-water winter trout kills. Troutsicles!
If I haven’t helped you yet, here are a few more excuses that may tickle your fancy and defend your anglerhood.
Of course extra stuff in the water is never good either. For example, red tide bad, very bad. Weeds, such as sargassum imported from the Gulf Stream, beach grass imported from recently washed away beach dunes, snot weed, turd weed, eelgrass, sea oats, all bad. Docks and beach walkways floating in the surf…bad. Too many boats, SeaDoos, surfers or bathers…bad too. Florence really took its toll.
We’ve all been there, fishing the creeks, White Oak River, or the surf, stop-netters, gill-netters, pound nets and shrimp trawls…not a good sign, too much competition.
Speaking of stuff in the water, how about critters. We know the havoc that can be caused by too many hungry pinfish, spiny dogfish, stingrays and the ever-present clearnose skates in the surf or around the pier. You can’t even get your bait to the bottom to give a self-respecting mullet, spot or drum a chance to find your hook. And on top of that, you spend half your time taking these bait pilfering critters off your hook, risking life and limb.
Then there are top predators like flipper, the bottlenose dolphin, fun to watch but eating everything in sight and chasing everything they don’t eat hightailing it into the deep blue yonder. Ditto for gator Hatteras blues, barracudas and sharks. Even if you catch something, you may have to share your catch with one of these critters of the deep, and they don’t say please. Jellyfish? I’m not sure, but in a pinch I’d use it as an excuse with conviction and without a wink, a blink, a sigh or a smirk.
Then there are some natural conditions that we might not have gotten quite right. When did you ever get the tide just right? What is the right tide? High tide, low tide, slack tide, moving or not, so many choices, so many ways to go wrong. Then there are days the tide or wind is so strong you can’t hold bottom, and it’s not your fault. Sometimes the bite is early like at 0-dark-thirty, but you’re not an early riser. Sometimes the bite is great at night, but this day, to your dismay, you watched the sunrise, when the moonlight angling would have filled your cooler with sea mullet or spot. So what about the moon? Full moon or no moon, half moon or crescent, moon above your head, or moon below your feet. I guess you’ll just have to check those famous Knight’s Solunar Tables. Do they really work? And do fish check the signs of the zodiac too? How about Pisces?
Of course you’ll need bait to catch fish. A rule of thumb with natural baits is that fresh is better but live is best. Maybe today you had the wrong bait, or some refrozen old and mushy and stinky bait, or shrimp that was sitting in the sun on the pier railing too long and now resembles shrimp jerky. Remember if you won’t eat the shrimp you’re using for bait, the fish may stick up their noses at it too. Always buy “people” shrimp at the shrimp stand. Unless you need the excuse…“my bait was bad,” or “I had the wrong bait,” and both are as believable as any.
Bait not only includes the bait you use, whether natural or artificial, but the bait available to the targeted fish swimming around in the water. However, NO bait in the water is never a good sign, making “matching the hatch” a moot point.
If you are having a bad year, not just a bad day or two, you’ll need to invoke more global excuses, try blaming beach nourishment, inlet relocation, or it’s a bad year for …(fill in the blank) or maybe global warming. That’s really in vogue these days. If you are having a bad decade, just throw up your hands and exclaim, “bad luck, always happens to ME.” Excuses, excuses, so maybe you just should have been there yesterday!