Skills Every Angler Should Know
By Dan Turner
So many of us go fishing or hunting like it’s second nature. We know how to tie knots, how to load and unload a boat, and even basic survival skills. Many of us have learned these skills since we learned how to walk, but many people never had a parent or a mentor to tutor us. And even the most respected outdoors man or woman knows that you can never know everything about the outdoors and we can never perfect every skill required. So, while I still have 40 or 50 years of learning left to do, I’m going to share a few things that every angler should know how to do well to be successful in the boat or from shore.
While there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of different fishing knots, there are a few basic ones you should master. More often then not anglers use one knot every time they tie on a lure, but learning different knots will make you more successful by taking advantage of the situation and specific gear you are using.
• Palomar knot – This knot is one of the more universal knots that can be used with any type of line, but it is maybe the best knot for tying on a bait to braided line. When done correctly this knot is one of the strongest you can tie.
• Improved clinch knot – I probably use this one the most for monofilament and fluorocarbon line. Quick, easy, strong.
• Improved Albright – This is the best knot I have found to tie two lines together. I choose this one because there is only one tag that can get caught on the eyes of your rod. It is also the best knot I have found to tie lines of different sizes together, especially a fluorocarbon leader onto braid.
• Barrel Knot – This knot shines when tying two lines together, such as backing to your main line. It is a larger knot, therefore you only want to use it when it will not be going through the guides of your rod.
• The “Figure Eight” family of knots – While figure eight knots are not useful for tying fishing line, it is a wonderful series of knots for nearly every other rope application. It is crucial for wildland survival to know these knots.
I know, there is no way to predict the weather. But you can predict what may be coming at you in the next 1-12 hours. It is important to know the days weather not only so you can fish when/where/how you need to, but also for safety.
Know the cloud types. While there are over a dozen different type of clouds, three types are the ones that threaten our safety:
• Cumulonimbius – These are more commonly known as thunderheads. They are easily distinguished, and almost always have precipitation. They are also the same clouds that bring severe thunderstorms.
• Mammus – These clouds are usually on the front of incoming weather systems, but not always. They are on the edge of a storm, and resemble popcorn on the base of the clouds. The reason they are important is because they show extreme upper level turbulence, and that brings high ground level winds, hail, heavy down pours, and tornados.
• Wall Clouds – These are well known clouds because they spawn tornados, but they are often mis-identified and mistaken for shelf clouds. Wall clouds will be at the base of the storm, usually directly below the highest storm point. Wall clouds are formed by strong updrafts and the cloud itself almost always has visible movement. The movement can be upwards or rotating around itself. If you can see the rotation you are too close and in immediate danger of a tornado.
Never, ever try to outrun a storm. They can move up to 70 MPH. Take shelter or move out of the path if its safely possible.
Other weather items play more into fishing itself. Right after a big storm high pressure usually moves in and typically fishing is depressed. But before the storm fishing can be very, very good! There are tons of wives’ tales about the weather, but a few can be somewhat true.
There is one that relates to sunrise and sunset; “Red in the morning, sailors take warning. Red at night, sailors delight”. I have found this one usually true. It may not rain exactly where you are if there is a red sunrise, but the atmosphere is definitely primed for precipitation in the next 24-36 hours.
Wind is also very important. If there are strong gusty winds, then a storm is either coming or just left. Winds are caused by changes in atmospheric pressure. So, as a storm comes in, you will see the winds change to blow towards the storm as the storm gathers energy. As the storm gets closer the winds may cease completely as the air is sucked into the storm from the upper atmosphere. If you see big clouds and the wind stops, it’s time to get off the water and/or seek shelter….fast.
As fishing gets ingrained in our souls it is only a matter of time before we want a boat. But just because you are a boat owner does not mean you are automatically a good boat handler. Or won’t look like a fool backing a trailer down a long ramp. Backing a trailer has three key points to remember, but after that experience alone will be your only instructor.
• Small corrections. Even slight changes from the steering wheel will make large changes to your trailer.
• As you are looking in your mirrors, the top of your steering wheel will move the rear of your trailer in the opposite direction. So, if you trailer is creeping towards the driver’s side (left) as you are looking in the mirror then slightly turn the wheel to the passenger side (right).
• Move slow and correct your trailer before it gets more than six inches off. If you normally can just barely see both trailer fenders when your trailer is straight with your vehicle, then you should make a correction before one fender disappears from the mirror completely.
When it comes time to load the boat this can be very easy, or very complicated and frustrating. Every boat and its trailer has a “sweet spot” in relation to how far the trailer should go into the water to load your boat. It may take 10-20 times to find this spot, but the goal is simple. The trailer should be in the water far enough that you can give the motor power and push the boat all the way onto the trailer to the bow stop. But the trailer should not be so far in that when the boat is at the bow stop it is still free floating. It should be resting on the trailer. Secure the winch strap before exiting the boat and pull off the ramp. With minimal practice to find your boats sweet spot anyone should be able to load their boat by themselves in less than five minutes.
As far as boat handling goes, that can be an article or two all by itself. There are far too many types of boats to cover and they all handle a little differently. Have someone experienced show you how to properly operate your boat, always wear a life vest, and always have coast guard required equipment on board.
It doesn’t matter if you are on shore or in a boat, if the fish are aware you are there you won’t catch them. Fishing is hunting with a hook and line. If you walk on shore noisily, breaking sticks, feet dropping heavy to the ground, stepping in mud, then you will scare fish. When I am shore fishing I either cast ahead of me so my bait is always fishing ahead of where I’m walking, or I will approach the shore very slow and quietly as if I am sneaking up on a deer. I can’t tell you how many times I have accidently spooked fish right on the shore, even when I was walking as quiet as possible.
Being in a boat does make it easier, but also harder. A soda can dropping in an aluminum boat can be heard for a LONG way under water. A trolling motor on higher speed is the same way. Keep carpet in your boat to deaden noise, keep the trolling motor on low speeds when approaching new areas to fish, and stalk your prey. You will catch more fish.
I wrote about this in a previous article, but it’s worth mentioning again. You may think going shopping is the easiest thing to do in regards to fishing, but it can be the hardest. Gone are the days of three or four reel manufacturers and monofilament made by three companies. Now we have five different kinds of line made by over a dozen companies. The choices are nice and can help us be better fishers, but it can be mind boggling and more expensive too. Do your research, read reviews, ask others about their experiences with certain products. Then, and I can’t stress this enough, buy the best you can afford. If you always buy the cheapest stuff then you will have frequent equipment failures, and that means less fish and more frustration and ultimately more money spent to replace the junk you bought.
While the skill set of a successful angler will always grow, starting with these basics will save time, headaches, and ultimately help you catch more fish. Practice CPR (catch, pic, release) ESPECIALLY with big predator fish and teach a kid to fish this year. Tight lines!