One Man's Tash
by Ed Zaun
like to fish. Ok, that's probably not news to anyone, but I tend to approach it differently than most people do. Don't get me wrong, I like to recount my successes as much as the next liar, eh I mean fisherman, but when I'm alone and have time to think, what I replay in my mind are the fish I failed to catch. The ones I never got to tighten up on even more so than the ones that spit the hook. That leads me to the topic of this article… (nice segue, huh?)
It's been a pretty sparse year for me so far fish-wise, I've gotten out a fair number of times, but with work and family obligations it just seemed I never hit the tides right, or the fish were somewhere else. You know the story. Well, this past weekend, my brother phoned and asked if I was up for a little frustration and we decided to try our luck at the Manasquan Inlet. It seemed like a good idea as we had heard rumors that the fish were there, but there's that tide thing again, the tail end of the outgoing and then low slack was when we would fish. Harumph… Oh well, beggars can't be choosers…
When we arrived however, we had a nice surprise. There were fish jumping out of the water about 150 yards away and there was plenty of room for both of us to cast. We set up and for the life of me, I would have thought they were Tailor Blues from the size and they way they were smashing the bait. So I tied on my old standard, a 3" White Deceiver and began flailing. Fast strip, slow strip, twitch and drift, darting up and down but nothing worked. Ok, let's try a 4" Chartreuse and White Lucky Strike, a known bluefish killer. Same trial and error with retrieves and again, no dice. Not even a follow or a swirl.
The bait would crash and scamper around, there would be a splash, usually with a fish in it, sometimes right in front of me, but nothing on the hook. The bait, I could see, was spearing about 1½" to 2" long. The predator is now a mystery, because I've gotten a better look at them, and they are way too pointy to be blues, hmmm mebbe Mackerel? I'd heard some rumors about them being around too. OK, new fly. Gotta hurry now, the fish are getting more numerous by the minute and the Sun ain't getting any higher.
I had some smallish Sar-Mul-Macs in the vest, so I choose one about 3" inches long and in a generally white hue. I like to have my fly just a touch bigger than the bait, because I believe it gets noticed, and it makes a better looking meal for the munchers. Same step by step run through the retrieves with the same dazzling results. My brother grabbed his plugging rod in an attempt to see if more action would do the trick. I started looking for some rocks to throw.
By now, I'm thoroughly frustrated. I mean, I understand that you don't always catch fish, but I'd prefer not to see them all around me when I'm not catching! That's adding insult to injury. I have a tee shirt that reads, "Sometimes, when the lake is very still, you can actually hear the fish laughing at you". It seemed this would be another of those times. One more trip through the fly boxes, maybe I could get an Inspiration.
I found a box I didn't think I had with me; the one I keep all my "Well, nothing else has worked" flies in. I found a tan Crazy Charlie with Sili-Legs sticking out of it, and small dumb-bell eyes. It was about an 1½" long and rather subdued looking, but what the hell, it matched the size of the bait well, even if it is supposed to be a shrimp pattern. What the hell, it's all in the advertising anyway. I tied on a 3' length of 6lb. fluorocarbon for a tippet and let it fly. On the second cast I had a fish on and promptly lost him, but at least I was making progress.
Three more casts and I felt that welcome tug and watched the end of my fly line dart to the side. I struck and was hooked in solidly. The fish put up a good fight for his size, but when I got him to the rocks, my brother let out a groan that I had made him get the net for, believe it or not, a shad! That's what we had seen for the past hour, chasing baitfish all over the place. It was a nice fish too, about 12". "Is that all you can catch is trash?" he asked me, throwing the question back that I had asked him when he had skunked me by catching a single herring one day last fall. I sniffed and replied something to the effect that
was more than he had landed tonight and went back to fishing.
Now here's the funny thing about it, I cast into, past and around several swirls, but no fish. I changed the retrieve, speeded it up a little and wango, another hit.
I lost more than I landed that night, and had to change flies twice more because I lost a few. An original color Crazy Charlie, then finally to a sparsely tied 1/0 Platinum Blonde. They both caught fish, but never on the some retrieve twice in a row. These "trash fish" were teaching me quite a lesson in tactics. I needed to keep changing my retrieve, or I would come up short. It wasn't the fly that mattered as much as the retrieve.
That's the thing about fishing. Be adaptable, keep thinking and most importantly, keep learning. Don't get so focused that you ignore the obvious. If the fish aren't taking what you're offering, change something. The retrieve is easiest, so try that first.
I had more fun that night catching shad with my fly rod than almost any other time in recent memory. I must have lost 7 fish in a row because I didn't get the hook set right, or I fooled around playing them, but I didn't care. I was adapting to some cue the fish were using and I was catching them. Some of them actually put up a good fight. I had two jump clean out of the water and another wanted to go to the bottom in the worst way. The fights didn't last long, but Shad aren't Bluefish.
The point I'm trying to make here is just because they are called "trash" and lack the mystique of the "glamour" species, don't turn your nose up at them. There have been many times casting small fly poppers to Bluegills saved my afternoon when the local Largemouth developed lockjaw. You may find those trash fish aren't as easy to catch as you think they are and they'll put up a better battle than you would believe. For myself, I'd much rather catch shad or herring, sea robin or skates than nothing at all. One Man's Trash is another Man's Treasure!
Copyright © 1999 - 2013 Ed Zaun, All Rights Reserved