An interesting thing happened earlier this winter when I was out ice fishing. I got up early like I always do and was one of the first people on the ice. I was walking out in the dark to get to my area to set up. I wasn’t running tip-ups that day, just jigging so getting into the area I knew would be productive was crucial. I located my old holes from the previous trip and it only took me 2 holes to find the right depth. I was on fish right away and it didn’t take long and I put a keeper walleye on the ice.
It was getting lighter out and people were starting to trickle out onto the ice. Most were setting up in the usual areas and a few wandered out in my general area. Two gentlemen were pulling their sleds out roughly 25 yards away between me and the shore. As they passed, the one guy stopped and shouted over to me “Any bites yet?”. I responded with “I got one keeper eye on the ice.” This apparently was a big mistake. He shouted up to his buddy who had kept walking. I didn’t hear what he said, but they proceeded to walk another 25 yards, stop, and set up a huge spread of tip-ups; 2 of which they set up less than 50 feet from where I was jigging. They never gave me the courtesy of asking if I minded. They just heard I caught a fish, and then took over the area.
I was pretty irked. If i just said no, they probably would have kept on walking. This got me thinking, am I too honest to be a fisherman?
This wasn’t the first time telling the truth like that has come back to bite me. At a two day tournament a couple years back, I did pretty well the first day. I kept myself in contention by fishing an area that only a few other people fished, yet most that did were near the top. At the weigh-in I wasn’t as tight lipped about the launch I fished as I should have been. While I didn’t tell any other competitors directly, I did tell some other people. I don’t know if it was my loose lips, or maybe someone else did the same, but on day 2 there were double the people at that launch.
Tournaments are breeding grounds for lies, misdirection, and doublespeak. Anglers are out practicing, exploring the lake, mapping all the structure, and trying to find that pattern or that area they can catch a winning bag. But regardless if the event is post frontal in Alabama in January, or a warm front and full moon in South Florida in February; the talk around the dock is always the same. “How’s practice going” The bite is tough. Or I’m not quite on em yet. Or Finding a few, but not what it will take to win. But sure enough come tournament day, one of those anglers brings in a giant bag. Among those I interviewed the response was pretty consistent. In general, most said they are usually 75% honest about how their practice is going. One trend that I noted was that anglers are much more honest when they have a bad practice, as opposed to when they have a good practice. For me personally, I’m usually very honest with how my practice goes but I do have my limits. The biggest thing I tend to lie or stretch the truth about is when it comes to ramp or location. If I have good luck in practice, and I had already told someone where I was prefishing, I will downplay my success. Alternatively, if nobody knows where I prefished, I will be much more forthcoming about my success.
The number of fish an angler is catching isn’t the only way tournament anglers practice the art of deception. I’ve talked to many anglers and it’s amazing the lengths some will go to (including on occasion myself) in order to conceal exactly what they’re doing to catch fish. One interesting tactic among kayaks anglers are things like decoy rods and baits. Some anglers I interviewed will rig rods intentionally with the wrong baits so anybody at the dock looking at their boat won’t see the actual baits they’re using. One angler I interviewed said at least half his rods are decoy rods at the ramp. I have been known to put away a rod as I approach the ramp after a good day so nobody might see the actual bait I was catching them on. But in reality, with 7 or 8 rods in the kayak it would be difficult to determine which was the one doing all the damage.
As much as we try to focus while we fish, when passing by or fishing near another angler in a tournament it’s easy to get distracted and check out what they’re doing. Even more so when you see or hear the telltale sounds of them landing a fish. I talked to a few anglers who take extra precautions when fishing near other anglers. One thing that was common among a few people I interviewed was the “silent catch”. When landing a fish near others there is no shouting, no fanfare. Just a quick landing, get the photo, and get the fish back without anybody else knowing you got one. Also common was that anglers will stop fishing one technique when another passes by so they don’t see what they’re doing, something I’ve watched a few do while I’ve paddled by. When thousands of dollars are on the line, it’s understandable the lengths competitors will go to maintain an edge.
It isn’t just during tournaments that anglers tend to stretch the truth or even outright lie! One thing that is counter to popular belief, big time anglers often tell the opposite of your typical “fish story”. Most fish tales you hear at the local diner are about the giant that got away, but amongst competitive anglers, it’s actually the opposite. I surveyed a bunch of anglers and most agreed that when asked about how the fishing is at a lake they frequent, most will downplay the quality of fish. We all want to protect our honey holes, but I have heard an angler at a boat dock tell another that the fishing in the lake was pretty bad, when the lake already had a reputation for holding big fish.
Now lying is entirely understandable when someone may be asking about a small local lake that isn’t well known. We want to protect that fishery as long as we can. This isn’t just a selfish act, wanting to keep all the big fish for ourselves. It’s something I’ve seen personally a few times, and read countless stories of. A small local lake gains a reputation for big fish, but access is poor. More and more people want to get in on the action, access is improved, and in a few years the quality of fishing drops off drastically. A little deception may not be such a bad thing in protecting those hidden gems from the inevitable downfall when excessive fishing pressure takes its toll.
Dishonesty seems to pervade every facet of the fishing world. From the old timer sitting at the bar regaling tales of that wiley ole giant at the local pond that always seems to always get away, to the tournament angler saying the fishing is tough but then on day one comes in with 25 lbs, to the Instagram post of the giant fish with the background all blacked out. But who can blame them? Honesty degrades local fisheries, reduces the likelihood of winning a tournament, and can result in other anglers setting up shop right in your backyard. Honesty and fishing seem to be like oil and water, they just don’t mix. Trade secrets pervade every aspect of the sport. From rigging baits, to technique intricacies, to that secret submerged stump. Telling someone about that secret is almost sacrilegious in some groups. So for you overly honest people like myself, you might want to rethink your strategy when on the water. Or maybe not. The sport might be coming around with more live tournament coverage, youtube stars, and fishing schools where those trade secrets are starting to come out. Secrets wont stay secret very long now-a-days. But I think for my own sanity, when asked how the fishing was, I’ll just give the generic “Eh, nothing worth writing home about”.