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Is It Just Luck or Maybe a Little Bit More?

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 7/24/2015

All my life Ive been a lucky angler.  Anytime Ive fished with others, if one fish was caught, it typically was by me.  For whatever the reason, fish seem to have a way of finding the end of my line. Im lucky that way.

A couple years back I was talking with a CPW fisheries biologist about the Master Angler Program and some of the changes Id like to see, both in the program and records.  In the course of the conversation, the biologist said (Im paraphrasing here), Big fish are mainly a matter of luck and dont represent skill.  Anyone can get lucky.  His basis for this reasoning was the number of kids and occasional fishers that end up in the record books. The one time I got my wife to ice fish with me, she landed a 13 pound channel catfish using a jig Id contemplated tossing.  Yes, the fates have a wry sense of humor when it comes to fishing luck.

I recently posted on the forum that Id managed to catch my second MA drum this year.  Both were caught while targeting carp.  Lucky catches without a doubt.  And Daris ribbed me a bit.  Asking if I was going to submit it as I wasnt fishing for drum?  You bet!  The reality is a third or so of my master angler fish could be considered incidental catches.  Fish caught while targeting other species.  My first MA carp was an incidental catch while fishing for bluegill.  Lucky? Yes!  Take it?  You bet!

Yes, Ive been a lucky angler all my life.  Ill never deny that.  Im not the only one; there are a lot of anglers out there who are also lucky, very lucky.  So much so, you start to wonder if theres maybe a bit more to it than pure luck at play.  Rather like playing poker.  Luck is involved, but some players seem to win more frequently than others.

Over the years this topic has come up frequently.  Why is it, when two or more folks fishing together, side by side, same water, same bait/lure/flies, same everything as far as the eye can tell, one is catching and the rest arent?  We tend to call it luck, but is that all there is to it?

I remember at the end of day one fishing the Bullfrog Open Tournament, I was in 3rd place out of a field of fifty.  One of the pros visited with me that evening about the days fishing.  I commented, Yeh, I got lucky. His response was, Bullshit! No ones that lucky.  Point taken, I do believe we all have hand in making our own luck.

For example, when I used to fish with my father wed often troll.  Hed use a rod holder I didnt, preferring to hold the rod.  Then, as now, I tend to constantly play with my line.  Reeling in a bit, letting a little out, lifting and dropping the rod tip, moving it side to side, etc., consequently my presentations were always changing.  I frequently caught more fish. Luck? Maybe!

If you watch any group of anglers, there are often differences we dont think much about.  Is the lucky angler a non-smoker?  Did he wash up before hitting the water?  Water solvent tastes on your hands have a way of getting on tackle and can make a difference.  I suspect differences in body chemistry come into play. Which explains, to me anyway, why scents work for some and not others. Is paying attention to details luck? Maybe!

Lucky anglers seem to have a way of knowing where fish are and how to make presentations that elicit strikes.  I see this all the time, when my fellow anglers are using essentially the same flies/gear, yet catch few fish.  I suspect its a combination of minor differences in presentations. Where they cast to, how long things sink, differences in retrieves, and strike detection are all part of the lucky anglers equation. Is where and what you fish all there is to it, so luck is in play? Or is there maybe, just maybe a little bit more to it?

I do believe luck plays a role in fishing, but I also believe we have a hand in making our own luck. I know when I fish tournaments against other lucky anglers; Im often not near as lucky.

Yes, I feel I was lucky to have caught those MA drum this year, but to my credit I chose places, times, and techniques that made it possible to be lucky.

If youre lucky fishing, thats great.  If not, think about what you can do to increase your luck.  Because I do believe that we can set ourselves up for success, er, luck.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
bron, 7/24/2015 8:17:09 AM
My son always accuses me of being luckier than him. Since we are using the same baits right next to each other I think it's more of a case of me paying attention while he's chasing rabbits with the dipnet, catching frogs, eating pudding and cheese sticks, chasing geese, etc...There is some luck involved in fishing too though.
D-Zilla, 7/24/2015 9:20:53 AM
I have to disagree with the "scent" thing for smokers. I smoke, like a freight train, and don't seem to have a problem outfishing others who don't. I don't think its that big of an issue. There is certainly some luck at play in fishing, and that's about the only place I seem to have good luck. It could be though, that even though I smoke, I handle my tackle with my "off" hand, and frequently wash my hands in the lake while I fish. That changes the smell factor. I, like Mr. Coulson above, constantly "play" with my line. I "trigger fish" more than sit and wait for the rod to move. (even though I'm a bait dunker) There are certainly other factors, but luck is one of them.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 7/24/2015 10:28:44 AM
Good point on actively fishing bait. When I fished bait regularly, I, too, checked it with a degree of frequently and often fished it with motion. As a youth, I dead drifted bait in stream with good results.
shiverfix, 7/24/2015 10:51:20 AM
My stepson always says that his mom and I are lucky because we catch nice fish when we are out fishing without him. I try to explain to him that when she and I go fishing we usually fish for hours, if not the entire day. When he goes with us he gets frustrated and bored if he doesn't catch anything in the first 20 minutes. You can't catch anything if your line isn't in the water!
lewdog, 7/24/2015 1:45:30 PM
Alot of people say i am a lucky fisher but i dont mind what they say.
Skookshunter, 7/24/2015 1:52:18 PM
Good blog. What a coincidence I posted about the "accidental" MA fish catch the same day you published this.
FISHRANGLER, 7/24/2015 2:32:15 PM
Hope you don't mind a little ribbing Dave. I actually don't even really ever talk to much about all the by catch I get while bait fishing. This year alone a couple ma carp a few ma lmb a smb. And no pictures either so it never happened, right? As far a smoking goes. I think fish are addicted to nicotine because I sure do t have any problem catching large Preditors. So it doesn't affect fishing in the least bit. Imo what matters is, fishing big fish water and being consistant with presentations you have confidence in.
anglerwannabe, 7/24/2015 2:43:08 PM
Maybe LastKast will post on here. He shared with me a story about when he was fishing the pro circuit that fits in with this rather nicely.
Lloyd Tackitt, 7/24/2015 2:49:18 PM
Some of that luck may be a result of subconscious choices. Why do you cast to a particular spot? Often it's not a deliberately made choice as much as it is a matter of "feel". You cast to spots that have a certain feel about them. They have that feel because you have a wealth of built up experience catching fish. Your subconscious mind puts a lot of puzzle pieces together without you realizing it. But then again I have seen "Beginner's Luck" so many times that I believe in voodoo as a reasonable explanation also.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 7/24/2015 3:12:31 PM
Yep, interesting coincidence for sure as I wrote this a couple days prior to show for today. Never mind ribbing, appreciate it actually. The only time I growl, ok, not the only time, when comments are mean spirited. I fully agree that with time "lucky" anglers develop a "sense" and "feel" for fish. Knowing where to look, cast, how to retrieve, lure/bait/fly selection, all without a lot of thought, and often hard pressed to explain why they do/did something that results in a fish. I know there are times a cast and find myself playing a fish, never quite remembering I got a strike and set the hook, it just happens.
JOHN_COSprings, 7/25/2015 11:16:04 AM
There was an article in one of the carp fishing mags, regarding smoking and whether it puts off the fish. The findings were, it does not, or there was no noticeable difference in catch rates. However, even if it makes 1% difference, gives you a 1% edge - that could be all it takes between a bite, a title or a blank session. The recent carp tournament was a great example - some anglers, fishing together - same baits, maybe 10 yards apart, one caught and one did not and that pattern was continued throughout the day! Luck certainly plays a part, location, perhaps one angler was closer to structure, a drop off, a tasty looking weed, the color of the substrate, a slight change in depth. Everything plays a part and it makes us better anglers when we can finally figure it out ! A week or so back, I fished with Ron in a flooded Chatfield. I only had the one catch. He had 4 (or maybe 5). Again, baits 20 yards or less apart. We finally found out the reason, he was fishing right atop a ledge, that dropped off from 3 fow to about 8 fow. We learned this when i waded out there to free a fish from a snag and promptly fell off the ledge ! The water was chocolate milk murky and visibility was 0. If I hadn't fallen off that ledge, we never would have known - unless we had been casting around with maker to find feature (or using a sonar, if we had been on a boat).