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What constitutes fishing skill?

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 1/8/2014

What constitutes fishing skill? This question gets raised on the forum regularly, although not necessarily as succinctly. I, for one, don’t really have what I would consider a definitive answer. Still it’s a question worth considering and the answer(s) may not be what you think.

You see the “question” raised when someone suggests that one form of fishing is somehow less skillful than another.  Bait fishing is sometimes viewed as requiring less skill.  Tie on a hook, bait the hook, cast it out and wait.  I would argue that the casting part requires the same skill as casting a spoon.  And cranking in either is about the same.  The spoon fisher might impart various actions to the lure in retrieving it, and therefore see that as being more skilled.  The same could be said for some bait anglers who “work” their baits. 

It seems to me that the fishing method is less important than the angler in determining skill level.  There are many “bait” fishers I know who are far better anglers than either lure or fly fishers.  That presumes we measure skill as the ability to catch fish.

We can take this a little further and speak about specific casting methods.  For example I might argue that fly casting is more difficult to master than spin casting.  However, if you have ever partaken in an accuracy casting contest with a bait casting outfit, you know it requires a high degree of skill to hit your target on the nose.  I don’t see that one is more skilled than the other, rather they’re just different skills.

If the ability to catch fish represents skill, how do we measure that and what measures do we use to determine skill?  How about big fish? I was talking with a fisheries biologist one day about the master angler program, and he suggested that big fish are more luck than skill.  He has a point, as how many times have we seen a beginner angler with the trophy of a life time.  But I would argue that anglers with skill do increase their chances of catching a big fish. 

Few tournaments (another test of skill) are based solely on big fish, rather a combination of numbers and size, where numbers typically are more important than size alone.  From my limited experience tournament fishing, the angler who catches the biggest fish of the contest is rarely the one who wins the tournament.  So who’s the better angler?  Typically, the biggest prize goes to the one with a largest limit of fish (by weight generally).

So catching the most fish is a possible measure of skill, right?  Again, yes and no. Going back to the tournament situation, it is possible that the angler who catches the most fish doesn’t win.  Why?  Because total numbers aren’t the final measure, it’s the best weight of some limit, say five fish.  The prize goes to the largest limit, but is the angler who caught a lot more fish, albeit slightly smaller less skilled.  In terms of winning the tournament, I’d argue yes, but . . .

Another angle has to do with species.  Most tournaments are limited to a single species, bass, crappie, catfish, walleye, and muskie are a few examples.  However, multi-species contests are possible.  At the last Old Guy/Young Guy face-off I set it up so that catching more species rewarded you better than size or numbers.  So is the person with the ability to catch different species more skilled than an angler who focuses on a single species.  That depends on your personal viewpoint.

There are also a myriad of other skills that we consider as angler skills, but are not actually catching, knot tying, fly tying, lure building, and rod building are examples of this.  How about knowledge?  Knowing local waters, as guide do, fish identification, prey identification, fish biology, ecology, etc.  They all play a role in an anglers skill levels.

From my perspective, there is no one precise measure of angling skill.  It’s a blend of many factors that result in a skilled angler.  Thus, when we start comparing different types of anglers, and saying one is more skilled than another, I think that’s like trying to compare a baseball pitcher, to a quarterback, to goalie, to a center, to a tennis player, to a . . .   They all have skill, they're just different skill sets.

So I think we’re better off appreciating different anglers for what they are, tournament angler, fly caster, cat fisher, you name it, than trying to determine who’s better than whom. 

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
Coyute, 1/8/2014 9:29:50 AM
Some cats spend a lifetime trying to let the world know of their fishing prowess, but at the end of the day, it's mostly posturing. :)
boogieman, 1/8/2014 9:31:20 AM
well written
Bassackwards, 1/8/2014 9:39:18 AM
Keeping an open mind to learning is the only skill you will ever need ass a fisherman.
Bassackwards, 1/8/2014 9:40:10 AM
I meant to say "as" please omit.
Fishful Thinker, 1/8/2014 11:00:03 AM
The only skill that really matters in angling is the one that makes the angler the happiest. CL
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/8/2014 11:22:16 AM
Some excellent points, yes there are a lot of folks full of puffery I'm probably one of them. An open mind is a rare commodity these days and I fully agree it's a golden asset on all topics, including fishing. I find you can learn from everyone. I couldn't agree more that the only skill that matters is the one that makes you happy. I suspect there's fodder for a year's worth of blogs on that line of thinking, thanks. Given all the promotion to suggest we'd be happier if we are, do, have, catch, visit, own . . . fill in the blank. And if the promoters weren't enough there's always the peer pressure to fish as "I" do, release, kill, catch this, but not this, in this way, but not that . . . Yes, the skill that makes you happy is truly the only one you need. Now if they'll only be quiet and let me be happy and fish!!!
esoxrocks, 1/9/2014 12:02:58 PM
In my opinion the multi-location, multi-species angler who can quickly zero-in on the specifics of a given situation, and then be successful, is at the top of the fishing skill hierarchy, regardless of the type of tackle used. The guy who can show up at a previously unknown Walleye Lake one day, Bass Lake the next, and be consistently successful is best fisherman. It's knowledge, and moreover, the ability to successfully apply that knowledge to different situations that makes for the most skillful fisherman.
PikeD, 1/9/2014 10:05:03 PM
The biggest surprise by me from attending the Tightline Outdoors/Blue Quill angler ice fishing event at Evergreen last year was watching very skilled anglers pluck tiny trout from holes with eight other lines around them. It is widely recognized that the blue quill is one of the best fly shops in the state and to have their guides standing next to me in awe was a true crossover experience. Having guided fly fishing and spin fishing I really agree that skills are just different but to put these anglers in such close quarters was really an eye-opener. I am excited to see the two events this year at Tarryall and Chatfield and not to see what the catch, but to watch truly gifted anglers really compete against the fish.
opencage, 1/10/2014 10:19:30 AM
1. Fishing should be fun. 2. Having "fishing skills" makes fishing more fun because you usually catch more fish. 3. The only thing as fun as catching fish (sometimes more) is learning a new fishing skill. 4. If you want to learn new fishing skills go out with other anglers, preferably OGs.
Lloyd Tackitt, 1/10/2014 12:18:30 PM
I fish a rather short section of the Brazos almost exclusively. Less than a mile from end to end. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to concentrate on this one stretch of water to see how much I could learn in a "close" environment so to speak. I think I have gained some skill due to the fact that I have to really work each spot thoroughly. This reduced set of variables allows me to concentrate on the fish instead of reading the water. Not a lot of skill though, they still give me fits at times.