There aren't too many feelings this side of the law as exhilarating as the tug of a fish on a fishing line.
Whether you're trolling, dry or wet fly casting, or just letting your line dangle in the water, that tug brings a rush of adrenaline that prompts you to immediate action. Presumably, the fish feels a rush of adrenaline too, amid some sharp pain, and the tug becomes a tug of war.
Unfortuantely, I have no idea what that tug feels like.
It's not that I haven't caught fish. I certainly have. In fact, I hold the unofficial record for the smallest walleye ever caught, a feat I accomplished a few years ago during a 3M outing in Lake Mille Lac in Minnesota. The walleye was so small I didn't know it was there until I reeled in my line to check the bait. I figured that lack of action was an isolated incident. It wasn't.
Recently, I spent a day on the ocean fishing with two long-time friends, Paul Pedigo, an EE, and Carl Bragg, a master electrician, both of whom, unlike me, are accomplished anglers. We traveled in Paul's 26-foot, Volvo Penta-powered Trivial Pursuit 17 miles off the coast of Massachusetts to a stretch of ocean called Race Track, a few miles short of the Jeffrey's Ledge fishing grounds. The trip to Race Track alone was nothing short of spectacular, with clear blue skies above, calm two-foot seas, and 10 different whale sightings, a few of the creatures breeching less than 75 feet from the boat.
In fact, the trip was so good, we didn't even mind repeating the first part of the voyage when we discovered, five miles out, that we had forgotten the sucket of clams we were going to use for bait. I suggested that maybe we could use the sandwiches we brought as substitute bait, but Paul and Carl ignored that stupidity with just a hint of ridicule, as friends will do.
Our goal, once rearmed with the clams, was to snag some haddock. Using Penn rods and reels, 30-lb test line, and 15-oz sinkers, we attached the clams to our special haddock hooks (that's what the package said, though they looked like cod hooks; maybe the fish can tell the difference!), and dropped those lines into the 200-or-so feet of water. Within about five minutes, I reeled in the first fish, a 30-inch cusk that could have taken first prize in an "ugly" contest.
A great feeling—except that once again, there was no feeling.
I never knew it was on the line. As before, I was just reeling up to check my bait when there he was. Then, a few minutes later, it happened again. This time, I pulled in a cod that, for all I knew, could have been placed on my hook unconscious by some practical joker in SCUBA gear. No tug, no feel. I caught five more fish that afternoon, including three sand sharks, and not once did I experience that exhilarating tug on the line. In fact, the only real resistance I felt all day was when somehow my line got wrapped around Carl's and he reeled it in along with his own—twice!
What's going on here? Do I really lack a "feel" for fishing, as my mates allege?
No way. I checked with Penn Fishing spokesman Brent Kane. He said that the nylon line I used has a 20-30% stretch factor, which means the fish would have had to run to let me know that they were there. These fish weren't wearing sneakers. Plus, the solid glass rod does not transmit the fish's energy. Still, the other guys seemed to know when they had a bite. Or, they were giving me a line. Sorry, guys, but I'm not swallowing that bait.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.