The fishing experience

As a writer of outdoor articles for several years, I’ve dabbled at many different kinds of fishing. While you might suppose that the fishing I did while “researching” for those stories must’ve been fantastic, parts of it were far from ideal.

The thousand-dollar-a-day lodge, where all my gear was provided, complete with a guide did everything but cast for me, was fun, as was the do-it-yourself fishing camp, where a couple dozen of us had to share a reeking outhouse and fend off attacks by determined mosquitoes. But after 20 or so of those writing assignments, I realized that I was enjoying them less and less, and that my lack of enthusiasm was showing in my writing.

The main reason I lost interest in those fishing trips was that I wasn’t getting anywhere near a complete fishing experience. Other than making travel reservations, I didn’t even have to plan them. On most trips, the only gear I took along was my clothes and camera. They fed me, made my bed, gave me clean towels, rigged my tackle, put me on the fish and showed me where to cast. I spent more time watching than fishing. On the remote trips, much of the fishing was catch-and-release, where the guide unhooked the fish, so I didn’t even get to touch a fish. On guided trips where I could keep my catch, the guide cleaned the fish, and someone else vacuum packed and froze it. Only rarely did I get to eat a fish I caught.

Some writers might be able to to fish with guides and lodges forever, and continue writing about the experience, but not me. I’ve seen the best there is, and the best isn’t good enough.

The most rewarding guided fishing I’ve experienced has been close to home, where I’ve come home with halibut, salmon and other fish. Even on those trips, I didn’t have to have my own bait or tackle. I didn’t have to own a boat, or know anything about seamanship or know how to find fish. I didn’t have to bait my hook, tie on a lure or take fish off the hook. I didn’t have to know anything about the fish, the fishing regulations or why there aren’t as many fish as there used to be. In short, I didn’t have to know anything at all.

Not that ignorance is a problem on guided trips. I think most guides prefer clients that don’t know much about fishing. As long as clients don’t drop a rod and reel overboard, they’re good. Guides resent being told how to fish.

Something else I’ve missed out on when I’ve fished with guides is being able to fillet my own fish. On charters, they either fillet on the water or at a fish-cleaning table in the small-boat harbor. I prefer to put my fish on ice when I catch them, and fillet them myself, either at the harbor or at home. The way I feel about it, filleting and processing fish – helping to prepare my own food – is an important part of the fishing experience. Few of us get to do that nowadays, and we’re the poorer for it.

Using someone else’s rod, reel and tackle isn’t as enjoyable as using my own. Having someone else choose when, where and how we’ll fish also leaves much to be desired. It pains me to pay money to fish, and then to spend a day fishing with people I don’t know while watching a deck hand or guide do all the real fishing — rigging tackle, baiting hooks, running downriggers.

Thinking about the fishing I’ve done in the past two or three decades, what I’ve enjoyed most was when I was involved at every stage, from the planning, to when I sat down at the dinner table and enjoyed a meal of the catch. It’s all good, all part of the deal known as fishing.


Les Palmer can be reached at

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