By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
I’ve probably used the phrase "think like a fish" a few times in this column, but it dawned on me awhile back that the reasoning in that statement was counter intuitive. Human beings, as far as we know, are the only animals on earth that actually think and talk. Thinking is just visualizing language to create concepts that we use to define the world around us. It’s a tree, a bird, a house or a tarpon. Words and labels are fine if we realize that here is no intrinsic truth behind them. There is obviously a lot more to a tarpon than the word. In actuality they (and everything else for that matter} are much more complex, mysterious and inexplicable than we will ever know. But there in lies the hook for a committed angler. We strive to understand these creatures because we want to spend some time connected to then in more ways than one.
This idea dawned on me earlier this season when I was fishing for tarpon near Bean Point. I set up on the edge of a slue where I thought the fish would pass on a falling tide. The wind was from the east, so I set up on that side thinking it would be easier to get to the fish with a down wind cast. I was right about where the fish would pass, but wrong about which side of the slue to set up on. They came through, but on the west side. It took me three schools before I realized that the tarpon were being pushed by the tide and just taking the path of least resistance. They weren’t thinking about it!
I had a lot of time and opportunity to put the idea to the test this year with tarpon. They showed up late due to colder than normal water temperatures and then seemed more interested in spawning than eating. I can’t remember any other early season where more anglers, whether fishing artificial, fly or bait, complained as much about seeing but not catching. The good news was that there were lots of tarpon and of course exceptions to the not eating rule. Looking ahead, I postulated that the tarpon, having gotten a late start, were probably more interested in spawning (which is why they’re here in the first place) than eating. I reasoned that after we came off the full moon in July that there would be a good bite. By all accounts, that seems to have been the case.
Since we are thinking animals, there really is no way not to try and reason out what the fish are doing without thinking, but we can use our powers of observation to get closer to the truth. I can’t remember any other season when I saw as many fish in Longboat Pass as this year. Captain Scott Moore thinks it may have something to do with the slow speed zone. On many mornings, there were hundreds of fish rolling in the pass and clustered around the bridge. I’ve seen them in the pass every year, but never in these numbers. If the fish were in the pass and not moving down the beach, I would set up near the edge of the pass and watch for them to move. On most days, they did, about an hour after the tide started to drop. But, just like in years past, when I thought I had them figured out, they did something completely different!
When I really consider it, I realize that that’s what I enjoy about fishing in general and tarpon fishing in particular. Trying to discern patterns and reasoning out why fish do what they do keeps angling interesting. I guess I’ll never really stop trying to think like a fish, but now I put more faith in the conditions that affect the fish.