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The Big Slump

Research is what you call it when you’re not catching

      Thumbing the spool, I cast my lure just off a placid riprapped Chesapeake Bay shoreline. The morning had been perfect for surface plugging to cruising rockfish: The tide was in flood stage, there was little wind and the water was 66 degrees. Yet there were no fish.
      Having just worked about 50 yards of rocky shoreside with my favorite popper, a black Smack-It, I switched to a Rat-L-Trap-type lure in gold, a sub-surface producer. The three-quarter-ounce lure was easy to cast long distances, and I often used it when prospecting large unknown areas for stripers.
     “Research is what we’re doing when we don’t know what we’re doing,” Albert Einstein said, and that popped into my head after another half hour of casts and retrieves. I imagined this as angling research, unproductive but still research.
      That stretch of shoreline was one of the last resort locations for the day. Farther up the river, I had already tried a half-dozen prime spots, all places where over my many years I had caught a fish. But the results so far, no matter where I fished, were zip, nada, nothing, a big smelly skunk. This was not my first skunk of the week; it was more like the third.
     I was now into a desperate pattern, working locations where I had never caught a fish but that looked as if I should have. 
      It’s easy to remain focused when I’m fishing areas that have been productive in the past or after I have caught a few fish. I can envision the slamming strikes, the angry boils, the charging fish that I experienced in the past. But when I’m getting tired after long episodes of no fish, my shoulders starts to ache, my back begins to complain and my attention can wander.
      Long stretches of no fish can also result in depression. This will never get you any sympathy from your spouse or friends. Plus, you’re actually getting a beautiful day on the water. But any serious angler knows what I’m talking about.
      So I have to hope. I concentrate on my casting. When throwing plugs with a spin rig, you simply gauge the distance and make the throw. You’re either on target or not. But with the revolving-spool casting rigs that I use, that action can be more complicated. 
      If the initial throwing effort has caused the lure to tumble in the air, you can steady it with very light thumb pressure on the spool. Steadying the lure will cause it to become more aerodynamic, increasing your distance, and also minimize the chance of fouling the lure on the line that trails it.
       The angler with revolving-spool tackle can also alter the trajectory of the cast. Holding the rod tip off to the appropriate side and thumbing the spool will cause the lure to move to one side or the other. Thumb pressure will also shorten the cast and, if it is done just before the lure hits the water, soften the landing.
      I imagined instances where these actions might be important and practiced variations.
     At this point, a large bird wafted overhead. I looked up and realized it was a juvenile bald eagle giving me the hairy eyeball. I love to see eagles flying over the Chesapeake; they’re the only creatures I don’t resent for out-fishing me. 
       By that point the day had worn on past lunch. Hungry, sore and still fishless, I decided that the eagle would have to do it for the day. Tomorrow would be another cause for hope. Tomorrow things would be better.