Two anglers in a boat compared experiences as they headed back to the dock after eight hours on the water. One marveled at the successful day as the other wondered what went wrong.
It's happened to all of us at one time or another. You catch fish all day while your friend finishes in frustration. Or vice versa.
Unfair: Fishing is not a fair game. Equal effort is not necessarily rewarded with equal results. And equal effort does not equate to the same number of casts or even using the same lure.
Success on the water often comes down to doing the little things correctly, and then having the instinct and confidence to duplicate the detail that results in strikes.
In crappie fishing, for instance, a foot can be as good as a mile when it comes to picking the place where you present your lure. One angler may catch a fish on every cast, while his friend in the same boat may catch only one or two.
The lure that lands within inches of a sunken brush pile results in bites, while the one that is two feet away goes ignored. The jig that hangs below a float at the precise depth where the fish are hanging is gobbled, while the leadhead a foot too deep or too shallow might as well be on the moon for all the attention it will generate.
Depth is key: Walleye anglers see similar nuances. A crankbait trolled too high in the water column fails to be noticed, while a buddy's lure at the right depth is attacked all day. A weight-forward spinner counted down to the walleyes' active zone is slammed, while the one wielded by an inattentive caster is merely drowning night crawler.
Bass fishing is no exception. The angler who makes the best presentations throughout the day is the one who scores most frequently. His boatmate may think he's fishing well, but if he misses a target by a couple of inches, his lure fails to excite a lurking bass.
The ticket to success is to pay attention. Anglers need to let the fish tell them what must be done to generate strikes.
What's more, a fisherman must pay attention all day. What works in the gray light of dawn likely will fail to hold up once the sun is at its zenith.
So fishing is a game of adjustments. That's why we carry 50 pounds of tackle every time we go to the water.
Teamwork: Two anglers can work together as a team. They should try different lures, probe varying depths and tie on different colors. Each should experiment with retrieve speeds and employ actions from erratic to dragging.
When a strike occurs, the successful angler should try to duplicate all the variables. If he's interested in seeing his friend enjoy success, too, then he should share information about the lure, the depth, the way in which the fish struck and all the other details.
Sometimes, of course, an angler faces the fish solo. That means he won't have a separate set of variables to which he can compare his own approach.
It also means he needs to pay close attention to what is not working and adjust tactics to ensure all the bases are covered.
A clever angler with a vivid imagination will be able to figure out all but the toughest fishing challenge. Changing tactics can be the difference between fun and frustration on the water. But if the fish just aren't biting, there is not much anybody can do to fill out a limit.
Like I said, fishing is not a fair game.