Fishing is easy, so they say. The hard part is catching them. With some fish, the fight beats the catch, and nothing surges an angler’s adrenalin than a good, hard strike. The toughest-to-catch fish seem to have caught-on to fishermen’s games, but sometimes appetite gets the best of them, making them take the bait. For fishermen weary of chasing the easy stuff, this list offers a few catches certain to add to your fish-story repertoire.
Hero of The Old Man and the Sea and the classic Bogart movie, To Have and Have Not, Florida marlin probably have cost more full-fare Caribbean tourists all their gear and their boat deposits than literature can record. Marlin are, however, wonderfully photogenic; you undoubtedly will catch more through your lens than you even can imagine on your hook. Leaping twenty feet into the air and diving several hundred feet, Marlin fight hook and line not only with all their might but also with unmatched feral cunning. Most veteran Marlin fishermen agree, “Yeah, the catch is great and the huge trophy really looks nice on the wall; but really, it’s all about the fight.”
Steelheads belong to the salmon family, but they also claim rainbow trout as their cousins. Living most of their lives in the open ocean, steelhead navigate into freshwater only to spawn. Hence, steelhead are both rare and seasonal. Timing and technique, not surprisingly, make all the difference. Successful steelhead anglers, like good retailers, emphasize “location, location, location,” and they bag their best catches during the spring, fly-fishing cool, clear streams in the Pacific Northwest. Fly selection makes a critical difference, they say, “but really it’s all in the wrist. You must convince that really is a delectable morsel on the end of your line. All in the wrist.”
These days, because commercial fishermen have depleted the population, sport fishermen just cannot find many hungry swordfish left in the sea. Scarcity makes swordfish a tough catch, and the best schools live well off-shore in deeper and safer water. According to the experts, season and bait make all the difference. In late spring, when the waters have cooled, swordfish rise closer to the surface, and they have far more appetite for whatever floats their way. Bait your line with live mackerel, herring, or bonito. When you do finally hook one of those off-shore junior whales, strap in for the fight of their life, because mature swords measure up to 15 feet long and tip the scales at ¾ ton.
4. Trout (river or stream; ponds do not count)
Spin-fishing for trout has a lot more to do with finding the right spot, baiting and setting the hooks just right, and waiting long enough for an unsuspecting trout to take the bait. You may finish War and Peace and write your own novel while you wait, but you will perfect your tan and befriend the raccoons. Fly-fishing, on the other hand, takes the fight to the fish, and expert fly-fishermen know exactly how to seduce big trout with fine flies and a magician’s sleight of hand. They load trout into their buckets like they simply had called their names. For beginners, just one word: Mentor. Like all things worth knowing, the art of fly-fishing is best passed on from wise grand-daddies to their heirs.
A prime target for avid fishermen casting lines into deep blue lakes along the Canadian border, walleye make both fine trophies and some good eating. The veterans counsel just one word: Trolling. Especially in late summer and early autumn when noting in heaven or earth can beat a day on the lake, gently gliding your “crankbaited” line along the bottom in your lake’s deepest parts ought to yield handsome rewards.
If bass fishing were easy, ESPN probably would not televise it. Casual observers have difficulty discerning whether bass fishing is a sport, an art, an obsession, or a rationale for spending a lot of money on a boat, gear, and beer. Veteran bass anglers wonder, “What? Like there’s a difference.” Asked what makes the difference between landing the big one and watching it wriggle off the hook, expert bass fishermen say, “It’s easy: Think like the fish does.” Because bass fishing is a competitive enterprise, that’s about all they say.
Canadians say, “It’s easy to catch a Northern Pike, eh?” Visitors say, “Maybe easy for Canadians; for us, not so much.” Although pike will fall for almost any lure, they also will play before they genuinely take the bait. According to Canadian fisherati, pike have such voracious appetites, they will forget they already have sampled your lure, and they will take it again. If you remain patient, you can outlast the pike, who eventually will give-in and take your lure. Some veteran pikers report the same fish have taken their lure six or seven times before finally grabbing-on for real.
8. Redear Sunfish
If you never have heard of Redear, or if you treat the name as two words, you probably should not angle for them. Also known as “shellcrackers,” because they feast on clams, redear represent a niche market—or maybe a local delicacy, because they live only in Florida freshwater. Redear are bottom-feeders, and they move further and further off shore as water warms in summer and fall. During early spring while they paddle three-foot waters, seduce redear with live shrimp.
9. Pond Catfish
Two rules for catching big cats: (1)Deeper is better. Catfish are bottom dwellers, and they chill in any pond’s deepest, coolest waters. Especially lurking near natural obstructions—beaver dams, tangled logs, and big rocks—the cats appreciate nature’s defenses. Of course, you go after big catfish from shore, but do not venture into the water. In the same way that a boat would blow your cover, so will your wading. Working a little way back from water’s edge, drop your line as deep as you can. (2)In catfish world, stinky equals tasty. Catfish have excellent sense of smell, and it guides them to most of their food. The more it stinks, the more the cats will like it. Chicken guts apparently are a catfish delicacy.
10. Texas Carp
According to local fishermen, “Sometimes, y’all can see ‘em so clear it’s like you could swat ‘em out the water like the bears do; but they will just swim right past even your best bait like it weren’t even there. They’re just mean is what they are. Just plain low-down mean.” The veterans agree carp are too clever and mean to fall for most weekend fishermen’s favorite tricks; they recommend going after carp in the very early spring when the fish feel sluggish and hungry. The rest of the year, cast your lines on the other side.