Smallmouth Bass Fishing Is Mind Over Matter

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What’s on your mind is more important than what’s on your hook.

Fishing is an excellent way to relax, unwind, and shed stress. In fact, it’s mandatory. Like most adventures, the frame of mind one takes up when embarking on this endeavor has a strong bearing on the outcome of this scheme. In simple terms, you have to feel lucky to be lucky.  

One afternoon, when I was little, I overheard two happy-go-lucky men retelling their fishing adventures to each other. Each story raced past the other man’s story and by the time it reached the finish line the catch was always larger or greater in quantity than in the previous story. The ferocity of the fish increased three-fold with every story and this held my fascination. The two men were quite happy with themselves and so each tale was followed with laughter, hoots, haws, hollers, and even some knee slapping. Others, within earshot, shook their heads in disbelief but, as a child, I dismissed nothing and hung on every word.

One man, a resident and the owner of the fishing camp, recounted the time he and his buddy were fishing over by the dam. The fishing was so good they hadn’t noticed the swirling dark clouds overhead until a jagged lightning bolt struck a tree directly in front of them. For a second, they thought the lightning hit them. Hearts pounding, the two men threw down their rods and, without a word, agreed this was the appropriate time to curtail their fishing exploits and head in.

At this point in his story, he began making violent motions with his right arm as if he were pulling the cord on an outboard motor in desperation. His facial expression conveyed wide-eyed fear to dramatize his point.  He had everyone’s undivided attention and continued with the story.

“Hearts pounding in our chests,” his buddy yanked in the anchor line as he got the engine going. Full throttle, they made a sharp u-turn and headed back to the fishing camp three miles away. In their haste they neglected to reel in their fishing lines and because of this, their baited hooks skimmed over the water and danced crazily on top of the white wake several yards behind the stern. Skipping off the water and then shooting up through the air, the two men hardly noticed as they focused their attention on the earsplitting thunder and blinding lightning that surrounded them.

The expected rain never came but there was a definite chill in the air. August in Maine can be like September in other places and this was the first taste of what fall promised. It had an Arctic “bite” to it alright but fortunately the danger of electrocution had passed. The lightning and thunder died away but the sky remained dark and the motor whined, still wide open. They dodged a bullet and a welcome relief swept through the small boat as the two men drew a heavy sigh.

One final pang of adrenalin awakened the men as they spun around toward the wake. Something caught their eye. They could hardly believe what was going on behind the boat as they sped away; fish, large fish, and many of them, were jumping up through the wake as if possessed or overcome by a wild, savage instinct that had been awakened somehow. Some fish went airborne as they chased the baited hooks dancing this way and that. The two friends laughed like madmen and knew nobody back at the dock would believe this but it “really did happen.”

I filed this fish tale in the back of my mind and suspected there was something to it. At times I felt it was true and other times I was certain it was pure bull, but I could never dismiss it entirely. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I wanted to believe the story. I knew things this crazy is usually not made up so the story kind of stewed around with events that really did happen up in Washington County. I’ve fished with my dad, and now my son, in the cool blue waters in northern Maine. I’ve seen a lot and learned even more about catching (and not catching) trophy-sized bass. Looking back, I see some of my stories might seem a little incredulous but they really happened too.

I never underestimate the capabilities of the mind. Once it was determined I had a mind, the rest came easy. The mind is like a clock that’s working 24 hours a day even if you are not. Science determined the mind runs on electricity and generates enough current to actually light a bulb. Of course some brains are capable of illuminating the Las Vegas strip while the smaller ones work up a sweat powering a night light, but they all run on that stuff Benjamin Franklin discovered while flying a kite during a storm.

And where there’s electricity, there’s a magnetic field. This is nothing like a field of potatoes of course, but more like the invisible umbrella that surrounds the planet and shields us from solar flares, meteors, and alien monsters. I suspect every human brain emits a magnetic field that follows each of us where ever we go. Again, some people drive Volvos and others take the bus, but either way, this has a direct influence on everything we do. Fish, I’ve discovered, are particularly vulnerable to the human aura. Dolphins, in fact, communicate their intelligence by sharing each other’s magnetic waves. Flipper even made it to Hollywood.

Don’t laugh. There really is something to this and I’m not the only one who believes this. Years ago, when visiting friends in California (where they believe in everything) I was standing outside on a deck overlooking a narrow channel that leads to the San Francisco Bay. It was your typical sunny day but much windier than usual. I turned to my left and caught some movement way off maybe 50 yards or so which turned out to be a small bird flittering about as he headed in my direction. I watched and was soon amazed when this little speck grew larger and flew right up to me and stopped for an instant a foot in front of my face. As if on cue, the wind stopped at the same instant and the bird opened his beak and released a white feather which I plucked from the air. I’m no mystic but I knew this had to mean something. No bird ever gave me anything before so I asked everyone I knew what this could possibly mean. No one had a clue.

Finally, years later while vacationing in Maine, I decided this might be something I should take up with a native American Indian. They seemed to know about these things so I asked one of the Passamaquoddy people what this gift might portend and I was immediately asked what was going through my mind when I received the feather-gram. Aha! I had been pondering the idea of relocating to California and the feather was my invitation! Sure enough, since the feather fiasco I had, in fact, relocated to Los Gatos. Therefore, the thought in my head had a direct impact on the world around me. The next time I see a bird with a white feather in its beak, I’m thinking about winning the lottery!

When I applied these mind over matter tactics to fishing the results were nothing short of remarkable. I reasoned that when thinking pleasant thoughts, the neurological brainwaves travel from your brain to your hands, leaps onto your fishing rod, takes a hike down your line, overcomes the bait, and radiates into the water where it transmits a signal that announces “free lunch while supplies last” to anything covered in scales. Like electricity, it’s invisible, but trust me- it’s there. I’d recommend you do not wear rubber gloves as this may impede the electrical brainwaves from following the correct path.

Technically speaking, serene contentment spawns delta rhythms in the medulla oblongata near the cerebral cortex which attract fish the same way light attracts moths. We’ve all been a victim of this at one time or another. We’re wired this way. When men see the letters: A-L-E, they can’t help but explore. Women are a little more complicated so when we add another letter, S, in front, they’ve been known to go into a zombie-like state, grab the credit card, and run off too. You can thank the brain’s delta rhythms for this. Named after the Mississippi Delta, this phenomenon was discovered in the French Quarter of New Orleans during Mardi Gras when humans, not unlike the moth, flocked towards the red lights. 

First though, before we unleash our mental magnitude, it’s important to get the mechanics of fishing down. Don’t even think about taking your intellect out of its holster until you know the basics. If you want to catch the big ones, and I’m not talking about sunnies or perch, I’m talking about the king of the jungle, the “Don of the Pond,” Micropterus dolomieu, commonly known as the Smallmouth bass, then read on. The feistiest fish on the planet, these fish jump out of the water and yell out obscenities and say nasty things about mothers while they fly out of the water or perform a tail dance. Sometimes you have to turn the net around and swing the handle in self-defense. Any wuss who goes after other fish would probably get a thrill catching grasshoppers with their bare hands.

Warning: education is not always the best route. I had to unlearn everything my father taught me. A recent survivor of the Great Depression 75 years ago, everything was geared towards keeping the cost down and loading up the freezer. We actually cut the worms in half and returned any that refused to tap dance. If a worm was really endowed, we’d cut it in thirds. Trust me; use the whole thing, bumper to bumper. Would you eat something with a bite out of? Of course not. By the way, “short and stubby” often wins out over “long and skinny” but let’s not get off course here.

I was raised using 4 pound test fishing line. This, I was told, was the sporting thing to do. Theoretically, if you adjust the drag properly you can tow the Queen Mary but in field application, I wouldn’t trust this stuff to sew a button on. Let’s not forget the lesson we learned when the fat man at the zoo squeezed into pants that were too small and the flying button nearly took out an eye. I don’t care how much money you save with 4 pound line, take out a second mortgage and buy the good stuff. Now I use the 10 pound test DuPont Stren that’s blue in sunlight and allegedly invisible underwater. It has just the right amount of stretch so it won’t snap when you’re under attack. It’s perfect.

And you don’t need the snap-swivel, the hook on a leader, the bobber, the “hysterical” lure that looks like a miniature beer can… the manufacturers would like you to think you need this junk but you don’t. They’ll be recommending helmets in a year. Just buy good `ole Eagle Claw #2 hooks, tie them directly onto the end of your line and push the hook through the center of the worm (between the ribs) twice and then bury the tip so it’s out of sight. It’s uncertain how good the fish’s eyesight is but I never saw one squint so I play it safe and leave things as natural looking as possible. All you want them to see is the night crawler. Everything else works against you.

I went fishing and never caught one bass more times than I like to admit and when I finally did locate the gang, I could never hook one. When I did the line snapped. It was so frustrating it became stressful and I had to look for something to get my mind off fishing. I needed a break so I had to go back to work for two weeks back to back. 

Then, a friend offered to take my son and me out to catch bass at the famous Berry Brook Pond. Unscarred from the Depression, we learned to use real fishing line, an entire night crawler, and a simple hook tied to the end of the line, and maybe a split-shot weight the size of a BB. We also learned about the secret bullet. Just as you’d catch a 20 pound Blue Fish in the ocean, you flip the baler on the reel open as if you’re going to cast. You pinch the line against the rod with your index finger and wait until you feel some bites. When you feel bites (even little bites) you release the line. You let the fish run with it. You wait 10 seconds and fight the impulse to reel in. This is not for the weak of heart. Some have passed out during this phase. Then, you flip the baler into the closed position, give a good healthy yank to hook the bass and then you go to town. Keep the rod pointing up- let the rod do the work. Now comes the most important part; enjoy yourself! Laugh! Scream! Yell for the net! Sing! Dance! Act like an idiot! Have fun!

Okay, these are the mechanics of fishing. By now you’re probably saying to yourself “Tell me something I don’t know.” Alright, here’s something maybe you didn’t know:

What you’re thinking and feeling determines your level of success in fishing. If you’re dead set on catching fish and this is all you’re thinking about you have as much chance of catching fish as you do speaking Portuguese in your sleep. Discuss life with whoever you’re with. Tell jokes. Socialize. Just when you want to make your point, convey your compelling philosophy in life, the greatest thing you learned, you’ll get interrupted by that pleasant, heart-stopping “rat-a-tap-tap” of a fish checking out your bait. You’ll stop all this nonsense about life and get down to what matters most: smallmouth bass. You’re a hunter now and just as our ancestors caught fish, now it’s your turn only you have a fishing rod instead of a club.

Over 4thof July weekend, my son and I lost count of how many Smallmouth bass we caught. Many were 17 inches or better. We didn’t even bring the stringer and tossed back every last one of them. We decided ahead of time we’d dine on lobster and observe the “catch and release” commandment.  It makes sense. And once you know this and feel this in your heart, the fish will sense this. Once they realize they’ll get a free worm, enjoy a thrill ride second to none, and then return unharmed with a war story for the grand kids, they’ll be lining up.

Nobody else was catching fish but us for the two days. Yeah, they were using state of the art equipment in $5,000 bass boats and they took their fishing seriously but they were skunked. In one boat they were wearing camouflage so the fish would think some trees were fishing out of the boat. They were even wearing those annoying hats that have one side of the brim up and the other side down. Their fashion statement was lost on the bass who had a good laugh. They underestimated the bass and overestimated themselves. At one point, we were surrounded by four boats with nonchalant looking fisherman spying on us. They watched everything we did and saw us laughing, smoking cigars, enjoying beverages, shouting… having the time of our life in a rental, and catching fish after fish and acting as if we were annoyed about this.

Everywhere we dropped the anchor we caught bass. The fish kept tracking us down and interrupting us but we still had a fantastic time. They were homing in on our vibes, I’m sure of it.  

I’m convinced the success we enjoyed has to do with the synchronous theta, alpha, and sensorimotor rhythmthe brain emits when properly focused on having a good time. Further, once you eliminate the greed of keeping the fish so it winds up in a frying pan or on a wall, your generosity is rewarded.  

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