In the film Caddyshack, one of the main characters, Ty Webb (played by Chevy Chase) blind-folds himself prior to taking a golf shot and has this to say to his caddy, Danny Noonan, “I’m going to give a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball."
Ty’s consequent wedge shot drops on the green and rolls to within a few feet of the pin. A seemingly underwhelmed Danny watches the ball stop rolling and says, “That, is kind of incredible sir."
In my view, Caddyshack should be mandatory viewing for all of humanity. The hallmark of this film is the incredible number of memorable lines delivered by revered sketch comedy actors and comedians. I’m not sure a week goes by when I don’t slip one into my daily repertoire, but some resonate more than others — Ty’s “be the ball” line being one of them.
When I am guiding anglers, I often say, 'be the fly' or 'be the lure.' Of course, occasionally I say 'be the steelhead' or 'be the bass' as well. But, when it comes to fishing, being the bait is more important as far as I’m concerned.
I say this for the simple reason that I have no control over the fish, while I do have the ability to control the lure or fly which gives me a huge edge. Imagining the lure’s eye view and how to act to assure fish attack, is not as hard as it sounds.
Think about it ... a given cast and presentation may have multiple fish watching. Fish can lurk near cover or be out in the wide open, but it’s safe to say that when you place something in their midst they notice. This could be an anchor slamming into the bottom or the shadow of the boat moving overhead, or a big brightly colored lure that swims past. Regardless, don’t fool yourself — they see it all. Our job is to maintain as little footprint into their world as possible while making the best impression we can to draw their attention and ultimately prompt them to bite.
In fly fishing parlance, a bite is often referred to as an “eat." I’ve never liked this term though because quite often fish are not feeding at all. In fact, most attractor style lures that don’t visually represent something fish are observing naturally at the time, essentially force fish to bite.
For example, take a Daredevil spoon: While the vibration of a rolling spoon and the flash of red and white or chartreuse and orange on top of shiny metal may in fact represent an erratic baitfish, it more than likely just makes pikes and musky, really mad.
The aggression factor is a key element that is often overlooked by anglers and believe me, that’s a huge mistake. Do you really think a bass blows up on a buzzbait in August because he’s seeing lots of birds skittering along on the surface? Sure, it’s possible these clattering combinations of metal and rubber replicate one or more baitfish splashing, but I think more often than not it’s an aggression thing. Something boisterous and out of character is going to either put fish down quickly, or make them pursue and attempt to kill.
Aggressive species are notorious for striking lures and flies that look completely alien in their well-defined environments. Musky, walleye, salmon, steelhead and big trout, as well as bass are likely to slam an erratic fly, flashy spinner or brightly colored crankbait, even when they are “off” — meaning not interested in much of anything. But, make no mistake, most of the time they aren’t eating per se.
As I like to say, the angler has flipped as many switches as possible on their fishy little control panels and they literally lose control. Once the deed is done, a big fish is often hanging at the end of the line. I swear fish have expressions sometimes and the shame on their faces can be notable. They screw up and bite.
Laugh all you want, stare at enough fish and you will notice their demeanor changes. Mad fish will gape their jaw and even chomp at the lure when landed. They often flare their gills too. And I’ve been badly bitten by aggressive fish when removing the hook.
I’ve witnessed plenty of large, predatory fish grind something to bits or nearly bite it in half only to blow it out of their mouths. This is a kill shot, not an eat. Which brings to the best of the both worlds, a combination of aggression and feeding. This entails taking that aggression factor and using it to your advantage when fish are feeding. How does an angler do this? It’s really quite simple, be the ball. Or, in this case, the bait, lure or fly.
By setting your offering apart from naturals, it’s possible to draw more attention to your presentation. Fly fishermen are known for “matching the hatch”, but often times perfectly matching the natural insects the fish are feeding on can be laborious and slow the process of hooking fish down. To mitigate monotony, anglers can tweak their fly patterns slightly to set them apart. Mind you, nothing ridiculous, but a slight adjustment can make all the difference. A bug that is slightly larger or smaller with a subtle difference in shape and color. This is totally counter-intuitive to fly fishermen. It defies conventional wisdom.
One of my favorite ways to draw the attention of big trout during a hatch is to use a “cripple” pattern or even take a perfectly good fly and mash it a little with my forceps. Ugly dry, well-worn dry flies catch fish because these flies stand out in the crowd and frankly, they are easier to eat because they appear disabled.
The same can be said when using a plugs and crankbaits for salmon, bass and musky. Imitating a sickly baitfish by working a lure with a sputtering, erratic retrieves interspersed with dead stops is a great way to solicit a strike. Properly working a big lure for musky can be exhausting because it requires so much effort. It’s no coincidence that the guys that work the hardest catch more fish.
Regardless of the situation, remember that most gamefish species are inherently aggressive. If fish aren’t biting you have nothing to lose by kicking it up a notch. You may be surprised at how many fish will respond to your ridiculous presentation. Just remember, be the lure.