Get Schooled

Let our writer's mistakes serve as your lessons learned.

Sigh… it always looks perfect on TV, doesn’t it? The glib fisherman traveling the world, always catching the biggest and best fish, with never a hint of a problem? What we never see are all the stupid missteps that occur over five days of fishing that an editor boils down to 23 minutes of fishing perfection. Spoiler alert: That’s not the real world! I’ve had plenty of fishing days go sideways on me through the years. I’m sharing five such stories here as cautionary tales about what not to do.



Targeting large fish from a kayak offers a significant change in fishing dynamics. An angler on a boat slowly pulls the fish toward him. An angler in a kayak pulls himself toward the fish. Climbing out of our mothership’s tuna door some 10 miles out of Cabo San Lucas, I settled into a kayak. I had never sat in a kayak before and now, in a baptism by fire, I was attempting to catch a large marlin from one for the benefit of a television audience — any and all gaffes recorded for posterity.

Everything went perfectly after I hooked into a 250-pound black marlin and got dragged six miles farther out to sea. Feeling pretty cocky I brought the fish alongside the kayak and grabbed its bill. The fish went ballistic!

“I am about to be stabbed through the abdomen by a marlin bill!”

The idea of removing the hook in true Corinthian fashion no longer even in the back of my mind, I let go with one hand, grabbed the leader and pushed the bill away as forcefully as I could, almost rolling the kayak in the process. The leader broke and the fish swam away, ticked off but no worse for the wear, and I high-fived myself for not being skewered.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t get cocky, and never assume the fight has left the fish.




A tuna charter out of Puerto Vallarta requested that a particular heavy-duty braided line be used, because the yellowfin they caught were always large. Winding all that line onto a half dozen Penn 80-wides promised more work than I relished, so I asked the tackle shop where I bought the braid to spool the reels up on its machine. The first fish we hooked looked to be about 300 pounds. It ran out a healthy length of line and then we started to gain it back, tight foot by foot. When the fish got within sight of the transom, it took off on another run and within seconds: Bang! The 200-pound-test braid snapped and almost ripped the rod out of the angler’s hands.

The person who spooled the reels didn’t wind the line on tightly enough. As we retrieved line after the first long run, the line tension dug down into the spooled line. The second run basically tried to remove line from beneath all the line on the reel. Nope … not gonna work.

LESSON LEARNED: Check everyone’s work — yours and others.




I’ve had the privilege of fishing with numerous famous people in my career. Fly fishing for bonefish in the Bahamas with baseball hall-of-famer Wade Boggs proved noteworthy on several counts. One, there is virtually no animal sound or call he doesn’t know and can’t accurately mimic. Two, he had more than 70 little rituals — superstitious “things” — he performed before each game to bring good luck. Three, he was a tyro when it came to fly fishing.
As he waded in a beautiful flat, I, as his spotter, pointed to a school of fish. He slowly advanced until he was within casting range. I purposely stayed behind and on the opposite side of his casting arm (SOP for a fly fishing guide). Boggs started false casting to get line off the spool. On his last false cast before sending his fly toward its target, the line curved behind him and the fly caught me in the ear. Of course, his powerful final forward cast almost tore my earlobe off.

LESSON LEARNED: Remain vigilant, even after you’ve observed all the rules and put yourself in the best spot for the situation.



Growing up around salt water, I rarely used baitcasting reels. Years later at a press event, a manufacturer’s rep had a number of shiny new baitcasters for us to try. I picked one up and confidently whipped the weighted lure into the lagoon. Within a split second, the reel was hopelessly entangled in a birds nest — the kind where you have to cut half the line off to fix it. A second try provided the same result. I set the second rod down and surreptitiously looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Of course they had! Everyone, including the rep.

He came over and proceeded to give me a lesson in how to use the reels: how to set the magnet brake for the spool according to the weight of the lure, how to set the drag, how to cast so the reel ends on its side rather than upright — all the finer points. He finished the expert primer by throwing a cast … culminating in a massive birds nest. Embarrassed, he picked up another rod and cast it, to show me how to do it correctly. Whoosh. What’s that chirping noise? That ended our lesson for the day. But yes, I felt vindicated.

LESSON LEARNED: Not all equipment is the same, and treating it as such can lead to snarls, even when all the protocols are followed. Some days…




Every angler knows that the prehistoric circle hook design is the best conservation-oriented terminal tackle. It rarely gut hooks a fish. However, it does have one drawback: For it to work, the fish has to take the hook and then turn away to pull the hook out and embed it in the corner of its mouth. During one fishing tournament, we had carefully rigged all our dead-bait ballyhoos on circle hooks. A mammoth bull dolphin came along and inhaled the left long rigger. Rather than turn away, the mahi proceeded to move over to the right long, then inhaled the right short and right flat, then crossed the spread and ate the left short and flat as well — all without ever turning away so we could come tight on the line. Ultimately, we were able to reel all the lines in; unfortunately, not one of them had a mahi attached. But they were all attached to one another. The biggest cluster I’ve ever seen! We had to cut off every leader and start from scratch re-rigging.

LESSON LEARNED: Know that even the best preparation can be torn asunder when a fish doesn’t do what it is “supposed” to do. Oh, and mahi are greedy!


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