Catching too few fish is a circumstance where I’m somewhat an expert. Most fishermen refer to it simply as getting skunked. But if we can catch too few fish, I’ve sometimes wondered if we can likewise catch too many.
The first time this thought occurred to me, I was a young angler on a trip with my dad to Oregon Inlet. We went there every July when I was growing up to spend a week catching flounder, stocking our freezer to last until the next summer.
On a trip when I was about twelve, we were waiting at the ramp for a boat to load and move out of our way while being entertained by the fisherman’s inability to get his boat on the trailer. Finally, I went down and waded in to help.
As I was about knee-deep and guiding the boat, the owner told me I shouldn’t be in the water because the inlet was full of sharks. That’s why they were leaving. He told me that he kept running aground and whenever he got out to push his boat off the sand, he’d be surrounded by sharks.
Having fished the inlet for a few years already at that young age and never having seen sharks, I was skeptical. But I also knew that on any day something new could be brought in on the tide, so I kept an eye out just the same.
After we launched, we began to figure out what had happened to this fisherman. Wanting to go out to the Bonner Bridge, he had simply traveled in a straight line and run aground multiple times. The channel ran in a horseshoe shape at that time, so you had to travel away from the bridge on the first half of the journey to stay in the channel.
The part about the sharks we figured out next. As we approached the bridge, gulls were diving frantically against one of these sandbars. The water churned and dorsal fins were showing all around. But the dorsal fins belonged to porpoises.
As it turned out, bluefish had pinned a large school of baitfish against the sandbar and the porpoises had pinned the bluefish. Each larger predator feasted upon the next smaller one. We began casting into the school and could barely turn our reel handles before a bluefish bit.
At first it was great sport. The bluefish were mostly one to two pounds apiece and put up a good fight. We kept a few, but bluefish weren’t our favorites to eat so we began throwing them back.
I had started by casting a bucktail at the school as that’s what was on my rod. The fish chewed all the hair off the jig but continued to bite the lead head. The water kept churning and the strikes were so abundant the bluefish finally cut my line by repeatedly striking the swivel above my lure.
As I tied another jig on my line, Dad stopped casting and said, “You had enough?”
And I admitted I had. The fish continued in their feeding frenzy as we drove away. At the time, I couldn’t remember ever leaving while the fish were biting.
The next time the question of too many fish entered my mind I was fly fishing in Colorado. It had been a hot, dry summer and a thundercloud rolled in one evening while I was on a small stream. The fishing had been slow, so I thought rain might help. I was wading wet and about to wade wetter.
The droplets seemed to absorb the heat from the air as they fell, and the runoff that came into the stream warmed further as it ran across the dry land around it. As a result, something happened that I didn’t expect.
I was looking up a long, flat riffle when I noticed fish tails. Everywhere. The trout had moved into the oxygenated water and begun to feed. Every time one tipped in the shallow water, its tail broke through the surface.
I had on a hopper and gently cast it to the closest fish. It bit. It was a brown trout about a foot long.
I tried the next closest fish and the same thing happened. Another brown trout.
I slowly moved up the riffle, watching for tails and sight-casting to fish. It seemed like every one bit. I had never seen so many trout feeding in such a confined space.
By the time darkness fell, I had lost count of the fish I caught and I don’t remember wishing for more light to keep going.
Since then, I’ve had a few trips when I stopped while the fish were still biting. Sometimes, when you catch so many you lose the memory of individual fish. The trip becomes a blur of setting hooks and landing fish.
Looking back on my trips catching bluefish at Oregon Inlet and brown trout in Colorado, I wonder if these trips qualified as too many fish. Perhaps, but maybe there weren’t too many so much as I just moved on when I’d caught enough.
It sounds absurd to be wondering if you can catch too many fish. It doesn’t happen often and maybe just offsets those trips when you get skunked. In any event, it’s a better problem to have.
Jim Mize more frequently ends up with too few fish. You can purchase Jim’s new book, The Jon Boat Years, at https://uscpress.com/The-Jon-Boat-Years or buy autographed copies from the author at www.acreektricklesthroughit.com.