Avowing the Angling Deities

In polytheistic religions like ones which prevailed in ancient Greece and Rome, multiple immortal deities rule over the lives of mortal men. Fantastic tales establish royal dynasties and governing structures in these mythical hierarchies. According to the stories, the patriarchs and matriarchs of almighty families wield the highest powers, doling out lesser duties to their siblings and progeny.

Some modern anglers seem to believe in a similar kind of mythology with regard to the forces which influence their activities. Generally, people referencing such beliefs do so without serious intentions; most don’t believe fishing gods actually exist. Superstition serves as the primary source behind many of the statements and beliefs related to angling deities. Consequently, some folks make a half-hearted, incomplete cast to start every outing, because they believe catching a fish on the first cast will annoy the fishing gods and taint the rest of the day.

Similarly, I sometimes mutter when I switch lures and catch a fish on the first cast made with the new one. I call it first cast magic, and often lament how seldom the catch translates into a consistently higher bite rate with the new lure, compared with the one it replaced. In the end, superstitions like these generally arise from selective memory; we well remember events which confirm our biases, while tending to forget those which don’t.

Many of us see whining as weakness and believe the angling deities favor strength and stoicism. Accordingly, when my customers snivel about the size of the five-pound trout we’re catching, I often issue a warning. “Don’t let the fishing gods hear you complain about catching a five pounder. They’ll fix that problem real quick.”

Such a statement is silly. It has no basis in reality. No panel of deities sits on thrones in the sky, ready to render judgments about our activities. People who seriously think about fishing in those terms dwell in la-la land. That said, some elements of our surroundings do create contextual realities which might lead anglers to perceive them as deities, in the broadest sense. So for purposes of analysis, and in the spirit of good humor, I can place names and faces on the supreme external forces presiding over our efforts.

For me, three major natural entities most obviously affect our ability to catch fish. I’d rank them as equals, residing atop the Mount Rushmore of fishing gods, heads and shoulders above their lesser brethren. The forceful trio reign over all our efforts, without of course, any intention of doing so. Eternal and omnipotent, they rule indirectly and apathetically. None of us can escape the governance of Meteoria, the prodigious weather maker, Lunastra, conductor of celestial events, and Needmania, designer of biology.

The biological forces within the species we seek to catch and of the species on which they prey affect us profoundly. All fish react most regularly and significantly to three primary aspects of existence: need for safety, need for food, and desire to procreate. One of these dominant facets of their lives generally dictates the location and activities of fish at any given time. The relationships between predators and prey add complexity to the puzzle.

When fearful due to the presence of predators like trout, redfish and flounder, prey species like menhaden, glass minnows and mullet behave in predictable ways, signaling their fear to the knowing eyes of anglers. But, the tables can turn, and sharks and dolphins can reverse the status of trout and other part-time predators, making them fear for their own lives. When a prowling pod of dolphins pushes a school of trout out of the depths adjacent to a shoreline and onto a shallow, grassy shelf, they sometimes inadvertently help wading anglers.

Trout and reds also make moves in response to their regular need to feed, sometimes following herds of migrating crustaceans and smaller fish, other times stacking up in places where prey species congregate, in response to warming or cooling water temperatures, drops or rises in salinity levels, or other aspects of the physiology of the waters in which they swim.

In the same ways, the urge to procreate sometimes dictates the types of places where various species appear. Mature red drum spawn in the open ocean, in relatively shallow, nearshore waters. Needmania dictates the fact, while denying these fish the ability to regenerate themselves in estuaries or freshwater lakes, though they can survive to old ages in those bodies of water. Consequently, the irresistible urge to procreate motivates maturing reds to migrate from the recesses of our estuaries toward the open ocean when they’re on the verge of adulthood.

Fear, hunger and the desire to spawn cause fish to behave in somewhat predictable ways and to move back and forth between locations, some separated by many miles. Likewise, celestial events cause fish to move around, usually over shorter distances than the biological urges related to spawning and feeding. Lunastra does exert effects on coastal waterways which influence when and where predators like trout, redfish and flounder feed.

In hypersaline lagoons, where tides move minimally on a daily basis, the rising and setting of the sun and moon prompt fish to feed. Biology plays a role in why predators generally show higher levels of activity during a light change created by the rising or setting sun. The eyes of all fish, like those of humans, respond to changes in light levels. On average, the eyes of prey species react more slowly to the changes in light levels than those of predators, who capitalize on their temporary advantage during dawn and dusk. Needmania has programmed them to feed actively while the sun hovers close to the horizon.

For less clear reasons, these same predators typically show a propensity to feed actively while the moon looms low in the sky, also when it’s directly over anglers’ heads or under their feet. Whether one can explain this phenomenon or not, records kept over time verify its effects. In this way, the source of Lunastra’s might remains mysterious, but its powers generally work in obvious ways.

Both the sun and moon move the water. Like dual fates, Lunastra’s tidal movements influence the efforts of coastal anglers profoundly, capable of generating the ripest opportunities for catching and dictating the specific locations of feeding predators, also of rendering efforts virtually pointless. These vastly contrasting effects can occur within minutes of each other, verifying another aspect common to all these indomitable angling deities—their rapidly mutating qualities.

Certainly Meteoria’s moods can change quickly, and either elevate or devastate the potential for angling productivity. The arrival of a strong cold front provides one extreme example of this. In the hour or so immediately prior to the wind shift, fish generally feed actively. The bite sometimes reaches a fever pitch right after north winds begin to whistle.

Then, predictably, it ends, sometimes abruptly, as if someone (perhaps Whimsy, the lesser god of wind) has flipped a switch. The wind plays many roles as a fishing god, almost always affecting anglers, often providing them assistance. It sometimes whispers the sweetest somethings, caressing the prospects for productivity on a shoreline or structural element gently; at other times, it roars fiercely, prohibiting the mere possibility of fishing, or even of leaving the dock. This exposes still another truth about the fishing gods—they give and they take.

Metroria’s icy fingers can force fish into holes and channels, making them easy to locate and catch for a while. Those same brittle digits sometimes push the mercury low enough in the glass to stun trout and redfish, making them exceedingly difficult to catch. In worst-case scenarios, the frigid temperatures turn the objects of our obsession into frozen fish-sticks.

Other aspects of weather create both bountiful opportunities and imminent dangers for fish and the anglers who seek to catch them. Estuaries generally benefit from rain, and from freshwater flowing down the rivers feeding into them. To a point, of course. Coastal fish need some salt in the water in order to survive and thrive. When salinity levels fall too low, some species move toward the ocean, in search of salt. Excessive drought conditions, on the other hand, can pull the same fish far upriver, in search of sweeter climes.

Droughts and floods thus affect the water qualities and locations of fish in various ways, establishing truths for both fish and anglers. Strong winds and heavy rains change the medium in which the fish live. Turbidia, the god of water clarity, can help anglers catch more fish, or prevent them from catching any. Finding muddy streaks in ultra-clear waters in a main basin in winter might pinpoint the location of feeding trout. But extremely dirty water can cause fish to temporarily lose interest in feeding, at least by sight, dashing the hopes of all anglers who deploy artificial lures.

In these ways, the lesser gods of wind, rain and water clarity serve their master, Meteoria. They also dictate realities to anglers intent on best serving them and prospering in the process. The angling deities demand respect, despite the fact they possess no means by which to state their terms.

Needmania, Lunastra and Meteoria literally could not care less whether we honor them or not. Nor do they have any way of showing mercy on us if and when we don’t. They remain distant, impassive, neither malicious nor benign. Nevertheless, our productivity does depend on our ability to avow their powers, in a nebulous realm where Lady Luck smiles most frequently on those best prepared to benefit from her charity.

The Captain, with a word about Lunastra's might: https://youtu.be/XoBsvKVjlWA