Grace and Readiness

Grace and Readiness
Gray skies enhance the potential for catching big trout in clear water.  Ruben Barron used this truth to his advantage and caught this 29-inch specimen during the month of March.

In the past, working as a teacher in our public schools, I came to recognize the critical roles various components play in the learning process. Presenting a concept or trying to encourage the development of a skill in a situation where the learner shows readiness inevitably tips the scale in favor of the desired result. Other elements create circumstances which culminate in "teachable moments" providing the perfect context for the presentation and comprehension of concepts and skills.

Recognizing and utilizing teachable moments requires a special brand of grace. This trait facilitates the efforts not only of school teachers, but also those of parents, spouses, even friends and partners of various kinds. Certainly, the recognition and ability to seize upon ripe opportunity enhances the effectiveness of a fishing guide, particularly one who's interested in teaching angling skills and techniques.

These tenets come up in my discussions with clients and potential clients on a regular basis. "I see you catch a lot of fish on Paul Brown Lures," one might say. "I want to learn how to make better presentations and catch more fish on those when we go." Such a comment directly indicates readiness.

I normally respond to such a reasonable request with some version of the following statement, "I do use Corkys and Fat Boys quite a bit. And I've caught thousands of fish on 'em. If the fish are biting 'em on the day we go, I'll be happy to show you how I like to use 'em."

I also generally add, "But if I have little or no confidence in them that day, I can't really advocate us spending much time on it. The best way to learn to use a lure is to earn strikes. Ultimately, the fish offer the most valuable lessons, by providing positive feedback in the form of bites."

Different lures, presentations and situations dictate different expectations with regard to bite frequency. In an optimal situation, one can demonstrate some effective presentation or technique and prove its efficacy by getting a bite within a cast or two. For instance, when a particular twitching cadence causing five side to side movements in the head of a topwater lure followed by a pause of about two seconds and a short speed burst out of the still position produces aggressive strikes on three consecutive casts, calling another over and demonstrating the presentation becomes a wise move.

Other presentations and scenarios won't play out this way. Take, for instance, two supremely effective methods for coping with tough situations.

One involves bending the tail of an Original Paul Brown Lure sharply down, which causes it to spin when retrieved. In extremely windy conditions, this spinning motion allows the lure to stay down in the water, though the strong breeze pulls it right to the surface without the bend. Often, turbid waters cause fish to become less mobile; they tend to sit on the bottom and wait for a meal to swim within close range, then snatch it suddenly.

The rotation of the bent lure places it within their strike zones effectively, but such harsh conditions don't facilitate a high bite frequency. Surely, demonstrating the effectiveness of the method demands more patience in both teacher and learner than showing how to optimize a presentation to get more bites in an easier situation.

A similar issue arises when attempting to show someone the potential usefulness of another method which helps cope with difficult situationsplacing a cork on the line above a soft plastic. I call this method the "cork and jig", and use it most often as a way of earning more bites in strong winds and murky water. When used in such a context, one cannot expect to get bites quickly to verify the truth of the plan, so patience becomes a critical component in the learning process.

Certainly, getting bites on the cork and jig proves easy at times, when benign conditions prevail. But one cannot expect to teach and/or learn the truth of how the method can enhance the catching in a difficult situation when employing it in a favorable one, because the presence of the proper context for a learning situation enhances the likelihood for a successful outcome, while the absence of the proper context decreases or eliminates the chance.

Pupil readiness adds a component to the list of elements constructing the context for learning. Surely, an angler who's caught fish on an Original Paul Brown Lure or with a cork and jig in relatively easy fishing situations will show better patience and perseverance when trying to master the use of either when nasty conditions conspire to make getting bites tougher. This combination of readiness and proper environmental conditions creates an optimal learning situation.

Mastering presentations represents a form of learning which resides in the realm of muscle memory. Repetition and positive outcome provide the basis for the acquisition of skill in this case. All elements of angling which we might define as physical application skills fall under this umbrella.

Other aspects of the endeavor reside in a more nebulous, cerebral realm. Learning how to read signs which indicate the likely presence of fish, for instance, relies on the use of multiple senses and the ability to recognize and cross-reference subtleties of the natural environment intellectually, rather than through the physical application of a technique.

Still, attempting to tutor someone in these intellectual or cognitive skills works best when the instructor makes proper consideration of the context. For instance, one could more easily point out how to recognize a tightly-packed school of bait fish which likely indicate the presence of hungry predators during the season, weather, tide-phase and/or time-frame which increases the chances of encountering a school of bait demonstrating the behavior. Similarly, one can much more easily show another how to locate mud-stirs in open expanses of generally clear water by driving around in ample light and looking for them.

The contexts which generate above average opportunities for teaching and learning various aspects of angling skill and acumen involve the elements of time, space and the environment. More directly stated, they relate specifically to the timing and location of the outing and the weather and celestial elements influencing the endeavor. All of it relates to an old saying about the weather: "We can only fish the conditions we have right now."

This saying often came up in conversations I had with partners when I fished tournaments on a regular basis. While heading to some destination for a day of pre-fishing, we'd realize the current situation didn't likely mirror the one we'd have on the day of the event. "Boy, I wish we could go over there and try that area on the other wind direction," we might lament. "But going over there today won't do us any good. With this weather, we won't get a clue as to how it might turn out."

We realized how weather creates a specific context for angling events and lessons. Wind of a certain speed blowing a specific direction through air of a given temperature over water of another temperature creates a situation which affects strategy in various ways. Only a frivolous fool would attempt to make an assessment of a specific situation when other weather elements prevail.

The same truth obviously applies to timing and location. Learning to fish in the dark cannot be done under a beaming sun. Testing theories about how to use topwaters out of the boat to target fish over deep structures won't work while standing on the edge of a knee-deep flat. One learns and develops tactile-kinetic skills (those involving physical components and movement) primarily through the act of doing, through practice, repetition and imitation.

Cerebral aspects of angling can prove harder to test and teach than physical application skills. Take proper pace of movement when wading as an example. Teaching someone the effectiveness of stopping, standing and fishing normally requires little effort when bites come steadily. But one might have a difficult time convincing the same angler to slow down or stop when bites don't come regularly, though doing so might have a profound effect on the ability to catch a fish, particularly when one stands within casting range of plenty of fish with low appetite levels.

Understanding how prevailing conditions likely create a negative biting mood in the fish contributes to the ability to make such a judgment correctly. Accurately adding up the variables which affect the biting mood relies on the use of relatively high levels of fishing intelligence, as does correctly deducing the presence of fish without evidence in the form of bites. For many anglers, these difficult assessments lie outside the scope of their abilities, so they have no internal readiness for the comprehension of the concepts. An external source must provide their readiness, by explaining the facts to them correctly. If the tutor can then manipulate the situation positively, the process and outcome can carry lasting impact.

In the end, when one person attempts to teach another about various aspects of the art of angling, proper consideration of the context for the lesson helps increase the odds of a successful outcome. Toward this goal, two critical skills aid the teacher in the endeavor: graceful awareness of ripe opportunity, and recognition of the need for readiness. In order to maximize results, an angling instructor must correctly predict how the prevailing conditions generate specific teachable moments and also remain ready to take advantage of opportunities which arise unexpectedly.