When I first started fishing as a young boy in farm ponds in the Piedmont of NC, a good day meant a five-gallon bucket slap full of bream, crappie. And if I was lucky maybe a big old bass. I loved pulling back into to our house to show off that big catch to my family and maybe snapping a picture or two. To me, at that time, success meant having the largest quantity I could possibly have.
As I got a little older and started hunting a bit, I was required by the Tarheel State to take a hunter’s safety class. It was there that I read this information that has stuck with me for more than 25 years. There are five stages of a hunter (or fisherman as I now realize) and they are as follows:
- 1. The shooter stage- the priority is getting off a shot, and many times his desire to shoot will cause the hunter to take a shot that shouldn’t have been attempted. This is usually overcome thru mentoring and range time.
- 2. The limiting out stage- the hunter (or fisherman) judge’s success at this point by filling an entire bag limit or having the highest quantity of game/fish harvested possible. This stage is usually overcome by time with more experienced sportsman.
- 3. The trophy stage- the hunter (or fisherman) bases the entire experience on quality, not quantity. The goal is a fish or animal of trophy category and lesser quality fish and game is ignored
- 4. The method stage- the hunter (or fisherman) places the emphasis on the process of the game they are chasing. They may still want to limit out, but the entire emphasis is based around the process leading up to it.
- 5. The sportsman stage- Success is measured by the total experience, the appreciation of the outdoors, the love of the fish/game being pursued, the passion of the hunt, and the blessing of companionship with fellow sportsman.
I have never forgotten this simple set of stages. If you think about it for a minute, and are personally honest, I would bet you may know what stage you are in at the moment. You probably remember going thru various stages, sometimes even in the same day or trip. This is natural and there is nothing wrong with that fact.
As I look thru the stages, I think of the brand new boater for stage one, learning the water, learning to fish, they make some errors and learn on the fly. As they gain more experience and get a little more salt in their blood, they usually enter stage two.
Any of y’all have a buddy that must come back with the maximum amount of snapper or grouper in the box? I know I do. Some folks will never leave this stage. They will for eternity judge the day based on the number of fillets in the cooler. And we as charter captains know this better than most.
I always try to educate my guest on the importance of taking what you need for dinner, but leaving a few in the water for next time. Most folks get that, some may not and that’s ok too. It’s my opinion that we can use the moment to teach, but it’s also important not to vilify those that are within the laws and bag limits, and may not agree with our way of thinking or us with theirs.
Again, as charter captains, we deal with this quite often. It’s very tough sometimes to explain to a client from Indiana, who fishes one day a year, how he possibly is making a dent in the sheepshead fishery when he and his three buddies all want to take their 15 fish limit for 60 fish in the box. I mean he’s only fishing one day, right.
What they forget is that I am on the water for hundreds of days per year, and I am one boat out of thousands. But again, all you can do is educate. On my boats I establish some bag limit rules that are a little more conservative than the actual regulations to make sure the customer is happy as well as leaving a few for tomorrow.
All of us that are on the water have a love for catching a trophy, and what’s not to love about that? A big snook, a thirty-pound permit, or your first blue marlin. These are the fish we dream about as anglers. But how many of you still get a smile on your face when a ladyfish goes hopping all over the place on a slow day? I know I do. And I love seeing my customers (kids are the best) who think it’s the most fun thing they have ever done. I do have folks that just look at these “trash fish” with disgust, as they only want that big redfish and nothing else.
That’s their perception of things for whatever reason. There is nothing wrong with it, just different than mine. The trophy stage is something I would think we all go thru and maybe stay in more days than not. It is appreciating the other stages that I find important.
On the method stage, I instantly think of our beloved hardcore fly-fishing buddies. I throw a fly from time to time, but I will probably always prefer my old spinning reel. To some in the fly world this is blasphemy. They are very focused on the process, very focused on the procedure. Nothing at all wrong with this. Lots of artificial guys are the same exact way.
I have a good friend who comes with me from time to time on backcountry trips. He always brings the flyrod. Not long ago, we were in an area and were using some ladyfish for cut bait targeting redfish. I told him he couldn’t tell his buddies at the fly shop what we were doing or they would revoke his membership card. And I’ll be darned if he didn’t catch grief when his peers learned he dared use a piece of cut ladyfish. I got a good laugh out of that, at his expense of course. I have a lot of respect for the passion, thought, and process my fly-fishing friends put into their work. They are artist, and the ones that come to mind for me will be in this stage I would think for the rest of their lives. The method is their passion.
The final stage, the sportsman stage is where I like to think I am now. I am happy on the deck of my boat. I love being on the water each day and seeing the Everglades each morning. I love watching the spoonbills on the bar as I head out to meet the sunrise and hearing the turtles, manatees, and dolphins exhale on a quiet day in the backcountry. And seeing a tarpon roll on a morning where the water is like glass in a back bay, these are the things that I cherish.
I absolutely love taking a new angler into our fishery for a day on the water. There is nothing better to me than seeing a 60-year-old man, almost giddy with excitement about his 100th time fishing the 10,000 Islands.
It reminds me in a lot of ways of the 12-year-old boy I had on the previous day who was experiencing his first time in the Glades and had the thrill of the day before him. These are the things that I hold most dear, and can never get enough of.
Of course, I am running a charter boat, and we have expectations we must meet. But I never lose sight of the fact that for me, I think the fishing is only 50% of the service I am offering. I really try to instill the passion I have for the beauty surrounding us to the folks I bring aboard each day.
I hope you all take a look at these stages, think about maybe where you are, where you would like to be, and help educate a fellow sportsman on enjoying the experience to the fullest. We are so very blessed to live in the Fishing Capital of the World. And for my FGA Guide member family, we are living the dream of so many others each and every day. That’s something I never take for granted.
Thank you for your support of the Florida Guides Association.
Capt. Charlie Phillips