If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it


Learning from our mistakes is the richest and most valuable form of gaining knowledge. Even in an era of expedience; with the internet, and Blackberries at hand, nothing satisfies our quest for wanting to put what we know to the test quite like good old fashioned, hands on, DIY, self obtained learning. Info earned – not just learned. With that, you would think that one only has to experience a mistake once to get it. Okay, maybe twice to reaffirm it. Alright, let me learn this just one more time. What – did I make that mistake again? It has been said that only a fool can keep making the same mistakes and expect different results. I know; for I am that fool.

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  • Recently, while pre fishing a bay bass tournament, I was able to catch good sized fish on a Western Plastics swim tail. I was using a 7’ Med Heavy rod that some time ago had lost the first 5 inches. I had since re-tipped it, and still find it useful. Of course the rod is now shorter, and the tip is a bit stiffer. It has no give at all. Not really the ideal rig for this lure, but I have grown accustomed to it. I was also catching good fish while spooning on a Medium action rod. I would only use one rod at a time. I like to change up often; about every four casts between each lure. Again, not always the best, but it works for me.

    Fishing in the tidal waters of San Diego Bay, I like to use the old timer’s adage of welcoming the tide in, and chasing it back out. I learned this while fishing the Sacramento River Delta (the hard way of course), and it works. For those of you have never heard of this, what it means is when the tide is coming in, you start at the entrance (or outer most) of your bay or river, and work your way towards the back of your bay or river (time allowing of course). Then on an outgoing tide, you start at the furthest spot back, and chase the tide towards the entrance. In most cases, we’re talking about a few spots, and only a few miles. I usually have 12 spots that I do this on. Sometimes I start at number one and work my way towards number twelve. Or if the tide is going the other way, I start at twelve and work my way towards number one.

    My San Diego Bay formula: Add the Knowledge of my 12 spots, to the Method of running the tides, to the Equipment that I like to use, to the Baits that I like, to my Style of fishing, and I have an Equation That Works. Is it always the best? No. But it works for me. It isn’t broken.

    The night before a recent San Diego Bay Bass tournament, I took my “customized” rod, and removed the reel. I then put the reel on a Medium rod, with a softer tip. I figured that would allow for the fish to grab the swim tail, and load up better. Most folks prefer this, so I should too right? Don’t get ahead of me on this yet. Then I took a 7’6” Heavy rod and put a Paddle Tail type of bait on it. I had never used that in the bay before, but thought it should work. The jury is still out on that one. I did not change much on my spooning rod, but I did use it differently. Normally when I spoon deep water, it is a vertical presentation, I have only that rod in my hand, and I focus on what I am doing. When I hook the fish, I let him try diving down with the bait before I reel. I then give it a hard yank, and reel fast for three turns at the same time. I never pump the fish, because the spoon acts as a hook remover. This works for me.

    The day of the tournament comes, and realizing that we don’t have to fish with just one rod at a time, my partner and I decide to get greedy. Looking like a couple of walleye fishermen, we each had at least two rods in our hands and/or a rod in the holder. I would have one rod out with a swim tail on it, and my spooning rod in hand.

    We went to our first spot (the spot with the biggest fish in practice), and worked in that area, and over and around, and back and forth, and up and down, again and again. We never went from 1-12 as mentioned above. We strayed from the formula, and never went back to it. I would have my swim tail rod in my left hand, and when I saw fish on the graph, I would drop the spoon on them. I got bit. My partner (Chuck) got bit. Bites were not hard to come by.

    However, we are not walleye fishermen. We did not practice having two rods in our hands. We did not practice how to hook one, while winding a fish in on the other. We did not stick with what works for us, instead opting for what we knew we were allowed to do. And since we had seen others having no problem with equipment juggling, we thought we could do that too.

    The rod that I had the swim tail on may work just fine for most people, but I did not know how it would handle a fish once it was hooked up. I did not know how much the rod would do, and how much I had to do, towards me getting the fish loaded, hooked, and landed. Add to that the distraction of another rod in the hand that normally would be holding the reel handle, and you have a recipe for errors.

    At age 39, and fishing since I was 6, I don’t confess to knowing everything about fishing, but I am not a beginner. However, I can really only say that about what I know and do – what I have perfected as my way. My Formula. But I was very much so a beginner at what I was doing that day, and should not have been doing it. Not on tournament day.

    Most tournament fishermen will tell you that game day is no time for experimenting. I agree almost 100% to this. I am a poster child for what happens when you ignore that advice by 80% or more.

    Next time you are on the water, or even when you are just evaluating your gear, or tackle, look back on past days on the water, and what worked for you. Then next time you hit the water, go with what works, experiment a little, but mostly remember: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

    About Author

    James Nelson

    Captain James Nelson has been fishing the bays and lakes of Southern California for more than 30 years. He is one of the most diverse guides in the area, providing rewarding guide trips on both San Diego and Mission Bay, inshore saltwater trips, as well as trips to the local lakes, including Diamond Valley.


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