I’ve caught everything from red drum to bluefin tuna, but I haven’t spent much time bass fishing.

When my buddy, Roland “Tex” Butler invited me to go lunker hunting I took the bait. After seeing his photos of bucketmouths on Facebook, I was eager to tangle with a big bass.

We met at a neighborhood lake on a cold, windy morning. Tex handed me three lures: a wild-looking jig, a simple Ned rig and a long, slender twitch bait.

After reading and writing about these lures for years, I was excited to hold them in my hand. I couldn’t wait to finesse the Ned, dance the jig and slash the twitch bait.

Fishing is hard. Kayak fishing is harder. I fished hard. “Stop bouncing the jig like your speckled trout fishing,” Tex yelled. I tried to imitate his slow retrieve and light jiggle but my lure snagged in the rocks. An overhead tree snatched a rod out of my crate. Cast after cast, no bites.

Long story short, I didn’t catch anything. Tex tried to make me feel better, but he managed to catch a half-dozen fish, five over five pounds and one almost eight.

I went back to saltwater fishing with a new respect for my freshwater friends. The skills I had developed after years of offshore and inshore fishing didn’t amount to much in sweetwater. I had to go back to page one.

Millions of gallons of water stretched over thousands of square miles and I’m trying to fool one little fish with a tiny lure. The odds are stacked against me.

My favorite aspect of this sport is how it offers something for everyone. Are you laid-back and looking for fun in the outdoors? Fishing is for you. Are you uber-competitive and ultra anal? Fishing is for you, too.

People who don’t fish don’t get it

Regardless of your motivations, it takes skills to catch fish. Whether you’re a paddle angler, pedal-powered or motorized, operating a kayak takes skills. Even if you only know how to tie one knot, you got skills.

People who don’t fish, don’t get it. When I tell colleagues at work I went fishing, they picture Andy and Opie whistling down to the farm pond. Even showing them photos of huge fish and stories of long days on the water doesn’t change their minds.

Once an angler starts fishing, he or she sets off on a journey of trial and error, learning new tricks and trying new things.

Some anglers keep it simple, focusing on one species or one location. For others, the lure of fishing is constantly expanding their skills. As soon as I figure out a species or location, I move on to explore new water and different fish. With the infinite combinations of tactics, targets and water, there is no end to the potential to learn.

I spend hours studying satellite images looking for new fishing grounds. Days and nights in the garage experimenting with rigs and tackle. During the off-season, I paddle for miles and brush up on my boating skills. The time I invest off the water pays dividends when the weather breaks and the fish start biting.

This year’s Skills Guide is dedicated to basic skills for first-time anglers and longtime experts. New anglers often report being intimidated by the knowledge barrier to get started in fishing. And experienced fishermen are always eager to learn something new.

When Tex and I went bass fishing, I cast the same lure to the same log with disappointingly different results. He hooked up and I couldn’t buy a bite. My novice skills were no match for Tex’s years of experience.

In the end, Tex caught more fish, but I learned a larger lesson.

Fishing is hard. That’s why we like it. 

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