A non-fishing friend looked at my tackle box and said, “You have a lot of toys.” His tone suggested I was a grown man playing with action figures.

He’s right. I do have a lot of toys. While my friend watched, I tied one of my toys on my line, cast it out in the pond and twitched the rod tip to make my adult action figure dance at the end of the line.

Puppet Master: Pulling Strings, Twisting Minds, Crushing Fish

That’s when it hit me: if my lures are toys, then I’m the puppet master. Sure, I’m limited to one string. But with that string, I can slow bounce, finesse, jig, twitch, slash, jerk and walk the dog. I challenge any marionettist to match my moves.

Unlike snotty children and their uninterested parents, I have to tempt a more discerning audience. The predators who watch my show range from rowdy to obnoxious, sensitive and hypercritical to aloof and oblivious. For all I know, cast after cast, I’m performing my fishing show in an empty theater.

illustration of a group of fish watching a puppet master perform with fishing tackle
Feature illustration: Lorenzo Del Bianco

Every show needs to be engaging, provocative and believable. Each cast is a performance ending in an abrupt finale of exploding water, like applause. Or, silent rejection. The only choice is to repeat the performance.

Like a great actor, I must lose myself in my character. Am I a topwater popper, Ned jig, twitchbait or wake bait? How do I respond to the scenery? Rocks or vegetation? I take my cues from water clarity, temperature and current.

Sometimes the audience appreciates garish overacting, like a plopper lure. Other times, I’m a minimalist, such as a downsized soft plastic minnow on a drop shot.

Often, the main character is a hapless protagonist, a wounded or anxious baitfish. The plot resembles a campy horror story. The killer stalks his victim. The helpless target runs away, but she trips, now she is screaming. The killer attacks, blood and gore everywhere.

There are other stories. Some examples of recent box office smashes: the comedy about the dopey crayfish bumping backward into rocks, a spy drama featuring an overconfident worm slowly sliding over logs. I like the sci-fi thriller about a hideous, multi-appendaged creature bait trespassing into a well-guarded bass nest.

Improvisation is appreciated. The performance changes when the puppet flies over a riverside tree limb or into a low-hanging bush. Please excuse the technical difficulties while I untangle a nasty backlash. 

Yes, I have a lot of toys. In skilled hands, my special toys dive, dance and taunt. I am an actor, director and producer, who controls endearing, animated creatures with hopes, dreams and fears. My audience is slippery and slimy, but I know when the show is a hit.

Cover of Kayak Angler Magazine Issue 50, Early Summer 2023This article was first published in the Early Summer 2023 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Pinocchio has nothing on an angler’s performance. | Feature photo: Gerd Itjeshorst/Unsplash



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