Fishy thinking? Not to this biologist


September 05, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Aaron Adams thinks like a fish.

He wants us to think like one, too.

The Parkville native has been lucky enough -- and smart enough -- to turn his passion for fishing first into a career in marine biology, and now into a book.

Fisherman's Coast is a pretty good read. At 210 pages and $19.95, it's a bargain, too.

Yes, it's a how-to book. But before you roll your eyes and say, "Oh, and we don't have enough of those to last a lifetime," understand that this isn't a typical "kiss and tell" tome.

"It's just too easy to write about how to do it," Adams says. "You go to a specific place at a specific time and use a specific lure. But the real world isn't that exact. If you understand why, you can adapt to conditions."

Folks call The Sun all the time wanting to know where they can take an out-of-town visitor where they'll be "guaranteed" a catch.

Dream on. As that spunky Department of Natural Resources sage Angel Bolinger used to say to me, "You want a guaranteed fish? Go to a supermarket."

Like you, I've been fishing where everything seemed perfect. The tide was right, the birds were working, the bait fish were flashing, the radio was crackling. And there I was on skunk patrol, with nothing but a toadfish or three to show for my efforts.

Of course, as a summa cum laude graduate of the "I-can-just-feel-my-luck-is-about-to-change" school of fishing, I'm way too stubborn to try a different stretch of water. After a snack break, a nap and another snack break, I matriculate in the "Now-that-I've-invested-this-much-time-I-can't-leave" school of advanced studies.

A fisherman for more than 30 years, Adams knows the feeling and feels the pain.

"Some of the examples in the book, I don't even catch the darn fish, but I've put myself in the right place and gave myself the opportunity to succeed," he says. "Next time might be a better day."

With style and humor, Adams walks readers through the life cycles of gamefish and their prey and then moves on to discuss different habitats, from grass beds to salt marshes to oyster bars.

Understand those aspects and you begin to understand how a fish thinks, he says.

Of course, it is just a beginning.

Take a guy like Richie Gaines, one of the smartest guides on the upper bay. Gives lectures and writes articles for magazines. But ask "Chief" if he's got it knocked and he'll tell you he's still learning.

Go to one of the big fishing tournaments and you'll see big bucks bass boys like Kevin Van Dam and Rick Clunn talking shop, not just among themselves but with local BASS Federation members.

Get on any day of the week and you can fill your brain with tips and tactics. (Gaines, by the way, has a killer lesson on lightwater tackle in saltwater on the site this month.)

Graduate from fish school? Not likely.

To enhance our educational experience, Adams completes each of his lessons with an "applying what you learned" segment.

For Adams, 39, the learning curve started the day on Loch Raven Reservoir when a bullhead catfish took his worm and bent his rod double. Aaron's dad, Joe, was right over his shoulder, helping guide the feisty fish into the net.

The 5-pound cat was a whopper in the eyes of the 5-year-old, which sparked a curiosity that placed young Adams on the road to Fisherman's Anonymous.

His uncle, Frank Rohart, supplemented his freshwater education with lessons on the upper bay and in Dundee Creek.

"Just as vivid is the memory of my first experience with tides -- a favorite bluegill hole on the tannin-stained edge of a tidal river was mysteriously full and then dry from one visit to the next," he writes of the Pocomoke River. "Realizing that fish change location and behavior due to water movement was my introduction to the importance of scientific literacy to fishing."

Adams graduated from Friends School and then St. Mary's College. Advanced degrees from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the University of Massachusetts followed, allowing him to tack a Ph.D. on the end of his name.

He swears there was "no particular moment" that floated his authorship.

"I was looking at freshwater literature and it seemed to be much further along in the theory that, if you understand the habitat, you'll do better catching fish," he recalls. "Guys turn over a rock to see what's there and then tie on a fly to match."

The author lives near Fort Myers, Fla., so naturally most of his book centers on warm-water fishing. And as someone who converted six years ago from exclusively spin fishing to exclusively fly fishing, he discusses flies rather than lures.

But that still gives those of us cooler-weather spin fishing types something to chew on.

"It's based on ecological principles," he says of the book. "To a certain extent, there's a limited number of options a predator fish has. It shouldn't take much imagination for a fisherman to take what's in the book and apply it to where they're fishing.

"It's the same grass beds in Florida that you fish in the Chesapeake Bay and Dundee Creek, that you fish on Cape Cod."

Each chapter ends with a short passage on resource stewardship.

"In the freshwater world, most people seem to understand the direct tie between a healthy environment and the ability to catch fish," he says. "But I think that's often lacking in the saltwater world.

"All the fish we fish for now were more abundant 200 years ago," he says. "A lot of fishing pressure plus the degradation of habitat caused the decline. We've put a break in the fish assembly line and we're going to reach a threshold where the bottom is going to drop out.

"Our challenge -- scientists and fishermen -- is to find that threshold and not cross it."

And so, our education continues.

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