Angler Types in Profile: The Numbers Guy

by | Sep 20, 2017 | 14 comments

I could barely make out the shape of a man fishing through the fog. A dense cloud hung over the water that morning, wrapping everything in a white shroud, and I felt water enter my lungs with every breath. Eventually, the rising sun punched holes through a white sheet, further decreasing visibility with mirrored reflections. Then within the next half hour, solar warmth provided enough heat to turn the big cloud into vapor. And as the fog dissipated over the river, Mike’s thin form came into view.

He moved like a machine in rhythm. He zigged and zagged across the pocket water, casting and catching, netting and releasing one trout after another. The machine paused to catch its breath only when Mike spent thirty seconds tying a knot. From my perspective downstream, it was perfection.

Photo by Bill Dell

— — — — — —

My friend Mike is a numbers guy.

He starts early and stays late. When the fish are on, Mike wades all day and stops rarely. If the fish are off, he might pack it in and head across the mountain to the next valley, searching for action good enough to rack up a hefty tally. Mike’s in a constant race to see how many fish he can catch.

If you really want to learn the fish catching game, find a numbers guy. The best of them have a strategy for any situation, and in high or low water, muddy, cold, fast or slow water, the numbers guy has a plan.

For Mike, fishing is a calculation, a math equation. He’s a researcher and a scientist on the water.

Photo by Bill Dell

Some numbers guys seem to let all that counting and calculation take the fun out of fishing, and they eventually burn out. But not all of them.

Mike carries the same clicker he uses as a doorman and bouncer. (It’s a good job for a fisherman, because the weekday mornings are free.) He’s a great dude to fish with because he keeps the clicker-count to himself and still sees the big picture. But the day’s fish count is what motivates Mike to fish often and fish hard.

The numbers guy can be tough to hang with. He doesn’t take a lunch break, and won’t hit the local bar with you when fishing slows down. He doesn’t quit. Instead, he’ll relocate, or he might buckle down and re-fish an area with new flies.

Oh yeah, the flies . . .

The numbers guy carries fly boxes full of patterns lined up like soldiers awaiting their call to action. Many of the flies look the same, with maybe five variations on the same pheasant tail, one with a copper rib, and another with a gold rib and bright yellow collar. Having these options keeps the numbers guy focused during slow times — because there’s always a new reason to believe, with every fly change, there’s new hope and another chance to dial it all in.

The best numbers guys have a love affair with efficiency, and they make it an art form — not just a math problem. Efficiency is a way to minimize movement and effect a system on the river. It’s a way to know what should work next, and it’s a plan to get there.

What about all that counting?

The numbers guy keeps an accurate tally of trout in the net, and while that can seem a little over the top, it’s the way he enjoys the game. Nothing wrong with that, as long as he keeps it to himself.

At worst, the numbers guy forgets that others don’t care to count, and he’ll volunteer his catch numbers on your home waters, unprompted.

“I was up your way yesterday and caught 64 trout. It was a lot slower than the week before.”

There’s nothing worse than fishing with a numbers guy who not only keeps track of his fish, but runs a tally sheet on your own fishing day too. Counting opens the door to competing. And although striving to outdo the next guy can be a valuable human instinct, it’s irritating on the river. I can fish with a numbers guy, as long as he let’s me do my own thing without the numbers sheet.

Mike was a competition fisherman for a while, and that’s where he learned many of the tactics that catch one fish after the other.

But Mike quit the comp scene. He says he decided to spend his weekends fishing the whole time instead of keeping score for others and waiting for the stopwatch to begin and end his session. He realized he could catch even more fish without being restricted by rules or being penned into just one section of the creek. He figured he could catch even more fish if he wasn’t involved in a competition. That’s just more cold calculation right there.

Photo by Chris Kehres

— — — — — —

I caught up to the breathing, clicking machine by mid morning, but only because Mike had started swinging streamers down and across, picking off a few fish that he’d somehow missed while nymphing, zigging and zagging upriver.

“What’s the word?” Mike asked, once we were within speaking distance. “The water’s perfect here, isn’t it?”

As I reeled in my line, I looked around and pointed toward the wooded hillside.

“Yeah, the river changed a lot when that big storm broke off a bunch of tree tops and they slid into the water’s edge. I really love watching a river grow through the years.”

“For sure.” Mike nodded and gestured toward the bank. “Seems like that right side holds a fish behind every wet spruce branch.”

Mike and I stood in the river and talked for a while. The cool water slid down the sides of our waders and back into the flow. It was a good morning, and I was satisfied.

“Well buddy, I’m gonna pack it in and get lunch at the diner,” I said. “Care to join me?”

Mike looked surprised.

“No, no. I want to walk up above the old barn and fish those flats. There’s always a few fish feeding under the willows. But I’ll catch up with you later tonight,” he said.

As I started down the footpath toward the truck, I paused and turned around to watch Mike. He was fishing again, back into the mechanical rhythm. I hesitated to break such skilled concentration, but I had to know. So I yelled across the river.

“What’s the count, Mike?”

He startled a little, then glanced at the clicker hanging from his vest.

“Twenty-six so far!” With one thumb up and the other hand casting, he bellowed back across the noisy river.

I shook my head and chuckled. He’d probably double that number by noon.

I had a good lunch at the diner.

Photo by Josh Stewart

Photo by Josh Darling

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

How to Hold a Trout

How to Hold a Trout

You can’t stop fishermen from holding their trout. All of the Keep ‘Em Wet campaigns and the Ketchum Release tools will not stop anglers from reaching into the water and lifting their prize. It’s a desire to complete the act, to finish the catch, an instinct to hold the creature that we set out to capture.

And why wouldn’t we want to hold a wild trout — to touch the majesty of Mother Nature — to feel a fleeting, darting, irrefutably gorgeous animal and admire it, and to look upon that which eludes us so often and for so long? No, you’re not going to stop fishermen from holding their trout.

Instead, let’s spread the word about how to safely handle trout without harming them. What follows is a real world, riverside understanding of how to hold a trout, all from a fisherman who’s held a few trout, large and small . . .

The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything

The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything

The river doesn’t owe you anything.

It’s been here for millennia. It has bent and grown, widened and shaped the surrounding mountains and carved the bedrock beneath. It will outlast you and everyone who carries your name hereafter. The river is a rolling time machine, carrying a history of the earth, the evolution of life, and yes, even the stories of fishermen . . .

Trophy Hunting: Meet Jercules

Trophy Hunting: Meet Jercules

. . .I’ve gone through a couple phases of trophy hunting, but I’m always careful to return to my roots before the obsession overtakes me. I don’t want to lose my enjoyment for the simple things on the water: the friendships, the forests, the mountains, the mysteries and the way thick, cool moss on limestone feels like a sofa cushion for a mid-stream lunch. Those are the good things that are available every time I put on my waders, even though the big fish usually aren’t.

While going in and out of these phases of trophy hunting for wild browns, I’ve learned that I was looking for big trout in the wrong places. I had to seek out new rivers. And sometimes, I simply had to find new places on my old rivers. Point is, I learned that trophy hunters need a target. It’s not enough to go to the same places and fish the same ways as you always have. You have to learn where the big fish are, go there, and put on your patience pants — because Whiskeys don’t come easily . . .

Angler Types in Profile: The Substitution Guy

Angler Types in Profile: The Substitution Guy

. . . “Great. I have some ideas on how to make your fly better,” Bruce said flatly.

That stung a little too. What improvements are needed? I wondered while Bruce stashed my beloved streamer into his fly box. I watched until the end, until the shadow of the closing lid engulfed the mallard flank, and the glint from the copper conehead was no more. Farewell, good friend.

Seven days later, Bruce sent me photos of his “improved” version, noting that he’d substituted white for tan marabou, changed the collar dubbing to something “with necessary flash,” and added opal tinsel to the tail. “The fly just looks bare without it,” Bruce assured me. Accompanying the pics and descriptions of what he changed, Bruce ended with the following: “This spruced up fly gets a lot more attention!!”

Now how the hell does he know that, I wondered. It’s only been a week . . .

These Hooks Bend Out

These Hooks Bend Out

Competition hooks are most often designed with penetration as the primary goal. When you’re scoring fish, one nine-inch trout can put you at the top of the leader board, (I think that’s what they call it). So super-sharp hooks with wide gaps and long points are the norm. While the standard nymph hook for many years has been 1X or 2X strong wire, competition style hooks are most often designed with medium or even light wire, under the belief that thinner wire penetrates easier. Of course it does. But oh my, the difference is slight. And the trade off is not worth it (for me).

That lighter wire is where the cheaper companies get into problems . . .

Patience vs Persistence

Patience vs Persistence

Patience and persistence — in some ways they are opposites. Patience is waiting for something to happen. And persistence is making something happen.

And all you need is a full day spent with a persistent fisherman to know that your patience isn’t really getting anything done.

Over time, patience has been pinned to fishing, as if the two go hand in hand. And I think that’s a mistake. It’s an attached stigma that doesn’t fit — not for Troutbitten anglers, anyway. So once again, it’s apparent that words themselves change the way we think about things. Words and meanings change how we do things. New anglers are taught that fishing is a quiet, patient sport. And so they wait. And they are content when nothing happens.

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

14 Comments

  1. I’ve never met a guy with a clicker, but I know numbers guys. To each his own and whatever makes you happy. I count until I reach a total of 10 fish, an arbitrary number I established years ago. After I reach 10, I forget about it and just enjoy fishing. Why 10? Well, I figure 10 fish is enough to make it a good day of fishing for me even if that’s all I catch. But, for the past 15 years, I’m 63, my most important number is one trout hooked and landed. Why, because it’s enough of a gift for me to just be on the water doing what I love. It’s so much more than fishing for me, always was. Watching the wildlife and listening to the river run and the brooks babble. Who has actually heard a brook babble, huh? Like I’ve always said, the right way to fish is the way that makes you happy.
    The Best

    Reply
      • Bruce, I am with you with the number “1”, most especially if it is a rising trout that I can finally figure out what it will hit. If I can connect with that one, that makes the outing for me and everything else is a bonus. In my 60’s as well, I appreciate all my time on the stream, including the skunking I got tonight. Just nice to be out.

        Reply
    • Nicely stated…you read my mind

      Reply
  2. Hahaha, great! At least Mike is a fisherman with a numbers thing. He’s not Ted Bundy.

    Reply
  3. All hail Phill the groundhog he better be fricken right.I’ll be counting on Nashanock on Monday,Confluence Tuesday.I don’t count to ten very often but I do know one thing no one enjoys being on the creek more than I do.Tight lines laddies.

    Reply
  4. A reality check for sure. We all need to slow down and enjoy every miniscule opportunity that this sport affords us above or below the water. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Reply
  5. Not about the numbers but as said to each their own. There are sacrifices to be made for either choice. Fish or food? Beer or bouncing nymphs? As long as you can live with your choice all is well.

    Reply
    • True

      Reply
  6. I love this series of articles as there is some of these angler types, to different degrees, in all of us. But then I think that’s the point!

    Reply
    • Right on, Justin.

      Reply
  7. I’ve had severe cases of the numbers in the past. When I still lived in California, my favorite stream was a 4 1/2 hour drive each way. I’d get up stupid early and start driving to get there at first light and if I hadn’t hooked ten fish or so in the first hour I knew it was an off day and just headed home. Why fish all day for a dozen when you could be into 50 was a terrible mindset.

    In my own defense, I fished another stream full of 1/2 pounder steelhead that would produce 50 plus fish a day and often far more. I knew I had it good but didn’t realize the magnitude until I started keeping count…the sickness.

    Evolution…just catch a fish, catch as many fish as you can, just catch a big fish, catch as many big fish as you can, hope to catch a fish and enjoy the time on the water. All of the above still hold true for me depending on what I’m fishing for, where I’m fishing, how I’m fishing, new or old water, season and expectations. Then change something and start all over.

    My last change is I started to dabble in ultra-light gear. I’ve caught fish on tiny (22’s) flies, might as well try tiny rods. A 5-8 0wt takes the big fish out of the evolution but may get me stalled in the numbers game. Do numbers guys ever really recover from the sickness? Your article fit me very well.

    Reply
    • “Then change something, and start all over.” I love that.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest