We had just left the harbour, passed the channel markers and deployed the spread of 5 trolling lures. Each lure, made of lead and resin and a colourful skirt created an impressive bubble trail underwater and every few seconds would send up a huge spray of water as it broke the surface like an oversized GT popper. After only 10 minutes there was a loud click as the out-rigger line was hit and the clip released. But there was no hookup. We kept motoring and 15 seconds later the ratchet sounded, line started to release from the reel and a billfish took to the sky about 50 metres behind the boat. “Spearfish!” was the call. But no sooner had the word ‘fish’ passed my mate’s lips – the line had gone limp. Bummer!
That was the only hit we took on the trolling lures all day despite lots of bird activity and a general look and feeling of ‘fishiness’ in the water. On the long motor back we fingered our phones, messaged our friends and wives, and of course checked social media. Our news feeds were full of colourful pictures with the same two basic ingredients. People and fish. My mate follows the bluewater scene on Instagram. There was a picture of a happy female angler holding up a single mahi mahi, a family group presumably on a charter with several mahi mahi, mahi mahi lined up on the dock waiting for cleaning and a great action shot of a yellow fin tuna coming overboard on a gaff. It seems like everyone was catching this weekend – except us that is.
My feed arrived courtesy of Facebook and was more concentrated on land-based, kayak and inshore reef fishing. As I scrolled down I saw images of bluefin trevally, tasty reef fish, more mahi mahi and a gentlemen holding a bonefish of nearly 10 pounds that he had caught on a soft plastic lure. A cracking fish that comes at a time when I have been struggling to repeat my early success of bones on lures.
As we exchanged phones and images the sense of despair only heightened. Eventually the silence was broken by a single comment:
“I didn’t know we sucked so bad at fishing … I used to be good”
My friends comment might seem a little melodramatic after a single fishless day, but let’s put it in perspective. The last few trips have been tough. Really tough. Not catching fish while trolling the bluewater happens. It’s a big ocean and to put it mildly, fish stocks are not what they used to be here. But bubbling away underneath that sentiment is my inability to catch a bonefish of late, and our collective failure to catch a GT. We have embarked on many giant trevally trips, involving hours of casting and some big dollars in rods, reels and lures. Predictably it all started with social media.
Facebook delivered me a surprise one day when my feed was interrupted by images of three guys in a boat holding up giant GTs. Sometimes there was two or three fish in the same photo. They were huge fish! The story attached detailed incredible sessions of hooking 30 GTs in a weekend and landing 14 of them. My heart was racing. This was in Oahu? Oahu is not a big island (roughly 50km from top to bottom) so with a little local knowledge and detective work it wouldn’t be hard to work out where these guys were fishing. I sent the story through to my mate, he confirmed the location, and we launched into a flurry of purchasing rods, reels and lures that could handle these brutes.
We went out to the spot, cast our lures and came home empty handed. We did more research, went back out the following weekend and again came home without any action to report. Since then I have watched, nay studied, each of their videos looking for clues as to their exact location, technique and weather conditions. I’ve researched bathymetry maps, underwater videos from spear fisherman, currents and tide charts. I’ve sought council from two of the sharpest fishing minds that I know, my fellow bloggers Lee and Hamish. But each GT trip has played out in the same way. We start the morning in the dark, full of anticipation and excitement, armed with some little tid-bit of information that we had researched since the last trip. Surely this trip we will hook that first elusive GT. We would motor out to ‘the spot’ and diligently cast huge poppers, floating and sub-surface stick baits, and even metal jigs. After a few hours without so much as seeing a fish, we would sit down defeated and rest our weary arms. After 5 or 6 trips we are on the verge of giving up, having ‘failed’ once again. Why can’t we recreate even a tiny amount of the success these guys have had? Combined with our recent dry spell on the trolling front, social media is definitely doing bad things to our fishing mojo.
Before getting too dark or depressed about this stuff, it is worth considering that social media posts are hugely biased for the following reasons:
- No one, or at least very few people, post when they don’t catch anything. So we have no idea how many other anglers and boats are also struggling to find fish.
- The people with the most active social media accounts are usually fishing charter operators, fishing guides, or the seriously fishing obsessed. These are people who are spending a huge amount of time and money on the water, sometimes multiple days in a row, so have the opportunity to learn about the conditions, what is biting and how to catch them
- Fishing is now big business. Holding a fish with a certain brand of lure or fly hanging out of its mouth, while using a certain rod and reel is good for business. Where there is money involved people are always going to be tempted to fudge the truth – enough said.
Of course, what I have described above is my recent experience fishing on Oahu, Hawaii. But it could be anywhere in the world. Social media is everywhere. Where there are people and fish, there is likely to be photos of people proudly holding fish. If, as anglers, we look at this stuff too often and don’t consider the factors listed above, it’s going to be bad for our mojo (our state of mind, luck or talent). It’s only natural for us to want a piece of the action and wonder what we are doing wrong. But if we consider the old adage that 20% of anglers catch 80% of the fish (and with good reasons, usually time and money) then we shouldn’t feel bad that we are part of that 80% who don’t catch as much. It is also worth remembering that other famous fishing cliche ‘catching a fish is just a bonus’. Getting the opportunity to spend our recreational time in the great outdoors is a luxury many people around the world are not afforded.
Social media can be bad for our mental health, not just for fishing, but in general. More and more studies are reporting a link between time spent on social media and poor mental health. One of the primary drivers of this is ‘social comparison’. You guessed it, comparing your own life (or fishing success) with somebody else. This is obviously a flawed exercise if the other person only presents the best parts of their life… or in this example, the fish that they catch.
So in summary, social media can be an incredible fishing tool. Watch instructional videos on youtube, get inspired by other people’s catches, take note of how and where and when they caught fish. Build social networks with other fisherman and keep challenging yourself. But take the images on Facebook and Instagram with a grain of salt (bad pun), they are almost certainly in a minority who got lucky on the day or have years of knowledge and experience to draw on.
And of course if that spearfish had stayed on our hook we too could have added our voice to the chorus of ‘those who caught fish’ on social media last weekend. The caption would have read something like; “been trolling 10 minutes out of the harbour when this spearfish hit one of our hand made lures – what a great day on the water!”. Then we too could present our perfect lives and amazing fishing mojo to the rest of the fishing world.