Former Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange published a book called “Too Fat to Fish.” In my opinion, there’s no such thing. Years ago, I learned from my fishing mentor Bill Roberts that, “fat guys make the best jig fishermen—they’re slow, they’re deliberate, they take their time and that’s why they’re good.”
I was dubious at first. Even though Bill is a skinny son of a bitch and had nothing to gain from the statement, looking at some of the Dunlap Disease afflicted slobs we fished against—guys whose blood type was “sausage gravy,” who popped jelly donuts like Tic-Tacs—there was no possible way they could see their feet, let alone bend over to land a fish.
I’m not denying that bass fishing sometimes benefits from athleticism. I’m not saying that Lipitor improves your casting. And I’m certainly not making the claim that your boat will ride better with a pair of 350-pounders pinning down the seats. I’m just saying that all of you sinewy strings of fast-twitch muscle need to put a rev limiter on your perceived superiority. As I learned the hard way in those early years, there are plenty of heavy fellers who can catch the dog snot out of some bass, and there’s no question in my mind that that’s somehow related to the fact that sometimes slowing down is the best way to catch a load of big ones. No one’s better than a fat guy at ratcheting things down to a glacial pace, unless the supply of banana pudding at the buffet is dwindling. Though in fairness, the fate of buffets post COVID-19 keeps me up at night, too.
Despite a rapidly-growing quarantine gut, my experience in this is purely anecdotal. I’ve never been what anyone would call “thin,” but until this recent lockdown I’ve never been over two bills, either. So, I went to an expert, someone who not only has struggled with his own up-and-down weight issues, but who fishes with, socializes with, and eats with many of the world’s best bass pros: television host and Bassmaster emcee, Dave Mercer.
“I’m proud to be the Oprah of our industry,” Mercer said, referring to his rollercoaster relationship with the scale. “Every year at the Bassmaster Classic it’s the same joke: ‘Let’s see which one comes out.’”
In his earliest years with B.A.S.S., Mercer was the poster boy for the husky section at the children’s clothing store. Then he went on a diet, started exercising religiously, and lost over a hundred pounds.
“Basically, I lost the weight equivalent of a standard hot chick,” he said. “And there’s no question that it hurt me. It changes the way you fish. I had to adjust my style, and I had to do it again when I gained most of the weight back. I had to slow down, and when you look at some of the best worm and jig fishermen, they’re all guys who let ’er soak. Most of the time a fat guy is a lot more patient…or maybe lazy.”
I used to fish with an older guy who wasn’t quite “fat,” but he smoked like a fricking chimney. I cannot begin to count how many times he’d pitch out his jig, let it sink, go to light up a heater, and by the time he lifted up his line a fish had taken his bait right under the boat. Does the wafting scent of a burning Marlboro attract fish? Probably not, and McDonald’s farts don’t either, but eating and smoking do force you to slow down.
Of course, there’s also a school of thought that says that being lightning fast on the water pays off. It has certainly worked for Kevin VanDam, who has won four Bassmaster Classics. He’s no longer as rail-thin as he was in his 20s, but at 52 years old and well over 6 feet tall he’s still about as far away from “fat” as you can get, and he still moves down the bank faster than anyone else, making the nonstop rapid fire casts that have been his calling card.
“I look at KVD, and I’m like ‘You SOB. I hate you,” Mercer said, laughing. “I mean, it’s not like all he does is eat canned peas. He eats and drinks like I do.”
So which is it, lightning fast or snail slow that fills livewells?
FLW pro Clark Reehm has a theory that you get good by choosing one or the other, but if you split the baby, you’re screwed. “There’s KVD fast, and there’s [Louisiana pro] Greg Hackney super-slow, and there’s the weekend angler in the middle.” One of those three doesn’t make a living with a rod and reel, so pick your poison.
Indeed, it makes a lot of sense to fish at the extremes. You can hunker down in an area where you know that bass live and commit to finding a window when they’ll bite. That’s best done by s-l-o-w-l-y inching your casts back, pissing off those scaly suckers and forcing them to chew simply out of territoriality or annoyance. On the flip side, you can cover as much water as possible, making one cast after another and putting your bait in front of lots of active fish. In that circumstance, you’re trying to trigger quick, thought-free reactions. The former is like having a chocolate cake cooling on the counter—no matter how many times you tell yourself you’re on a no-carb, no-sugar diet and you’re not going to try it, eventually you take a finger full of frosting…then you cut off a small slice, then you eat the whole damn thing. The latter is more like sitting on your couch, watching The Bassmasters on TV, and a piece of cake comes floating by out of nowhere—you have to make the decision whether to chomp it out of midair or go without, because the next family member down the line will almost certainly seize the opportunity.
As for me, I’m caught in between the two extremes; too impatient to camp on a spot and stitch a bait back to the boat when there are few signs of life, and too undisciplined to refuse that extra slice of pizza. That’s why guys like Mercer and VanDam get paid to fish and I just write about it. But you, dear reader, still have time to commit to your bass diet training regimen: Golden Corral or CrossFit.
Featured image courtesy of Dave Mercer.