Jackson: In fishing, size doesn't always matter

Updated 2/8/2017 4:50 PM

Some of us will spend years trying to understand what part fishing plays in our lives.

I am as guilty as the next angler when it comes to catching big fish and bragging about the experience.

I used to be very concerned with my fishing investment portfolio -- that is, my conglomeration of investments and pursuits in the never-ending quest for big fish.

Among them was traveling to Manitoba to chase jumbo northern pike, and then off to the outer fringes of mankind in the Arctic to find and catch monster lake trout and arctic char.

At the risk of getting off topic, I tell countless friends who head north with me that sub-Arctic and actual Arctic lakes and rivers hold ravenous lakers both in size and appetite. And it's their appetite that turn these great-tasting fish into living torpedoes, with big fins and enough muscle to destroy not only its prey but our fishing gear as well.

In recent years, however, I've changed my perspective on the search to catch big fish.

Several years ago I duked it out with a tarpon that went right to the 200-pound mark. That battle lasted close to an hour, and when it was over I was completely spent and dehydrated. I subsequently drank a half gallon of water and juice just to recover.

Was I on top of the world from that experience? You bet -- but I've also discovered there's a lot more excitement fishing the freshwater canals around Palm Beach and Broward counties in southeast Florida.

I've lost track of the number of times I was able to catch a lot of smaller tarpon in the 10- to 15-pound range. These "baby" tarps supplied me with hours of excitement and unreal smiles as well as arms and muscles worn out from casting my 8-weight fly rod.

One morning I was chatting with a young guy who had been watching me pound the water and catch small tarpon in one of those canals. He also brought a fly rod with him but he was focused on catching lots of bluegills and other panfish. He was about 30 feet away from my bank spot. He slowly inched his way over and we began a memorable conversation.

"You like those baby tarpon, I noticed," he said.

I confirmed, but also countered that I was simply interested in having lots of fun.

"That's why I chase chunky bluegills with my fly rod," he said.

And then we went back on getting our flies to a target area across this one particular narrow canal.

Closer to home, it's the same pattern. Some local fishermen would rather catch a super-jumbo walleye instead of enjoying the experience of catching a mess of just-legal fish as the reward of using one's skill and determination.

In that same vein, I called a friend and suggested we scope out Skokie Lagoon and determine whether the poachers had emptied that spot of fun and relaxation. And so we split up and worked two different areas.

At one time, Skokie Lagoon was a fantastic bluegill and bass hot spot before the no-license, poaching animals made it the go-to place for easy meals. My calls to the authorities fell on deaf ears as the excuses flowed.

"We don't have enough officers to show up there," one official told me.

Because I was so disgusted with the excuses and the poaching, I wrote several columns about Cook County's efforts to clean up the suburban reservoir. But family fun and fishing has diminished because the poachers have beaten up the shorelines and left enough trash to make another Mount Trashmore (Evanston).

My friend and I caught some panfish there, however, and exclaimed afterword that we still had fun because we ultimately found schools of small fish (size didn't matter) that kept us casting our fly rods and trying out our homemade fly creations.

• Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, catch his radio show 7-9 a.m. Sundays on WGCO 1590-AM (live-streamed at www.1590WCGO.com) and get more content at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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