When it comes to catching
smallmouth bass on Lake Winnipesaukee, Steve and Joe
Lucarelli are right on the money.
They have to be. Their livelihoods
depend on it.
Steve, the elder in this father-son
team, guides enough clients to call it a full-time
avocation. He often fishes the money tournaments with Joe,
who would like to win enough tournament prizes to leave his
day job behind.
For now, Joe is grateful for an
employer who understands his frequent absences from a
position in recreational vehicle sales.
The pair invited me to spend some
time on the water with them after I wrote about their
seminars at the Rockingham Fishing and Hunting Expo in
Steve did most of the guiding last
Sunday afternoon. Joe fished from the front of a sleek
Ranger bass boat, controlling the drift with the foot pedal
attached to the bow-mounted electric motor.
It's true that the guy in the front
has a significant advantage. He gets first crack at the
water. When he doesn't hook up, his lures can either put the
fish down or make them pay attention when the casters in the
rear work their lures at an angle toward the bow.
Joe quietly hooked and landed fish
after fish, most of them "client" sized. They were the kind
of smallies that will keep a paying customer happy, but
wouldn't get him close to the leaders in a tournament.
Good guides are effective teachers,
and Steve probably gave me more tips in half an hour than I
have picked up at dozens of winter shows. He did it without
making me feel like a total idiot.
He guessed correctly that I would
be more comfortable with a spinning rod. I'm still haunted
by those awful childhood memories of tangled fishing lines
caused by backlash on a baitcast reel.
He rigged a rod with a long butt
section below the reel and showed me how to make a
two-handed cast, using the right wrist as a fulcrum point.
It tossed the crankbait lure farther than I could have
He broke me of a bad habit by
making sure I wound the part of the reel's bailer where it
meets the line to a 12 o'clock position, just under my index
finger, before I opened the bailer for a cast.
He also broke me of the fly
caster's practice of pinching the line between finger and
rod when feeling for a bite during the retrieve.
He reminded me of one universal
truth of casting. The line or lure goes in the same
direction as the rod once the cast is made. The Lucarellis'
flyer recommends that clients practice casting to targets
before going fishing.
The Lucarellis were eager to show
me a technique Steve learned on the tournament circuit in
the South. They rigged the rods with a flat, silver lure
that vaguely resembled a baitfish. It carried a little added
weight toward the head.
Joe let the lure sink to the
bottom. He would then twitch the rod to raise the lure until
he could feel a fluttering vibration. He reeled in slack
line as he let the lure drop again. The motions gave the
lure a skipping effect as it moved across the bottom.
Knowing the technique was helpful,
as was recognizing the special characteristics of a specific
location. It's the kind of knowledge that can be gained only
by spending time on the water.
In this case, they picked a
location where they knew other anglers often clean their
catch. The guts attract crayfish, which are a favorite food
of Winnipesaukee smallmouth bass.
Guys who fish for tournament prizes
ranging from a new boat to a needed payday take the sport
very seriously. If one location doesn't produce fish within
a few minutes, or if a hot site suddenly cools off, Steve
fires up the big outboard and heads across the lake at
speeds that made me hold tightly to my Red Sox cap.
He's no fan of speed limits for the
big lake, figuring that small boats are no more appropriate
in The Broads than bicycles are on an interstate highway. He
goes fast enough to need a mask that resembles a modern
catcher's or goalie's face protection. Gives him a Darth
As we moved between two areas,
Steve likened the evolution of a serious angler to the
learning curve of a deer hunter.
First, the hunter is basically
walking in the woods while carrying a rifle. If he spends
enough time at it, luck will put an animal in his sights.
The observant hunter learns to read the signs left by his
prey, wondering why a deer may walk closer to a stone wall
than the trees in an orchard. Perhaps the wind direction
makes a difference.
With experience and knowledge, the
advancing hunter is truly hunting - behaving like a
Fishing, he pointed out, always
involves a degree of luck. A professional tournament angler
or guide tries to use equipment and techniques to control as
much as can be controlled.
Anglers are fortunate, he pointed
out, in that fishing gives them a tangible connection to
something wild and alive. We can feel the struggle as we
reel a fish in, and we can hold the living creature before
choosing to release it or keep it for a meal.
In the Lucarellis' boat, they have
a strict rule once a big smallmouth bass makes the heart
race. It's called "CPR" for catch, photograph and release.