Fishermen stand with their lines in the water on the edge of Six Mile River in Tagish. Andrew Cremata

Above or Below


We live in the age of experts. Thanks to the World Wide Web, television, and other forms of mass media, anyone can gather information about any given subject and proclaim themselves an expert. Being an expert goes hand-in-hand with having an opinion, and when yours is challenged you must fight to protect it – tooth and nail.

In our struggle for individuality we will quickly find a group of like-minded individuals that agree with our opinions, making it even harder for the opposition to have a voice. In this way, education and dedication to a field of study is rendered inert because the voice of the majority earns more merit.

For instance, a team of scientists who have devoted their life’s work to the field of climate change may claim unequivocally, based on their research, that the earth is warming at an alarming rate partially due to man’s influence. They can publish these findings, making them available to the peering eyes of the public, hopeful that someone will take these warnings to heart. Then a plumber in Iowa debunks the whole report as “bad science” in his homemade weather blog, and more people support his theories than that of the professionals.

It’s likely that in fifty years there will be a definitive winner between science and the plumbing industry in the great hypothetical global climate change debate, but for now we’ll call it a draw, fill up the tank with gas, and head out to our favorite fishing hole.

This is a good idea because when it comes to fishing, there is no argument that can beat actual results. This certainly doesn’t mean that anglers won’t boast about their own techniques and skills, but at the end of the day there will usually be one definitive winner, often resulting in a free beer.

Indeed, fishing is quantifiable. And because it’s quantifiable it remains free from the trappings of opinion and politics. And anyone that calls themselves an “expert” fisherman is a no-good liar.

There is only one way to get better at fishing and that is to head outdoors and begin working to understand the process. Sure, you can read book or a witty fishing article such as this, but that isn’t going to teach you to cast a lure or ram a hook into the business end of a live minnow. Additionally, most of what you read about fishing was written by fishermen, and everyone knows they are an untrustworthy lot filled with wild delusions about their own prowess and the size of their fish.

When I was a kid everyone I met on the piers in Florida fished exactly the same way. They used a rig where a lead slip-sinker was affixed to a leader about six inches above the hook. It was as though some book had been issued to Florida anglers in the 1950s that said there was only one method for catching fish, thus giving birth to the “weight-above-the-hook” rig.

If you were to go to a bridge or pier on Florida’s west coast tomorrow, you would undoubtedly see the majority of anglers employing the weight-above-the-hook technique.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with this rig, and it frequently catches fish, even at a young age I realized that it had certain limitations. For one, if I were fishing over rocky bottom the hook would often get caught on the rocks causing me to lose the whole $2.99 rig. Also, I was convinced that certain fish could feel the weight when they attempted to take the bait, resulting in them leaving the tasty morsel behind.

In an attempt to think outside of the box in the days before Internet, I went to the library and looked through something we used to call a “how-to” book. Within a large fishing encyclopedia I came upon a rig that I thought could provide an alternative to the weight-above-the-hook method. It was a setup used extensively in the Carolinas, and it was cleverly called a “Carolina rig.”

When assembling a Carolina rig you tie the weight to the end of the line and then tie off a couple of hooks to the line above. This seems like the perfect solution, and I employed the technique whenever conditions warranted it.

I was unprepared for the level of disgust this rig spawned in my fellow anglers. Because most fishermen consider themselves experts, with or without Google, the Carolina rig was a direct affront to their own highly developed skills, and it merited enthusiastic chastising.

“What are you going to do with that?” one neighboring fisherman once asked me as I set up my gear.

“The plan is to catch fish,” I responded.

“Well you’ve got the hooks above the weight! That won’t work. You have to use this kind of rig.” He pointed at his standard weight-above-the-hook rig.

“How many fish have you caught today?” I asked.

“Nothing yet,” he said. “And I’ve been out here all day.”

Within fifteen minutes I had hauled three massive speckled trout over the rail, much to my neighbor’s chagrin.

When I extolled the merits of my “weight-below-the-hook” method, he was still unwilling to accept this technique as anything other than a novelty.

“No, man. You’re just lucky,” he said.

I surmised that fishermen in North Carolina faced the same kind of ostracism when utilizing what I figured they referred to as the “Florida rig.”

No matter.

All of the information in the world is useless unless it has some meaningful application, and opinions meanß nothing if there isn’t something tangible at the end of the line. And this fact is true whether you prefer your weight above or below your hook.

Fish This! recently won yet another first place Alaska Press Club award for best outdoors column (we've lost count, it has won something like 6 of the last 7 years!). Want to read more? You can go diving into our summer archives, or you can wait for the book of Andrew's columns, coming later this summer from Lynn Canal Publishing. Watch for announcements on the website.