Master of None

By Pete Robbins

Prior to leaving for my St. Clair muskie trip late last month, several friends who live exclusively in the bass bubble asked me some version of the following question: “If you catch a muskie the first day will you fish for smallmouths on the second day?” Upon my return, several others asked if I’d spent any time looking for brown bass.

Despite living on one of the best smallmouth lakes in the world, our muskie guide admitted that he rarely fishes for them for fun. He’s obsessed with the lake’s toothy apex predator. Everything else is just bait.

Muskies. Bass. Never the twain shall meet.

Indeed, it goes deeper than that. Trout people stick to themselves. Billfishermen are like a cult. Even the carpmasters don’t mix doughballs with other breeds of anglers. We cling to what we know and who we know. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but when it comes to fishing many of us are single minded in our devotion.

That’s not necessarily all that different from other hobbies or interests, but for some reason fishing is considered to be a monolithic pasttime. If you’re a bass angler, no doubt someone has told you at some point that you should really meet their cousin Bob, who’s also an expert – but it turns out that Bob likes to dunk cut bait at night for bullheads, or perhaps he wields a 3-weight for mountain brookies, or likes to chase big tuna 80 miles offshore. You can appreciate the endeavor, but it’s not quite your bag. At the same time, if your interest was “music,” no non-music freak would try to introduce you to their cousin Bob the Pavarotti aficionado if they knew you were obsessed with Metallica, nor would they try to drag your Merle Haggard loving butt to a gathering of the Juggalos. Maybe there are some folks who cross over seamlessly, but it seems that they’re the exception rather than the rule.

Over the past five years I’ve made a conscious effort to shed my bass-only blinders. I’ve chased trout in Montana, peacocks in the Amazon, redfish in Venice and now muskie in the Motor City. The travel was the easy part. The hard part has been getting a footing in each arena. While there are certain commonalities – fish want to spawn, eat, survive and do it all while expending as little energy as possible – after a lifetime of building up an internal bassopedia, now it feels like I’m starting from scratch. I can get in the boat with a KVD or a Keith Combs, and while I’ll never be anywhere near their equal on the water, I feel like I can hold my own, both with a rod and in conversation. That’s not the case in other venues, largely because a 5-weight fly rod barely resembles the 9-foot whipping stick that we used for muskies, and neither would be good for flinging a half ounce spinnerbait. In many cases, I can’t even talk the talk. That’s ok, though. At this point in my life I’m willing to feel a little out of sorts, and to ask the more-than-occasional dumb question, if it means gaining the varied new experiences that now seem to be around every corner.