Fishing trip prep work a lot like editing a story

When you pack more stuff than you need

We were getting ready for a long weekend’s fishing trip, Headwind and I, with the usual “franticity” that whelms us when we plan a single overnight, and overwhelms us when it’s going to be longer.

This trip was going to be longer, from Miami to Everglades City and back, with three days of fishing and four overnights. If you’re as well organized as we are — meaning not very — you can guess that our preparations were kind of chaotic.

Everyone who’s ever seen either of us getting our stuff together has suggested that we improve our efficiency by making checklists. Like we never thought of that. Of course we have checklists. Got’em right here.

“Where’s my checklist?” I asked Headwind. “I don’t know. Where’s mine?” he asked me. Neither of us expected the other to know.

We both were wearing our official Fish or Cut Bait Society technical fishing shirts with more pockets, big and small, than a western trout guide’s haul-it-all vest, and our 6-pocket cargo pants. Stash everything, find nothing. That’s our style. Pat pat pat we went, as if expecting a list to pop out of a pocket like Jack out of the box.

Because a list is supposed to make preparations easier, Headwind doesn’t mind losing his. That makes it easier for him to do things the hard way, which he prefers. He takes the road less travelled unless he finds one that is never travelled, which he also prefers. That’s why we call him Headwind.

I said before that the trip would be eclectic, meaning we meant to try different stuff — fly, spinning and plug casting. We each have a first choice, fly for me and spin for him, but we’re not snobbish about it. When we fish together, I usually start with fly and he starts with spin. If one method works and the other doesn’t, someone switches to whatever does.

That’s about as far as our organizational skills go, because with all the flies, plugs, spinners, jigs, terminal tackle and whatnot that we feel we must tote, it’s not possible to organize the boat efficiently. Makes no difference whether it’s my 10-horse 15-foot four incher or Headwind’s 150-horse 21-footer.

That doesn’t make sense, does it? If we’re each bringing three rod and reel outfits, then there’s a finite amount of other tackle we need for those — X number of plugs, so many jigs, a reasonable assortment of surface and streamer flies. Only the size of the boat we take makes a difference, right? Ha ha. No.

On this particular trip, we planned to take my little boat. It’s real ideal for the shallow mudflats and narrow creeks of Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands. That thing almost floats on dry land at dead low tide. If we run aground, we can put a few ounces of fluid over the side and we’re floating again.

Water, of course. What did you think?

The trouble with using my boat is that we reach our cargo capacity pretty quickly. The rods and reels go in horizontal and vertical racks, non-fishing essentials in the amidships hatch, tackle bags and boxes on the deck and us... we?

Two men to add. Where do those go? There’s a bow seat and a stern seat on little elevated decks. When all our stuff’s stashed and we’re not, we need ballet shoes to step aboard on tiptoe. It’s that or tread flatfooted on something expensive.

A lot of our stuff was still on the garage floor when we got to that point. Then came the agonizing part, figuring out what to leave behind. It’s like trying to fit a big story in a small space. You write too much and then have to trim it back. Sometimes you can lop a paragraph or two painlessly, but soon you’re rewriting eight-word sentences in five words and then you’re replacing eight-letter words with five-letter words.

“I’m thinking maybe we should up-boat,” Headwind said, and I was thinking maybe yes.

There’s a natural law that says when fishing-doers do that, they still wind up over-stocking the bigger boat. I think it was Izaak Walton who figured that out. Headwind thinks it was Isaac Newton.

Anyway, we started transferring our stuff to Headwind’s bigger vessel, feeling good about giving ourselves more leg and foot room, when along came Justin Casey.

“Uh-oh,” we muttered in unison before Justin came close enough to overhear.

Don’t get me wrong. We love Justin like a brother, but every time we talk with him we end up hauling even more stuff than we need or even want.

He understands: “You may not really, truly, absolutely need more than one rod and reel or more than one lure or fly, or so many yards of leader material,” he likes to say. “But if all you have is one of each basic essential, a fish will bite off your leader or something will break or fall overboard, and then — dum da dum dum! — you’ll wish you had another.”

So Justin Casey preaches bringing at least two of everything, just in case we’ll need it. And who can say he’s wrong?

So, just in case tarpon wouldn’t be biting but snapper and sea trout would, I added a 7-weight fly rod to the 9 and 10-weights I was taking already. I added my backup spinning rod. I have only one saltwater plug rod. Headwind has several. Justin talked him into bringing spares for both of us.

All that meant we also needed smaller lures and flies to supplement the bigger ones we already had on aboard. Our tackle bags and boxes were full, so Justin went to his pickup and brought out more, which did not surprise us. Even when he’s not going fishing, he carries extra gear.

Then he gave us a couple of bait buckets, explaining that it wouldn’t do to crowd all our live bait into just one.

“We’re not planning to use live bait,” Headwind told him.

“If you don’t have any, you will need it,” Justin said. “What if the tarpon aren’t biting? What if the trout and snapper aren’t taking artificials?”

We had to admit he had a point. That reminded us, we needed bait hooks.

Headwind and I had not been able to find our checklists, but Justin had several. We used one to make sure we hadn’t overlooked anything important.

We climbed into Headwind’s truck, ready to head for Everglades City. We thanked Justin Casey and promised to bring some snapper and sea trout home for him.

“Wait just a second,” he said and walked back toward his own truck. A moment later we heard some kind of clunk sound on the boat behind us.

I leaned out the window and asked Justin what that was.

“An extra cooler,” he said. “You might need it for my fish.”