Something to consider, how many times has another fisherman, discussing your successful fishing trip asked, “what did you get them on?” This is usually the wrong question. The lure or fly is usually only a very small portions of the reason your fishing trip was a success. The reasons you caught fish could have been the time of year, depth of the water, bait that was present, type of retrieve, depth of the retrieve, style of the retrieve (fast, slow, pauses in between strips), been there many times before, etc. What does all this mean? It means you have paid your dues and spent time on the water.
There is no substitute in the world for time spent actually fishing. Yes, you can get solid information from people that do spend time out there, and yes, you will sometimes catch fish because of their generosity, but they can not put the fish on your line. You must do this and experience on the water is your best teacher.
Successful fishermen are the fishermen that fish regularly. The better ones also are very observant and are attuned with the environment and the entire “goings on” of nature in general. An example of this…have you ever been fishing an area and have been doing well, and then the fish stopped biting, but the tide is still running? Of course you have, but did you realize that the birds aren’t singing or flying or the squirrels aren’t scurrying around the shore like they were awhile back. This is a time of rest for the animals, and fish usually do the same thing. It could be barometric pressure, moon phase and hundreds of other possibilities that we really don’t understand, but for one reason or another, all of nature has shut down for a period of time. This is a good time for us too, this is the time to just sit back and maybe eat lunch and wait for nature to start up again. This is being observant.
Successful fisherman are also fisherman that have been in countless fishing situations where they can reach back in their memory banks on how they have fished a certain group of circumstances successfully in the past and change their fishing techniques to answer that particular problem. This is time on the water. You can’t teach it, you need to experience it.
Fishing is not an exact science. Situations change by the day, sometimes by the minute and you need to change also. Maybe the retrieve you were using to catch those stripers near a set of pilings is no longer working, but you are sure the fish are still there. What do you do? Change flies or lures? Change you position? Change your retrieve? You might need to experiment, but if you had experience fishing this location in the past, then you would know what techniques should bring a few more fish.
Some fishermen keep logbooks on the trips and enter pertinate information like tides, wind direction, best time of day, etc, etc. This can be a valuable tool in your learning to be a successful fisherman. How elaborate your log needs to be is up to you. I have kept a fishing log since 1973 of my fishing experiences and have used them numerous times for many reasons, for example, what time of year was best for a certain river for a certain species and so on. I average over hundred plus days a year on the water and have built up a large archive of useful information to help me become a more successful fisherman. A quick glance at my records help me determine the best location, tide, wind direction for a given time of the year and for what fish species I’m trying to target. As I have gotten older, I can’t rely on my memory for all of that the information, I need some help and this refreshes my mind, of course, until I forget again.
Everyone reads the exploits of other fisherman on the web and in newspaper articles and some just jump in their boats on their days off and run right to the “hot spot” that they have been reading about all week. Sometimes they catch fish, despite not knowing a thing about the area they are going to, but more likely they don’t usually do very good until they have given the area several other tries. Why does this happen? It could be many factors, but more then likely they have started to become familiar with the particulars of the area. This is time on the water, watching other fisherman, observing when the fishing is best because of tides, winds, etc. They are starting to pay their dues and this usually means they are on their way to becoming successful fisherman.
This doesn’t just apply to the salt, but any water. I fished ponds in Delaware for years and can relate the same conditions and techniques described above. I see other fishermen fishing these same waters and observed they are not fishing the water right for the time of year or conditions. Time on the same waters will make you more successful. Spend time on the water and learn the waters, it will make you a better fisherman. Good luck.