The Trials and Tribulations of the Multi-Species Angler



Some anglers are just built different. Their minds are often elsewhere, they seem distracted most of the time. Even while they are on the water, they find themselves wondering how the river smallmouth bite would have been if they weren't currently out striper fishing. No matter how good (or bad) the fishing they are currently experiencing is, they know there's always another bite going on, or coming up just around the corner to look forward to. Many of these phenomena overlap throughout the season, leaving the Multi-Species Angler (MSA) torn as to where to go and what to target. This creates a very unique feeling of anxiousness and unrest in the mind of the MSA, wanting to make the most of their precious time on the water. Thousands of miles are driven to chase the many species of fish that are so sought after, driving all over the state, region, or country. Many habitats and fishing situations with many different variables are encountered, and each one is a different puzzle to try and assemble. This is what the MSA lives for. The absolute mess of fishing tackle in the MSA's truck, kayak center hatch, or on the deck of their boats is a tangled nightmare of spinnerbaits, rusty striper plugs and other treble hooked lures, jigs of all styles, and tattered soft plastics capable of catching any species under the sun. Rods and reels for every occasion are within arms reach, leader material ranging from 2#-60#, and more terminal tackle than you will ever need in a single lifetime. It can be an expensive way to go through life, and it can be rather exhausting at times too. There is always this feeling of needing to catch more, bigger, or different fish. The MSA's list of personal bests lives in their head rent-free, and is laid out like an Excel spreadsheet. Even the bad trips fuel the addiction, leaving the MSA wondering what they could have done differently to catch their target species or to have gotten more bites, and wondering how they would have faired if they chose a different species to target that day. No matter what mix of species comprise your list of seasonal targets, if this sounds like you, you know the very real pain of being a Multi-Species Angler. You are built different.


One of the many positives of being a Multi-Species Angler is having backup plans. This big largemouth was caught on a plug I was throwing for stripers only hours before. When the bite shut down, I relocated.

Since being in two (or more) places at once isn't an option, the MSA has to make a solid decision on where to fish on any given outing. There is no right answer, because sometimes there are several right answers. Wanderlust can sometimes be the driving force behind this, getting sick of the same setting and same bite, day in and day out. Even if the fishing is exceptionally good, sometimes we get burnt out on doing the same thing all the time. If you are experiencing great fishing for a particular species for days on end, you are likely dialed in. Things will change though, and you can quit while you're ahead and seek a new challenge, or you can stick it out and try to figure out those fish you were hammering once the conditions become tough. What do you do? One the one hand, a change of scenery and new fishing situations might be exciting and keep you focused. On the other, it may be beneficial to stick it out through the hard times and figure out the bite in negative conditions.


Actual photos of me deciding where to go fishing.

Having options can be a double edged sword, and create a feeling of anxiety in the MSA. On the positive side, if conditions restrict targeting one species, there is always a fallback plan. On the negative side, when conditions are great for both situations, it can be tough to settle on just one. Some bodies of water allow multiple species to be targeted with success, not just haphazard bycatch. Other pieces of water only allow for one option, or none if the bite is off or if fish cannot be located. Obviously, some options are more attractive than others, but there are a lot of factors to think about, and it can be daunting at times. I have actually missed fishing windows due to overthinking every little detail trying to figure out where to go and what to target. Wind, tides, cloud cover, water clarity, traffic on the way to the launch and on the way home, how busy the launch will be, cold front moving in shutting the bite down, the list goes on. The variables are different for every spot and species the MSA has in mind, and a well thought out choice must be made.


As a kayak angler, typically I'm game for a maximum of two separate launches within a day of fishing. Kayak fishing does limit how much water you can cover in comparison to a motorized vessel, and the kayak angler is committed to a certain area within a few miles of the chosen launch. If you pick wrong, you can either pack up and relocate, or tough it out, try to figure something out, or go home. Toughing it out can make you a better angler in the long run, because it forces you to pick a select area apart, and experience how the fish relate to (or avoid) the area on different stages of the tide or varying conditions. It can also be very frustrating, leaving you wondering had chosen another spot, would you have had better results? Or perhaps chosen a different species to target instead of forcing the bite for the uncooperative species? One of my favorite things about kayak fishing though, is the ability to be able to pack up and move. Certain days, the stars will align for the kayak MSA, tides and conditions allow for multiple launches on cooperative fish in varying habitats. These are the days the MSA wishes they could experience every time they're able to get out fishing.


It is not uncommon for many multi-species kayak anglers to make multiple launches over the course of a day, sometimes in very different habitats.

If you're anything like me, you switch back and forth between saltwater and freshwater species quite often, sometimes by the day. I'm all over the map. Organization goes completely out the window, and at least half a dozen times throughout the season I will have to drop everything and take a half day just to get reorganized, putting baits back in their respective homes, sorting through used but still useable soft plastics, and taking inventory to make sure I'm not running too low on the stuff that works. One of the worst parts of fishing both salt and freshwater, and I think this holds especially true for kayak anglers, and I'm sure you'll agree if you are one, is swapping back and forth between saltwater and freshwater gear in your vehicle. Maybe this is true for all anglers to some extent. On more than one occasion, I have left my house early in the morning to get on a first light topwater striper bite, only to find my largemouth and smallmouth gear still in my car from the previous trip. D'oh! And yes, I have made due with the freshwater tackle in my car several times, catching up to 30 lb. bass on heavier largemouth setups jigging 10" ribbon tail worms. The opposite however (using saltwater gear on freshwater fish), seldom works out in our favor. The gear is too heavy and gaudy. In the month of June however, I have caught some very big largemouth in lakes with landlocked alewife using smaller striped bass plugs, Mag Flukes, and bucktails I hand tied for fluke and sea bass. If you think about it, a bucktail is just an oversized hair jig. Both fish pictured below were caught on the same jig and medium spinning outfit, I believe on back to back days. So, there is certainly some crossover.


In the particular lake where this bucktail bass was caught, which in recent years has seen a rapid decline in both baitfish and sizeable bass, it used to be pretty common to see largemouth regurgitating 7-9" alewife mid fight, so I felt confident throwing those bigger saltwater lures. I feel like I could go off on a tangent (already did, and maybe I'll do a post on salt/fresh crossover), but long story short, it sucks not having the proper gear on hand, or forgetting gear when you make the salt to fresh (or fresh to salt) swap. My car is only so big (VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI), and as a kayak angler primarily, I only take with me what I know I'll use, and it just seems silly to drive around with both my fresh and saltwater gear all season. As a guide that switches up target species and habitats often, this can double my prep time in between trips. I could be showing clients the ropes on pike fishing one day, and dropping green crabs for blackfish the next. Obviously, there isn't much crossover in the necessary gear there, other than 50# fluoro leader material.


The MSA is always thinking about the next bite, no matter how good or bad the current situation is.

Aside from trying to figure out where to fish, what to fish for, and making sure the right gear is on hand to catch those fish, the MSA's brain will have a very hard time focusing on "real life" through much of the year. This can create some challenging situations with loved ones, work, and other aspects of your everyday life. The MSA will seem detached, distant, unable to be fully present in the moment. This is true even if your angling efforts are only focused on even one species. Take surfcasters for example. These guys are some of the most dedicated, eccentric, keyed in striped bass anglers out there. Moon phase calendars and tide charts are basically tattooed to the inside of their eyelids, that data is always running in the background, and it's hard to ignore. Anglers are a kooky bunch and we are all a little touched in the head to some degree, but I feel it has the ability to multiply by the number of species you put time into over the course of the season. There are certain months of the year where my brain turns to mashed potatoes thinking about all the fishing opportunities available. It becomes very hard to focus and be "in the moment" when doing almost anything other than fishing. I feel like I've stricken a balance with this issue over the past few years, but my FOMO mashed potato MSA brain has contributed to losing at least one relationship I valued dearly.



So what is the Multi-Species Angler to do to remedy these problems? The sad and unfortunate truth is, there is no cure for the MSA. It is a life long addiction, and you will forever be chasing these different dragons. It is like being trapped inside of a non-stop game of Pokèmon that you can't win, because you know there are more and bigger of each of your favorite fish out there to be caught. The only remedies for the MSA are mere band-aids. You must continue to regularly target your favorite fish and try your damnedest to keep your gear organized. Plan your season out according to your log books and what history predicts for future outings but at the same time be willing to change things up at the drop of a hat. Lastly, try to be present while out antiquing or picking pumpkins with the family while your buddies are posting photos of your favorite species on social media.


-JR