There is no stopping time nor the changes associated with it. As a society or individually, we evolve. This is true when it comes to fishermen as well. No doubt, as a FishTalk reader you’ll fall into one of these categories.

the author fishing on the beach
The author has evolved... at least, he's evolved as an angler.

Phase One - Fun

The first time that you see ripples coming from the movement of a bobber, it’s just plain fun. Feeling a bent rod while winding in fish causes a rush of excitement and smiles. For many of us this first moment of fishing fun occurred just after learning to walk, and for others it may have taken until the teen years or even into adulthood. But that fun feeling was the same regardless of your age. Now, there are rumors of living breathing humans who do not like to fish. I assume these Neanderthals find it difficult inserting a hook through the lips of a minnow. Or get squeamish when blood squirts out on their shirt from a bloodworm. Some maybe even find the unique fragrance of cut squid lying in the sun offensive. Maybe some people just don’t evolve. However, assuming a person gets through these potential setbacks and doesn’t mind picking up fish and removing hooks, they become a Phase One fisherman and will have fun catching any type of fish when they have the opportunity to wet a line.

Phase Two - Enjoyment

A fisherman evolves into an angler during Phase Two. The first few times a person goes fishing it’s fun, but one day they realize enjoyment is derived from just casting a line. It becomes something to do often, and one then seeks out others who also find enjoyment in the sport. Fishing begins to replace some other hobbies.

Initially, Phase Two anglers usually only own a rod or two. But after a while the angler evolves within this phase, branching out and trying various forms of the sport. Fresh and saltwater, trolling, casting, bottom fishing, fly fishing, all different types of fishing is experienced and all provides enjoyment. Many rods and much gear begin to accumulate as this phase progresses. Fishing starts consuming more days off. Wetting a line for a couple hours after the work day becomes commonplace. Anglers find themselves being drawn towards one particular type of fishing that’s found to be the most enjoyable. This may be freshwater bass fishing, casting for stripers, climbing aboard headboats to drift for flounder or fish ocean wrecks for sea bass. Others may charter a boat on the Chesapeake for stripers or on the ocean for tuna and billfish. This is followed by that boat sitting in your driveway. Fishing provides reliable enjoyment and it becomes an important part of life. Most anglers stay in this phase. However, some of us are not content…

Phase Three - Obsession

This is an extremely dangerous phase. Sure, it starts out harmless enough as you find yourself fishing more and more. But fishing soon becomes a compulsion and a competition. Unless you’re laid up in the hospital, fishing is going to happen. The need to catch the most and biggest fish replaces enjoyment. A slow day of fishing causes disappointment and then cravings for better action and bigger fish. There is a thirst for knowledge, a desire to learn everything possible to increase the catch.

The last rod and reel you purchased cost more than an engagement ring. The growing popularity of new lures or products has your hands constantly reaching for the credit card. Then there is the next bigger boat; a slip at the marina seems like a good idea after trailering that new rig a couple of times. And don’t even think about throwing out those old copies of FishTalk Magazine piling up in the magazine rack.

Are you now content? NO! Dates for boat shows are circled on the calendar. Every weekend is spent fishing. If it's raining so hard fishing is impossible, the day is spent thinking about fishing and cursing the weather. All the while you’re watching the radar to see if a couple hours can be salvaged before day’s end. Family vacations must be planned near a body of water (BTW, the boat will get to go on vacation as well).

While at the bank signing the second mortgage papers so you can get that new sweet-smelling fiberglass fishing machine you fell in love with at the boat show, you turn to your spouse and say, “I promise this is the last boat, it is everything we need!” You say it in all honesty but you hadn’t yet seen the advertisements for the new side-scan sonar nor the high-speed deep-drop reel that just hit the shelves. These items are now added on to the “I need it” list.

Some anglers will decide it's not worth the effort, revert back to Phase Two, and just enjoy fishing on the new boat. However, others of us push on year after year, consumed with fishing. Some of us even find a job of some form within the fishing industry. The sport we loved and where enjoyment was once found... then evolves into… work?!?

For my part, chartering clients offshore seemed like one of, if not the, best job in the world. But fishing 15, 20, or more days in a row, getting up at 3 a.m., and then collapsing in bed for four or five precious hours of sleep, does actually get tiring. For anglers who do not get sucked down into the fishing job vortex, there’s probably a 40-hour grind each week at the office and your remaining waking hours are spent thinking about or actually fishing.

How many years has this been going on? One morning the alarm goes off, and for some unexplained reason you decide not to get up and go fishing. You call your buddy and let him know you’re not going to make it. You look at the cell phone to see if it’s working, and you think “huh, guess he hung up.” Driving to the marina he will be concerned about your mental and physical wellbeing, but this will pass as he steps on the boat and returns to thinking about... well, you know.

Phase Four - Consummation

If you reach this phase there’s a very long trail of suds in your wake. There is no way of knowing the amount of money you’ve spent on fishing over the decades, nor do you want to know. Now fishing occurs when the weather cooperates. There’s a good chance the boat has been downsized. Neither the number of fish caught nor their size is of much importance anymore. Catch and release is more important than a cooler full of fish. Between casts, your eyes soak in the beauty of an egret in statue form along the shoreline, rather than constantly scanning to see where the next cast should be placed. Those same eyes will drift off from the trolled baits, and you’ll allow yourself to become immersed by watching the graceful glide of a shearwater mirroring the rise and fall of the swells. Feet are propped up on slow days, and a nap is not out of the question.

When a fish hits the lure but the line doesn’t come tight, a smile crosses the same face that once would have mumbled a four-letter word. Sharing the sport with your grandkids and great-grandkids are now your favorite fishing days, and every single moment of them becomes the new most cherished fishing memory.

Once again, seeing ripples come from the bobber is just plain fun.

- Author John Unkart is FishTalk’s Coastal Correspondent and the author of “Offshore Pursuit” and “Saltwater Tales.” He is a former Baltimore County police officer, a former offshore charter boat mate, a former tournament angler, a current grandfather and great-grandfather, and a great man to call your friend.