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February 01, 2010

On Your Own

Heading out solo offers a whole different experience, no matter where you fish, but particularly if you run any distance.

In most respects, for most anglers most of the time, fishing is a social and sociable activity. Part of the fun is sharing the action - and sometimes even more importantly, when circumstances necessitate, sharing the lack of it.

And I suspect the majority of us do most of our fishing with friends or family members. Plenty of good reason for that, besides sharing the fuel expense, including having help on board when needed.

Heading out solo, on the other hand, offers a whole different experience, no matter where you fish, but particularly if you run any distance. Anyone not used to fishing alone may experience an unfamiliar sense of both independence and vulnerability.

From my own days of fishing solo, I think it could be said that you're never more alone than when you're alone on the ocean. That's true whether or not you catch much. If you happen to hook a really big fish, then it's a whole different ball game when you enter Hemingway's Old Man's realm.

I suppose that realm can be good or bad, depending on one's mindset and on the outcome of solo fishing experiences. I think adventurous types, at least, would find it good.

I happened across one case in point recently on Sport Fishing's website. In a long, descriptive post, "Budman" relates his release in May of a large black marlin while fishing alone from his 22-foot Boston Whaler off northern Panama. Budman says he has caught many marlin over the years but always with assistance on board.

After spending two hours fighting not only the fish, but various obstacles he faced by virtue of being alone, the angler released his marlin. "This, I think, was the best adventure in my lifetime of fishing," Budman says. He calls catching the marlin unassisted "an unbelievable experience. I know now what the Old Man must have been thinking. Will anyone believe me?" (You can read the entire post in our general-fishing-discussion forum at

Well I, for one, believe you, Budman. That's because I've been there/done that, most recently off Cabo, as the feature on page 54 reveals in photos and text. While the marlin I released were a bit smaller, so was my boat - a 12-foot kayak.

But, interestingly, I had exactly the same reaction as you - the best fishing experience of my lifetime.

Why? It's hard to relate until one has experienced this, but much of it comes from the feeling of accomplishment that is truly difficult to replicate in fishing any other way, as well as the sense of a fight more fair on a playing field more level (speaking strictly figuratively in this case).

From the outset, when you paddle away from a mothership or land     and soon find you're truly on your own, it's revelatory. The fact is that  we all go through life pretty much dependent - on others, on machines, on schedules - and rely on the relative predictability of our daily world.

Suddenly, all that is gone. There's no one else to depend on. It's only you. And the world is now anything but predictable.

The experience would have to be good medicine for anyone who's grown too big for his britches, since sitting at water level on the vast ocean forces you to realize how small you are. Throw in some gray whales   nearby, and you may feel positively Lilliputian. Oddly, though - and I've talked to other kayakers who report the same sensation - you may also feel very much in control. Perhaps that's partly because you aren't relying on other people or machines.

If this is good medicine for large egos, I have to think it may also be wonderfully therapeutic for those of us who seek a big "time out" - from the endless demands and turmoil of our everyday lives. As SF 's Web master put it in his post acknowledging Budman's accomplishment, being out there solo gives you a "deeper sense of self."

And ultimately, being able to hook, fight and release marlin from my little piece of plastic honestly left me with an unparalleled sense of accomplishment.

There are risks to being on the ocean alone, whether in a kayak or even a center console, not to mention hassles. Assuredly, there are plenty of folks who'd probably find it either threatening or boring. Nor would I begin to advocate always fishing like a hermit, since fishing with pals and/or family is a wonderful experience - just a very different one.

Ultimately, I think some anglers would find, as did Budman and I,   that doing it on your own, properly outfitted and safety-equipped, can offer the sort of experience you wouldn't likely forget - nor want to.