Fool School

A SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA KAYAK angler recently lucked into a great story to tell. He landed a 74-pound, five-foot-long white sea bass, but not before it dragged him around for 35 minutes. He took pictures to document the occasion and took the fish to Dana Landing to be weighed and measured. He has a great verified story to tell. And maybe as the years pass, the details will get embellished slightly — it dragged him for an hour, it was six feet long, it jumped in the air and slapped him in the face with its tail in a final act of defiance — but his story has truth on its side.

Not all fish stories start from truth and grow from there. Many start from a position of embellishment and get embellishier as time passes. In honor of April and its fool-centric opening day, we’ve decided to help anglers out there tell a better fish story.

There has to be a nugget of truth. Every good lie — or embellishment — has an element of truth to it. You should probably choose a fish species you’re familiar with, so the description is plausible. If you claim the pointy bill on your mahi mahi was longer than your arm, your story is dead in the water. Also, if you claim to have been on the water all day, you better not look like a Norwegian in January — have some color to your skin.

The longer your arms are, the easier it is to stretch the truth. Why? Well, because most longtime fishermen have used their arms as an example of a fish they’ve caught, and if they doubt the veracity conveyed by your arms, what’s to keep others from doubting the veracity conveyed by theirs?

Pictures can help or hinder. For photos to help, you have to know how to pose the catch. This element relates to the previous one. The key, when photographing a fish, is to hold it as far in front of your body as possible, making it appear to be larger than it is while making yourself appear small by comparison. If you have chimpanzee arms, your photo is sure to impress. If you have T. Rex arms, perhaps you should stick to the truth.

Make sure the species is still in existence. Yes, once every lifetime or two some fisherman somewhere catches a coelacanth, which was presumed extinct for, oh, 65 million years, but that doesn’t mean you can claim to have landed a megalodon with your daughter’s “Frozen” starter pole.

The story needs to be repeatable. Don’t get bogged down in tenths of pounds or fractions of inches. Round numbers are easier to remember from telling to telling, and if you’re not trying to get your mostly imaginary catch into the record books, the three-tenths of a pound or the quarter of an inch is unnecessary. Also, don’t worry about exactly where you caught it. Anglers are loathe to give up a hotspot anyway, so keep it general. “Three miles north northwest of San Miguel Island.” Too much. “Pacific Ocean.” Just right.

Good luck out there. And if luck evades you, get your story straight.