I have been having a super swamped kind of month already in early November. I am not complaining in any way – just leading in, feeding you some currency as backstory to my sprawling backstory poised to unfold below.Big Canoe rainbow trout

This swamped feeling is due in part, to taking off time to do some trouting last month. Now of course, in addition to adding a new word to your list of my little known favorites (look beyond Urban Dictionary to the Oxford for my meaning here, you goofballs), true to form on my fishing-picture-related posts, I will naturally spin out a nice analogy of why this trip was like making marketing decisions.

Hitting the Plan

It’s been a good year, so I decided to rent a cabin for a week in the North Georgia mountains to enjoy the autumn color changes, and do some fishing before it gets too cold and shuts me down until the Spring. I thought I would simply work there instead of here, but we’ll laugh at that idea later. My family was busy with normalcy and couldn’t go, so I brought down a friend from Wisconsin, Brad, who is a writer with me (score: we can work on stuff), and a devout fisherman (slam dunk: this is the point) – I figured we could work on some projects occasionally, and fish a lot. Brad and I go back as far as you can with a person, so we stood  less of a chance in making each other kill, quietly in the night, some time around mid-week. A plus, in cabin dwelling. Lack of murder always makes a visit more special.

Brad flew in on a Sunday, and I was an hour late to get him, because I printed off his Central (Milwaukee) times, not mine here in Atlanta…I am a horrible friend in these cases. Best intentions, but ridiculously childish in my mistakes. I tried to remind him once I finally scooped him up, he had nowhere to be for a week so it was no big deal…but it is a long drive home from the airport with very little room for proper tap dancing in my soccer-mom-mobile.

At my house, I loaded the car, while Brad watched the Packer game with my wife and son. He had called the marina, and we knew we had to get there before 6, if we wanted to get licenses that evening. We did, of course. We went shopping for food basics for the week, and picked up whatever stuff I didn’t have at home – however, I did not have time to swing by anywhere to grab fresh line…assuming it would be fine. But a couple quick stops along the way, and we were off to the cabin.

None of this would have anything much to do with marketing analogies – much too boring. Keep your pants on, we’ll get there soon enough. You could say, stocking-up properly and doing a little preliminary research is essential to finding success. Not buying fresh line was concerning, but Brad intentionally doesn’t shop at Wal-Mart, and there was nowhere else close we could go, quickly. I had 5 poles, so figured among them I’d be fine. We knew we’d only need licenses there, and had a ton of lures and such so we were set.

The Cabin

Not sure what you might be envisioning, as a cabin can mean a lot of different things. We were at a place called Big Canoe, which is a little set of subdivisions sitting in a nature preserve in North Georgia. It has two gorgeous mountain lakes on its property and a cluster of mid-size mountains: it is self-contained and gated by a guard house – so seemed like a cool enough place. For two guys who basically wanted to stay out of each others’ way until we got to fishing all day every day, it was perfect.

On the right, is the view from the porch – it was where we ended up spending a lot of time doing nothing but sitting there, looking at that. Brad saw a big buck bounding thru the woods one morning, and we’d sometimes see other deer (the does and fawns) milling about.

That was the cool thing here, a lot of things like deer or turkeys that you run into as you were meandering, or in our case – sitting. I saw a herd of 8 deer in one place, and we came across this flock of about 25 wild turkeys, which was really cool to see for me – I have never seen that many in a small place, in the wild. Well, as wild as those clumps of suburban houses are amidst all this organic stuff.

wild turkeysIt is hard to see them because of the iPhone picture from the car, but if you look in the pic to the left, you can see a bunch of the turkeys messing around there in the tree cover…I think I counted seven or eight of them. You have to click the picture to see it larger, but this was one of about 4 clusters of them we found all along a quiet little stretch of road.

On the right over here, you can see how close we could get to them and not spook them – they did not act like normal wild turkeys.turkey in the road But the deer were the same way in that you could get strangely close to them. Just used to it (people being everywhere, harmless), but still – odd to see that level of domestication for lack of a better word, when every other encounter in the “wild” is something much different.

I quickly tested the Internet signal at the cabin when we got there, and it was next to nothing – so I said we’d simply think about work when we were off the lake and at night. They had good signal at a couple of the restaurants, so we could work there. (haha – I am funny.)

We actually drove right to the marina when we arrived at Big Canoe instead of the cabin – as Brad learned, they are a private lake requiring a special license, and we wanted the license immediately. Brad had called them from Milwaukee and said when we were coming in, but when we got there a few minutes before 6 as we had told them, no one was there, and it was all locked up. No one on the lake, either. So we checked out the lake, which was SUPER deep and incredibly clear water, and we saw some nice bass drift by us along the bank – making me pretty excited about the week to come.

So here is the set-up for the analogy: we wanted to catch trout that they stocked in this lake, and maybe some of those nice drifting bass, too. Think of it like we were trying to use our earned expertise to enter a completely new, yet promising – although very externally controlled – marketplace. There were specific costs and barriers for entry to keep out the normal people (you had to pay to play, which we did) – and there was the promise of very big fish (reward) if we could find them with the right stuff.

Stinkbait Sheeple

So the next morning, Brad and I went to the marina and arranged a boat and licenses for the week. The boathouse guys were very nice, and made us a good deal – one that allowed us to come and go as we pleased, and be able to take out a jonboat whenever we wanted to without anyone’s help.

We asked the guys how to fish the lake, and they said the best thing to catch the trout was to use some drifting stinkbait suspended at the right depth to find them, which was currently about 30 feet down.

Stinkbait is a manufactured bait that you form on a hook (like a little neon dough ball), and it might have glitter in it, and true to its name – it stinks. For guys who like fishing, it can be a very sad way to go after the fish – kind of like simply waiting for a fish to see or smell your unnatural bait, opposed to targeting them and trying to tempt them with something mimicking actual fish behaviors. Not much skill needed to stinkbait. Definitely not something we were too happy about doing, but we wanted to catch the fish so acquiesced.

The way this lake went, they had a bunch of pontoon boats that they rented to folks for a 2-hour minimum drift. Some of them would fish – so they had that stinkbait program driving out in full force – selling lots of it from the boathouse to those pontoon sheeple. Made sense: high price for what it was, easy to stock and maintain, easy for anyone to use without skill. And no doubt, it would have to work sometimes because they kept putting in fish throughout the year, limiting how many could be taken per day.

Brad and I loaded our stuff into a jonboat and hit the lake. It was truly gorgeous there – this was a smallish lake of a few acres, but it was super deep – going down to 70-80 feet in places it seemed, water was clear as could be. We had a stinkbait rod rigged, and while that drifted along we used our own stuff out there a little as well to see what we could drive up…throwing out spinners and other lures that we used in other fishing instances. Being a bass guy (more than trout), I went after them a bit – and managed to pull up a big one who spit the lure, then later caught a couple smaller ones on the banks.

Trout caught on Big Canoe lakeBut the interesting thing was, while we were drifting along on that first day, I threw out a crankbait thinking I might be able to entice a decent bass with it, and without expecting it I brought up and landed a nice, big fat trout.

This trout hit on a lure about 10-15 feet below the surface, not at the 30-foot depth all the stinkbait sheeple and the boathouse guys told us to use. And it was on a rapidly moving crankbait – not a slow-drifting stinkbait.

We saw it as a fluke – that this big trout was not acting the way we expected the farm-raised trout to be acting. But our stinkbait floated along, as did our worms and whatever else we tried – and nothing else seemed to have any effect at all.We thought of the farm-pig-fish down there like the turkeys in the road – not acting at all like normal fish probably do.

I caught three of them that first day using my normal approaches – two bass, and a big trout – but Brad got skunked. Probably because he was manning our local efforts (being stinkbait champion) and driving the boat. Of course, he heard about his lack of fish more than I did about being an hour late to the airport…but that is how we roll in the cabin.

To bring this into the analogy: we adopted the suggested strategies of the new marketplace and did not have a lot of luck. However, by bringing what had worked in other markets into this new, untried market (even though it was an uncommon approach here), predictable results were again achieved – though seen as a fluke. There was also a bit of a blind eye being turned toward the standard efforts – stinkbait may have been selling well at the boathouse, but the trout didn’t seem to be on board with that idea much at all. Think of it like all of the marketers are selling one plan, one direction – but the audience is burned out in seeing it so often, and rarely reacts anymore – they are longing for something new, so there is a disconnect. No action.

Days Crawling By

fall on Big Canoe lakeThat is how it began, and really, how it continued for the next few days. Brad and I would go out in the morning and fish until early afternoon (cast and drift, really), then we’d stop for lunch and getting out of the sun – coming back in the late afternoon to hit it again until it got dark. We brought laptops to lunch, but really, did not do much more than check emails and do a little surface stuff.

The idea of actually doing serious work this week was quickly becoming a joke…we did talk about some projects as we drifted around during the day, but we were certainly not cranking on it like I may have one time believed we would. No complaints: we were in a good place with the schedule to take this time and enjoy it offline a little bit. I rarely take a day off, so I saw it as piling them all from a few past months into one week.fall colors at Big Canoe

But unfortunately, we were far from catching the trout hand-over-fist like we had thought we would. There was a daily limit of four you could take, but by the third day, I had only caught two and Brad had caught one (we were letting them go). We broke it up by fishing the other lake one afternoon, and Brad caught some beautifully big panfish and a couple fiesty bass – but we were getting disgruntled by the ratio of time-in-boat to fish-on-hooks. To say it was slow, is being nice…it was just about dead to us. As dead as something so beautiful can be, of course.

Part of the issue, was our uncertainty in dealing with farm-raised fish. The reason they used stinkbait is because it resembled the feed that the fish had in the hatcheries. We also learned that they auto-fed the fish in the lake – so we envisioned these fat, lazy trout who sat around watching TV, and gobbling up the free feeder-food instead of acting like wild trout do. We still thought the big one I got the first day was a fluke – and we continued to try to hit them using the suggested methods of the boathouse, slow and drift-like.

The trees, the lake, the weather and everything was truly spectacular every single day, so it was kind of hard to complain about not finding the trout so easily…but of course as true fisherman, we found a way.  Brad had to fly back home on Friday, so by Wednesday, it was feeling kind of dire: we were doubting our own abilities, even though we had been using mostly locally suggested tactics. I caught a trout and kept him, thinking we’d get a couple more and make dinner out of them. Yet as we watched all the pontoons drift lazily by, filled with either families or groups of older friends (even saw one wedding party grabbing idyllic pix out there one day), only some of them were fishing, and they were having less luck than us.

But then we saw a guy fishing differently, and it changed everything, really.

Watching Performance, Competitive Analysis

Through our efforts, Brad and I had found that the mouths of these coves around the lake seemed to be good spots, and we were concentrating there. But on Wednesday afternoon, we saw a guy who was on his own in a jonboat, obviously a local who knew his way around the lake. He had two rods trailing out something behind him on each, as he slowly trolled around (not sitting and drifting, as was the norm here). He came by close enough to us, that I asked if he was hitting anything, and he said one (on his next pass, he had two) – and I of course Brad's big trout at Big Canoeasked if he was using stinkbait. He said no – he was using lures quite like I had on the first day, when I caught the best trout of our week. And, he said he was hitting them at about 15-20 feet down, again in line with what we had seen, but completely different than the proposed strategy. The pontoon sheeple loved their stinkbait!

We immediately saw that we had similar lures, and got them rigged. So for the rest of the night and thru our last day, Brad and I were hurling lures, and we had strikes, and more action than in all the days leading up to it. More importantly, it allowed us to fish using our experience and skills – not simply sitting there waiting on stinkbait to become attractive, like the pontoon sheeple.

By the time we ended our last night, Brad caught a real beauty who he released as we saw she was full of eggs, and just as we ended, he caught another, a perfect eating-size one which we took home, to match the one I had taken home the previous day.

I cleaned them, and we stuffed them with lemon and fresh dill, baking them. Our last dinner together was trout, which seemed very fitting.

Friday came, and I took Brad to the airport (on time!) and returned to clean-up the cabin, and enjoy a final afternoon and evening out there, alone.

So in our analogy, think of it like we used the week as a way to collect data. It is unfortunate that we did not have more fishing action, but we did manage to collect a good amount of data by approaching it methodically. We had some better success when we turned toward our experience, rather than the ideas of the pontoon sheeple – they, after all, were not really fishing, as much as enjoying the lake. The measures of success were miscommunicated, or misunderstood by us…but we collected data every day to try to figure it out.

Using the Data

evening on big canoe lakeOn Friday afternoon when I returned alone, I hit the lake and I trolled around in the manner I saw the other guy doing a couple nights earlier. I did not catch much at all and had a lot of problems with two of my three poles – the line was all old and awful, tangling too much. I had not taken the time to get fresh line (d’oh!), so had no way to do anything about it, especially while out on the water.

The lack of fresh line had really kept me from bass fishing too much too, because effective bass fishing needs you to try different lures to find the right one, and my line situation was not making that quick-switching easy, if even possible.

Even while my lures were effectively down there though, I was fumbling around so much out on my own, I was not getting any bites – making it a very frustrating night. Plus, the boat’s motor seemed to die on me (same thing happened to Brad and I a couple times), and I barely made it back to the dock – almost paddled in, and it likely would have been quicker. But I really did not mind, as the evening was simply breathtaking.

There were also a lot of nice sheeple out there that night, and everyone was very pleasant to talk to.

big canoe jonboats

I asked on my way out, and the friendly boathouse guys said I could have the boat again on Saturday – so I figured I would load up in the morning, then spend the day out there by myself and see what I could do.

That night, I brought my laptop to a restaurant and actually worked thru dinner – a couple solid hours worth, which was more concentrated time than I had done it all week, and dinner was good…so success on both counts.

The amazing thing though, and nice wrap to our analogy and this now sprawling tale, was the last day’s efforts – I ended up bringing 10 trout out of the water, and got 7 into the boat. It took me running the batteries down on 3 jonboats to do it, but really, the action was a couple hours straight, of me simply hitting the hell out of them.

Big Canoe troutI had limited the poles I could use, because my line problem was not to be solved. So I took the crankbait that had got me my biggest trout (it had not hit another one for me yet), and started throwing it around the mouths of the coves, in all the places where Brad and I had found them before. I hit a couple, but soon, I located a little hotspot (one he and I had missed), and noticed I was getting strikes a LOT in the same general area. Those strikes soon turned into trout in the boat.flipping trout

I was letting them go, but then saw a family fishing on a nearby bank (having no luck – using stinkbait and worms) who asked me for some fish, if I didn’t mind. I didn’t – and went to the productive spot, and caught 4 of them in about 10 minutes, throwing them on the bank for the family to take home to eat. I caught a total of 10 – but 3 flipped off in the air on the way to the boat.

None of these guys were the large size that both Brad and I had landed during the week -but they were active as could be, and it was incredibly exciting to me to be out there, hitting them. I spent all day, from about 10 am until maybe 7 pm, stopping only to change boats. Not to eat, mind you. The action was concentrated to a few hours in there, but every minute I spent out there was lovely. the king of trouting crankbaits

And I was not changing lures, or trying other options – I was nailing them on only one lure, the one I had brought out for a bass. The bass were hitting on something that looked like a small trout – so my normal attack was not as effective as it could have been there, because I was not thinking of it correctly.

So to bring this round to finish the analogy: we entered a closed market to compete, willing to pay-to-play, and follow established protocols. There was a common methodology(stinkbaiting) being touted by everyone except the trout – and the one local guy we saw actually catching multiples on a single effort, on purpose. We pitched the norm, and trusted the power of our experience to find better fish, and did. And when all of the ideas were brought together, and the data was compiled (the mouths of coves worked, stinkbait didn’t, crankbait did, drifting didn’t, moving or trolling did, timing had loose patterns to it) I was able to go in, and score really really big.

That last day was so relaxing, yet exciting and all the while, totally beautiful: just a perfect way to end a nice week. I wish Brad had been there to hit them big with me, but we had a good time together anyway. I drove out of Big Canoe, and held the camera out the window for the last leg – you can end my little mini-vacation with me as soon as I get around to putting that video clip out here…got a lot of other more pressing things to catch up on first unfortunately.

Small price to pay, and I am willing. 🙂

So in trouting, or in marketing, don’t be afraid to:

  • Pay to play sometimes, it can be rewarding to prod new territories
  • Adopt the local mentality, and use common plans/ideas – drifting stinkbait is ALWAYS going to work, sooner or later…could take a loooong time to get there though
  • Trust in your experience to lead you to try proven things in new places
  • Collect data, and use the results to refine and guide more effective future efforts
  • Be aggressive and persistent enough to turn trusted techniques into new-market success stories