NORTH FORK OUTDOORS/Martin Garrell: The race doesn’t always go to the swift

All outdoors persons function best at a pace that is comfortable for them. For some it’s fast, really fast. For others like me, it’s slower. Although some of my companions ridicule me at times for being “half-fast,” I take the kidding and the intended pun with a proverbial grain of salt.

Some years back, in road events like mini-triathlons or sprint triathlons, I usually finished well back in the pack, which kept getting smaller as the years went on. Still, I loved the competition and the way it kept me training to stay in shape. Janet, my wife, has a longer stride and longer legs, so I always trailed behind when we hiked our way through many of the Adirondacks’ high peaks during the last decade. Still, we always finished together and took in the great views together. When taking a field trial judging assignment, I usually keep my horse at a steady walk, often following the slower of two bracemates if and when we separate, and sometimes getting hung up looking for a dog that’s drifted off the field edge and into the woods. Still, when “time” is called, I’m back together with my judicial partner, ready to discuss the dogs or begin the next brace.

Fast doesn’t always get the job done. The angler who beats everyone else, firing that first cast or dropping a rig to the bottom had better be sure knots are solid, drags are set up right and reels don’t backlash. Hair-trigger reflexes may be fine for scup, but seldom for tautog and almost never for large fish that take time to seize a lure and turn. How many times have we seen anglers literally pull a lure out of the mouth of a trophy striper closing on a surface popper by not waiting to feel the weight of the fish and instead striking at the initial splash! Sometimes we tell neophytes that the best thing to do is not to watch the surface lure at all, but to retrieve with eyes averted, then wait for the pull that follows the “take.” This holds for big trout and salmon and all the pikes as well as for stripers.

The best wing shots have different timing, too. The late Frank Manarel, a companion for most of a decade, was the most efficient we ever saw on East End game birds. He mounted a shotgun quickly and smoothly, but always took his time swinging and leading whatever he targeted. His favorite shotgun, a 12-gauge Parker Trojan with modified- and full-choke barrels, was conducive to deliberate shooting, too.

Indeed, when it came to pheasant and ducks, we never saw him miss a bird! Frank suggested, however, that ruffed grouse, quick on the takeoff and flying erratically through cover that often screened them, gave him fits. That made sense to us. The only companion of ours who ever had high percentages (over about 30 percent) on “partridge” was Larry Strait, a former DEC wildlife biologist who pursued grouse with a passion and shot a 20-gauge Charles Daly choked improved cylinder and modified. Larry mounted that gun with lightning speed, trying to spot the muzzle ahead of the bird at the moment the stock hit his shoulder so he could get his first shot off immediately. If he missed, he kept swinging on the bird so he could find it and lead it with the second tube. Over the decades it seemed he put more birds on the table with his second shot, and we reckoned his overall percentage, i.e., birds brought to hand by either one or two shots, to be pretty close to 50.

How you handle hooked fish says something about your outdoor approach. The “slam, bam” technique, delivering a fish to boatside as quickly as possible, used to be called “horsing” or “reefing.” Today, with fishing competitions so widespread, every minute spent “playing” a fish is deemed wasted and the overall tally in numbers of fish caught or poundage of fish caught while culling smaller fish is what counts. Our first mentors in salt water used to say that working with fish on the line was really what they enjoyed the most rather than casting all day long. They also balanced tackle so that it was risky to push big fish too hard without breaking lines or pulling hooks. Turning the reel crank with unbreakable lines wasn’t possible then. We’re still old-fashioned, I guess.

In the end, you have to adopt the technique that suits you. Two weeks ago, at the end of a day of skiing in Vermont, I tried to stay on Janet’s heels on a long trail. On the flat at the bottom, I ran the skis together, sat back, and crouched to gain speed. I never saw the rut that caught a ski, and the crash was spectacular. I shook off the splat with a slightly bruised rib and a bruised ego.

“Fast” just isn’t my style!