The Art of Fishing
Fishermen are Fishermen. The keys to success are the same. I don’t care if you’re fishing for bass in a local pond, fly fishing a world class river or trolling the gulf stream for marlin. Your still fishing – your tactics are different. A rigged ballyhoo used for ocean trolling is often as large as a quality trout from a small stream. It’s just a matter of scale. Most books, articles, radio and TV shows about fishing key in on tactics. Of course, you need to know the appropriate tackle and baits, flies or lures for your environment. That is what tactics is all about. I’m talking big picture stuff here – Strategy. Strategy wins wars; Tactics win battles. Good fishing strategies will often catch fish – regardless of tactics.
There is not much difference between fly fishers with a major in entomology and bait dunkers with a cooler of beer. They are both fishing. Their stereotypes are different and need no elaboration. We can make an assumption that most fishermen fall somewhere in between. There are beer drinking fly fishermen and bait dunkers interested in insects. The point here is that we are all fishing. If you use this lure, this way in this condition you will catch fish like us. Ever try it? Then you know how often it works – not very.
There is more to catching fish than how to’s. These are tactics, and yes, they are important. Just keep in mind that folks were out there catching fish before the latest greatest fish catching thingy a bob was conceived. The selection of shiny objects displayed in the aisles of sporting goods stores is mind boggling – and yes, they all catch fish. I will concede that different species are attracted to different presentations under varying conditions. There are also purists out there who will only fish a dry fly or use a night crawler. Tactics do have a place – just not here. This is about the mental game of fishing.
My goal here is to increase your enjoyment from fishing. Whether it is catching more fish, releasing more fish or enjoying nature, your success is defined by your expectations. Let’s start there.
An expectation is the idea in your mind before you start something. Expectations are the emotional side of goals. Your goal may be to catch a limit of trout or to release a 20” fish. Your expectations of this is the feeling you anticipate while doing it. The feeling you anticipate from success feels great – but what about if you don’t catch that limit? Even if the chance of failure was small, it is still enough to leave a nagging feeling in the back of your mind. I’m not one to lower expectations but really, is it realistic to think to your self that your outing is wasted if you don’t catch a limit? You will be focused on the feeling of failure all day, especially if the fishing is slow. Even success in your goal leads to anxiety. This expectation will lead to failure more often than success. You’ve got to get right in your mind before you set out the door. No negative thoughts
Much has been written about the mental game of golf. Golf is a game with attributes similar to fishing. First, you have time – no 24 second clock, two minute warning or need for time outs. The day is not over after your third bad cast. Time between a swing is the same as time between casts, lure or bait changes. You have to make a decision about what club to use in golf. Fishing you have to choose equipment as well, but that is usually defined before you leave the house. The decision in the field you need to make are where to cast to and what’s on the end of the line. There are intricacies in swing much akin to casting around obstacles. It is common in golf to hear that a player is ‘not on his game’. That’s the equivalent of getting skunked on a fishing trip. And the reasons are often the same.
The elements of the mental game are pretty simple. Stay in the present, focus on process, be flexible, respond to change, be patient and don’t get lazy. These are all strategy items. They apply to every situation you will be in unless the fish are literally jumping in the boat. If our fishing strategy is to make the best presentation to the most likely spot, stay with it for a while, evaluate conditions and adjust as they change we will likely have success. Then why don’t most fishermen do it? Many have preconceived notions of the hot lure or fly and actually tie it on before they hit the water. Some change presentations every five minutes – others not at all. This is not being flexible or responding to change. This is being stubborn and lazy.
Mastery is something folks talk about in golf or other sports, but not fishing. I would define mastery as doing things naturally. Zen like – doing without thinking. It is a trait expected in tournament captains, fly guides and the guy at the tackle store. What do they all have in common? Time. Tiger Woods succeeded at a very young age because he started at a very young age. These guys have the required ten thousand hours on the water. That’s what it takes to master something and most of us weekend hackers will never get there. The important thing here is knowing what it is and where you are on the curve to success. When you reach the point that you have forgotten more than most folks know you are on your way to being a master. Something I learned doing Martial arts applies here. You earn the belts leading up to black belt – you become a black belt. Mastery is a transformative process. As long as you stay on the path you will get better.