Who's Keeping Score

Fly fishing: How do we measure success for a day on the water? Unless you're in a competitive angling situation, you're in control of the scoreboard.

Who's Keeping Score
trophy is a relative term

September 2020

I think it's fair to assume every angler hopes to catch big fish. As if fishing isn't addicting enough, the pursuit of top tier fish can really drive people to madness. Speaking from experience, the madness is quickly approaching, as spawning trout and salmon migrate up streams poised to save anglers from the late summer doldrums. But this isn't as much an article about fall spawning as much as it is about how the quest for the largest fish has highjacked and molded the modern zeitgeist of fly-fishing in the West. Innovation over the past ten years has led to faster action rods, lines for slinging bigger and bigger flies, articulated swimmers, and foamy rubber legged monstrosities. The paradigm: big rods and big flies promising big fish. Next, certain acclaimed stretches of river have become romanticized, overrunning anglers' minds with pictures and rumors of coveted lunkers. Expectations are higher than ever, but it comes at a cost. The bloodlust has poisoned on-stream etiquette, overrun fishing destinations, and has even infiltrated our social media outlets.

I fully understand that every individual has a distinct goal for each fishing trip, but the voracious hunt for large trout shouldn't be the fly anglers alpha-and-omega. In the endless search for larger and larger trout, expectations are, at times, unachievable.

I'm not suggesting that we stop reaching for ways to fool the largest trout, but to remind the angling community that there are other fascinating and rewarding ways to fish. The 12-inch trout has become bycatch, something tossed aside as we look upstream for the next likely deep run holding a monster. Funny how a sport revolved around close attention to detail, observing conditions, and keying in on the dynamics of the natural world can so easily cast aside any reward.

So, how do we measure success for a day on the water? Is one big fish a successful outing? Would that mean a day with two big fish caught is twice as successful? How many small trout caught would it take to equal the success of catching that one big fish? Are they even comparable? My point is simply that measuring outcomes breaks-down when you try to stack things in a comparable way. Who's keeping score anyway? Unless you're in a competitive angling situation, you're in control of the scoreboard and how you feel at the end of the day.

In closing, there is a lot of fishy water out there, and a lot of fish to catch. Not all of them will be the fish of your lifetime, especially if you let everyone else decide what a lifetime fish should look like. Trust that big fish will eventually come, enjoy the ride. Take solace in every fishing opportunity and embrace the process.

More Reading:

John Juracek. 2011. In Praise of 12-Inch Trout.

The Social Dilemma. Directed by Jeff Orlowski. Netflix. 2020.