Debate: Do Most Anglers Care Too Much About “How Many,” and Not Enough About “How?”

At day’s end, when you bump into your fishing buddy along the river, what’s the first thing you ask each other?

“How’d you do out there?”  Which, of course, is angler-speak for “how many fish did you catch?”

Now I’d like to tell you that I’ve reached a place with my fishing attitude that “numbers don’t matter.”  I’ve even said (and written) things like, “Oh, it was a great day, and I didn’t care if I caught anything or not.”  That’s the PC thing to say.  But it’s fibbing.  And I usually say those things (more angler-speak) when I get skunked.  But the truth is, had I been bright enough to catch a dozen trout that day, I surely would have. 

From the time we start fishing, most of us are taught that success is measured by numbers.  A 20-fish day is usually better than a two-fish day.  Granted, one big trout that eats the dry fly might trump everything.   When I say I’d trade 20 small trout dredged up on nymphs for the one big brown that eats the grasshopper fly, that’s not an exaggeration.

Still, I wonder if in some cases we don’t collectively put a little too much emphasis on “how many,” rather than just “how.”  Not to pick on my guide friends (and I’m as guilty as the next), but do you really need a 100-fish day to prove how good you are?  Especially when you’re catching them all by dragging flies through trout-laden runs under a strike indicator?  This little gizmo is a godsend to many anglers, and success breeds interest.  I get that.  But after, say, 20 fish landed, maybe it would be better to say, “Gee, Pete, maybe we should mix things up.  Want to work on that cast?  Or want to learn how to fish emergers?” And so on.

And fishing tournaments, while most of them are no doubt fantastic platforms to raise money and awareness that ultimately benefit trout, maybe we should think of ways to keep score beyond pounds or inches.  That might negate the drive to try to save a few more fish by hooking so many.

How about a tournament judged on style?  “Bob’s in the books with 14 brown trout hooked on a woolly bugger, which earned him a 8.5 from the judges.  But Susie, on the other hand, caught one 18-inch brown feeding on a back eddy, while using a fiberglass 3-weight rod and a size #20 trico, which dazzled the judges into rewarding her with a perfect 10.”

Well… maybe not. 

Having just watched the gymnastics and boxing competitions at the Olympic Games, I think it probably best not to trust any aspect of our beloved sport of fly fishing, even a charity tournament, in the hands of judges.

I’m playing with you, as you can probably tell.  But I do think the issue is worth kicking around, since it certainly plays into topics like “the role of the fishing guide” and “catch-and-release.”

I think the more anglers question things like “when enough is enough” and “how you catch fish can be as important as how many,” will benefit the resources.

Like many anglers, I still have a long way to go in that regard.

-Kirk Deeter

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