When the fishing's bad, enjoy the outdoors

22:59, Jan 15 2012

A new year has dawned and after a slow start to the day I've been down in the basement tying new trout flies for a two-week burst of fly fishing, starting tomorrow on the rivers of the northern South Island.

Preparation is an important part of success in life. I'm planning for good guiding success but when heading outdoors many factors are out of our control so in reality you can only plan for the worst and hope for the best.

A fishing mate of mine regularly reminds me of the seven Ps, which stands for "prior preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance". It's so true, and like the trials and tribulations of life, success in the outdoors relies on going to the right place, at the right time, with the right skills and ability, the right equipment, and the right attitude.

However, sometimes the game and fish don't make life easy for you. The cycles of nature run on a different schedule to that of man with our urban lifestyle and activities controlled by the clock and the almighty dollar.

When it comes to fishing, fish don't always want to bite, and the fishing may be poor for days on end, due to moon-phase, falling barometer, wind, rain, high riverflows and many other factors we just don't understand or can't control. This is what makes fishing fun and yet frustrating, and also why it is called fishing and not catching.

Recently, we hit an incredibly tough three-day period where the fishing was diabolical. No-one likes admitting to experiencing tough fishing, but if you do enough fishing you will encounter tough days and this was one of those times.


Dick and his group had fished with us before over many years and they are a good-natured bunch of guys who are fair anglers. Our first day of three started off in good spirits and with high hopes but the fish were reluctant to play ball.

We caught a few the first day but it was tough work. Tony was top guide with his anglers, and one of my anglers, Alan, only managed to save our day with two trout at the last stop in the last few minutes of the day.

It was a big relief to have something wriggling in the net and a close shave from what is known as a "skunking" which is the embarrassing phenomenon of not catching any fish.

Day two was also tough with reluctant fish, but happily my day was easier with five trout landed early in the day before they shut off with lockjaw. Unfortunately, the other anglers got shut out all day and it was a quiet, reserved band of anglers who gathered for beers that night. The guys looked exhausted, a bunch of sad sacks with furrowed brows, hollow eyes, gaunt cheeks, and dazed thousand-yard stares. The fishing had been brutal, not what they had experienced before with us. Just imagine what the guides looked like.

Day three was possibly even tougher, and I had to dig deep to come up with three decent fish in the bag for my two allocated anglers. At our first river, there were anglers everywhere and after catching only one small dinky trout we were able to escape the nightmare, although the morning was lost.

At our second location we stopped for lunch to recalibrate. It seemed to work and the highlight of the day was Darrell catching the two biggest trout, after two days of not landing a fish. I made sure he had the best opportunities but also lost a few fingernails along the way. Darrell was rapt and the life of the party that night while the other guys appeared exhausted and beaten men. Luckily no-one ever died from a lack of fish.

It's a tough life being a guide, and people assume that running a business in the outdoors means I'm in the eco-business. Sometimes, it feels more like working in the ego-business, where I'm an eternal optimist trapped in a fishing guide's body while trying hard to manage angler egos and expectations under trying conditions – almost a modern day Rumpelstiltskin trying to spin straw into gold.

Success and failure are integral aspects of the outdoor experience.

In prehistoric times, success in the hunt meant social standing, the best, most nubile mates, the ability to feed family and tribe, and to survive to pass on genetic material. Failure meant low social standing, fewer rights and privileges, and possibly death through starvation, or being forced into marginal environments by more successful competitors.

Not much has changed today, but failure or success is usually all in your head with attitude often the most important consideration. If you think positively, limited success can still be great. If you think negatively, virtually every outdoor outing will equate to failure.

I'm no psychologist, but I have been a fishing guide for 26 years and have guided many hundreds of anglers and spent many thousands of days on the water. I have observed that failure does affect guided individuals, relationships between anglers and guide, and the participant's perception of the outdoor experience.

People feel pressure to perform, have often travelled a long way, spent a lot of time and money getting into position, and have a burning need to succeed. These people need stories to tell, dead animals or fish to show or share, and photographic images as symbolic trophies to email, frame, or publish.

Failure tells no story, provides no tangible proof of success, and leaves individuals open to scorn, humiliation and the fear of ridicule. Pride, vanity, and ego are powerful human emotions and the need for instant gratification is within us all.

When it comes to fishing and hunting you can't always control the outcome but you can always control your attitude. Let your expectations be tempered by reality and you won't go too far wrong. Try to enjoy your time out there in the outdoors and don't beat yourself up when things don't go as planned.

I was looking for the right line to finish this column when I saw one of the kid's school projects hanging up in the garage which offered the perfect words of wisdom on this topic – "For every minute you are angry or sad, you lose 60 seconds of happiness". How true.