Classic Essay: How Do You Define Success on the Water?

Written by: Vince Puzick, Angler’s Covey

Is catching a fish more important than the other joys of being on the water?
Photos courtesy Angler’s Covey

What makes for a successful day on the water? A friend of mine shared some sage wisdom: a successful day on the river can be defined by how much fun the angler had. Sometimes I need to check my own expectations when I am out enjoying this adventure called fly fishing.

I fished the Blue River on Saturday. The flow was at 850 cfs, a little higher than the waters I normally fish, but not so crazy of a level to keep me from trying. It was a different challenge for me, for sure. About half way into the morning, I still hadn’t hooked up, but I had, instead, looked up at the bright Colorado sky, the river rushing and curving around the bend upstream (with a very fishable hole), and I just basked in the beauty of the morning. I felt “successful.”

If “success” is measured by the number of fish to the net, then would getting skunked mean that it wasn’t a successful day? It actually sounds a little strange–doesn’t it?–if we measured our success on the river solely or even predominantly by how many we caught. I remember some fish that were “long distance released,” but they were memorable because of the accurate cast (on a small stream under some brush along the bank) or a remarkable stretch of water (a lost fish on the Gunnison comes to mind).

What if we’re chasing an opportunity to catch a hawg on the Frying Pan or the Taylor? If we don’t get that 28-inch fish to the net, are we going to claim the day was not a success? And what defines a hawg, anyway? The two fish I caught Saturday on the Blue were physically impressive and they fought the strong fight, yet they may have only stretched the tape to 20 inches.

Vince Puzick high-sticks for trout on the Blue River.

Another element that shapes my definition of success is how I have grown as a fly-fishing angler. Today, there are stretches of river that in the past I would not have fished (for two reasons: too technical or I would have wrongly assumed fish were not holding there). Or today I will make a cast that I would not have attempted a few years ago. Maybe it’s a roll cast on that small stream. Maybe it’s a more strategic cast over faster water to fish that distant seam. Maybe success is measured by relying more on instinct than something viewed on Youtube or read in a book. Maybe it’s relaxing and letting the rod and reel do the work they were designed to do. What are you doing today that you may not have been able to do five years ago?

At my car, listening to the rush of the water at a level that was going to be a new experience for me, I hoped to get a fish to take a nymph or a streamer. I guess, to be honest, I expected to have a few hook-ups on Saturday morning.

When I rounded that corner, though, and saw the stretch of blue sky above a fishy looking stretch of river, my morning became a successful day on the river.

Vince Puzick is the Content Manager for Angler’s Covey, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

17 thoughts on “Classic Essay: How Do You Define Success on the Water?”

  1. In the twenty years that l have stood in a river I have caught a total of four fish. Three of them on the same day, all with in 20 minutes. So to me it has nothing to do with the catch. It’s where I am. Listening to the wind in the trees, the ripple of the water, the smell of the fresh air. Thanking the spirit above and around me that I am able to be where I am.

  2. I echo the sentiments of the article. Success can’t always be quantified by numbers, length and weight of fish. It’s about how you feel when you’re out there. How well you perform in the given circumstances.

  3. I enjoy fishing with my wife and son. I may not be having the same catch rate, if any, as they are but I enjoy being on the river or pond with them and watching them have fun fly fishing.

  4. I’ve been fishing for 30 years or more. 18 of which I spent chucking feathers. The last 5 or so really trying to learn to flyfish. I tell anyone that will listen that this passion is 3-dimensional chess played on an spectacular board. Even if I “lose”, I win.

    I congratulate those who have a good day on the water. But the definition of what is a “good day” fishing is defined by the fisherman and can have little to do with what one catches.

  5. Any more, a good day on the water is what was stated in the first paragraph – relaxing and letting the fly rod and reel do what they were meant to do. If I catch fish that’s great, if not, I’m practicing and experimenting with my casting. Executing a perfect cast and drift with a dry fly is rewarding all in itself.

  6. I love a rare day on the water I haven’t had the opportunity to fish much this year. Knee surgery, house move and helping out our daughter has taken a good deal of my time.
    The last time out I fished a beautiful River on a beautiful day and caught and released three trout after the third one I reeled up and sat on the bank and watched the world by

  7. The older I get, the less fishing is about numbers of fish I Catch. Rather, to me anyway ,it is about the number of new experiences I have. Wow that sounded deep! True though.

  8. I have a very generous friend who has financed a number of guided trips for us both. I consider it a great day when he catches more fish than I do.

  9. Just had a great day on the water. Caught a few, missed a few best 4 hours I’ve spent in a long time. Sat on the bank and shared my lunch with Xena the resident farm dog that follows me for miles every time I’m on her stretch of the river. I again missed the big one in the same hole I tried a month ago, sooner or later he’s coming to the net! Beautiful sunny day lots of wildlife and great scenery. That defines my perfect river fishing day.

  10. Numbers aside, if I feel like I fished well technically; waded to the correct spot, made good presentations and took the time to make the necessary adjustments in depth and fly pattern. Plus limited time in trees and bushes.

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