In recent years there has been a lot of research into the motivation of anglers. Most of that has been done because we believe we need to better understand anglers and why they fish in order to recruit more of them to fish and keep them fishing. There is a lot of truth to that. I am not going to review all of that research, but I do want to mention a few things that have stuck in my mind.
First of all, let me say that I am always a little uncomfortable with that research because it always tries to characterize anglers, group anglers, and generalize what makes them tick. I do not like that because we are all individuals! Sure there are common motivations and experiences among anglers, but the fact is anglers come in an infinite variety of shapes, sizes, motivations, likes and dislikes. There is a limit to the “lumping” and categorizing and none of that means anything when you are standing face-to-face talking to an individual.
There are some common themes when you ask a bunch of anglers why they fish. Getting away from it all is a big motivation for many folks who fish; they need time to get away from stressful, busy jobs and daily lives. Folks also like to spend time with family and friends while on the water. Time in “nature” is another reason frequently mentioned as a motivation for fishing. There are a lot of reasons folks fish, and some research has pointed out that catching fish or catching big fish may not be the primary motivations for folks to go fishing. That is true, but it is called “fishing”, not “golfing”. At some base level, the pursuit of fish is a motivation and at the very least catching fish is positive reinforcement that will keep folks fishing. The fish are VERY important.
However, do not jump to the conclusion that poor fishing, or complicated fishing regulations, or the price of fishing permits are barriers keeping folks from fishing. No, of all the reasons folks do not fish, or do not go fishing as much as they used to, the number one reason folks do not go fishing is lack of time. We simply live in a busy world where a lot of activities, and that includes recreational activities, compete for our time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, the question is what activities do we make as priorities in those 24 hours? If we want more folks to fish, what can we do to make fishing a higher priority so that it out-competes other recreational activities for people’s time? There are some things we can do to make fishing a more attractive recreational activity and we are incorporating those strategies into our efforts to recruit, develop and retain anglers.
Some anglers will tell you they want to catch lots of fish, some want to catch only a particular species of fish, some want to catch fish only using one particular technique or fishing gear, some want to catch big fish, some want to stink the skillet, some do not care if they ever keep a fish, etc., etc., etc. Some research in this area has concluded that having lots of big fish to catch in not a necessity, that big fish are not THE driving motivation for many, even most anglers. Some then even leap to the conclusion that big fish are not important.
Big fish are important and here is why: One of the allures of fishing, one thing that attracts us to the water, is the unknown. How many of us have not peered into the water, or looked down an ice hole, and wondered what is down there? My favorite Dr. Seuss book is not One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, but McGelligot’s Pool. In McGelligot’s Pool a boy sneaks off to fish some small pool on a creek located on the neighbor’s “back forty”. It is just a small pool on a small stream in the middle of nowhere; there probably is nothing in the pool but a bunch of creek chubs and other minnows. But as that boy sits on the creek bank with a fishing pole in hand, he looks into the pool and imagines with it’s connection to a stream and then a river and then an even bigger river and ultimately the oceans there could be anything in that pool! The book goes on and on about the fantastic creatures imagined to be swimming in that pool, and he just might catch them!
That is fishing! That connection with the unknown fascinates us. And that is why big fish ARE important!
I have been blogging for a long time now. One thing I have learned is folks never get tired of seeing pictures of and hearing stories about big fish. Big fish both satisfy and fuel our imaginations. The thought that you just never know what you might catch is a motivation that keeps anglers going back. If there never were any big fish caught, the excitement, anticipation, and wonder would be much less.
Let me narrow my thoughts now and get a little more personal. I have said it before, will again now, big fish fascinate me, drive me. That is a big motivation for me to go fishing. I love big fish of a variety of species. I love to fish for a variety of species of fish, but I am almost always trying to catch the biggest specimens of those species! I have been blessed to catch more big specimens of a variety of species than I ever dreamed possible, in Nebraska to boot! When I finally put one of those big fish in the net, whether it is a bluegill or a flathead catfish, I am just awed by the specialness of those fish. Those big specimens of whatever species are the most successful of their kind, the “uber-fish” that have overcome overwhelming odds to reach exceptional size. I marvel at every one. It is a privileged occasion to be able to catch and touch one of those fish. I understand why some of those big fish are kept, and in some cases they might be injured and should be kept, but the more I appreciate the uniqueness of those big fish, the more I want to catch them, touch them, take a photo of them and then let ’em go! Again I love knowing they are out there, and still out there after I have caught and released them.
Why do I fish? What do I love about it? I spend a lot of time thinking when I am fishing or on my way to and from fishing spots. I love catching fish, I love catching big fish, but for me it is the process that I never tire of. Every day on the water is different and every day on the water is a different challenge with something more to learn. That learning process, that trying to figure out where the fish are, what they are doing, and how I can catch them, is a never-ending and never boring quest. There are times when we all struggle to catch fish. I am prone to fish even longer just because I hate to get skunked. Sometimes in the middle of one of those days I just quit fishing and sit down and think. The greatest fishing tool a person has is located between his or her ears, and that thinking and learning and thinking some more never grows old.
The moment, the instant when I probably get the most gratification from fishing may not be what you would think. It is not necessarily the hero-shot when I finally get to pose with some big fish I just caught. No, the moment that probably gives me the most satisfaction, the moment that brings a little grin to my face, is that instant when I feel a “thunk” on the end of my line. That instant when I detect a bite and I know I just figured it out, I just put it all together, I just got a fish to bite. Then comes the hook set and the satisfaction of setting into a good fish, solid weight on the end of the line. Oh sure, I still want to capture that fish, put my hands on it, and there is the little uncertainty of keeping them hooked and landing them, but those are skills that can be mastered. That thunk and hook set are when it all comes together, that is when I see the light. That is the “high” that I cannot get enough of.
If you are still reading at this point, I have rambled on for 1400-some words and you are wondering if I have a point. Yes, yes I do. Ask yourself, why you like to fish? What do you like about fishing? What keeps you coming back? What do you want from it? What makes you want more? You could tell me all of that and it would help us pointy-headed fisheries biologists understand anglers a little better, but more importantly asking and answering those questions will teach you something about yourself. In the answering of those questions I believe you can find even greater enjoyment in your time on the water, AND I am going to suggest it will make you a better angler too! I am not big into giving fishing reports and telling folks to go here, do this, catch fish. That information is usually out-dated before you get it and it does very little to help you improve as an angler. It is all about the process, the learning, what we can learn from each other, and from ourselves?