I turned on the computer this morning and was greeted by an email from a reader, a photo of a striped bass was attached and the note was asking how much I thought the fish weighed. He said friends’ estimations fluctuated between 35 and 40 pounds. He admitted in the email that he was at a point in his fishing where he was obsessed with pounds and was wondering if I thought his catch would punch his ticket into the 40-pounder club.
I have seen more than a few big stripers in my day, and it didn’t take me more than a few seconds to determine that his fish was not a 40. This is not the first time I have been asked to weigh in on guestimating size from a photo, and my experience has been that the angler usually knows it’s not as big as they hope it is and they are just hoping a set of experienced eyes will tell them otherwise. So I started a short email response saying that I was more comfortable calling the fish ‘mid-30s’ – certainly not the verdict he was hoping for, but it was an honest estimation.
Then I reread his email and I was detecting a heavy dose of disappointment drizzled throughout the message. This was a guy, sending me a photo of his personal best striper, and he was disappointed with it. I thought back to a time when I was pressing myself to break 40 pounds and how that mindset changed the experience of fishing. It stole a lot of the enjoyment and relaxation that I usually derive from fishing. It also made me a secretly jealous person, I remember my buddy Dave Parrillo caught a fish that was definitely 40 and I questioned it because I didn’t catch it! How stupid is that?!
As I considered this time in my own life I found my fingers flying on the keyboard, I didn’t know this guy but my goal as the editor of this magazine is that everyone squeezes the last drops of enjoyment from fishing whenever they go. I wrote, “I want to caution you against fishing with poundage goals. Fishing is a sport where we have no control over the outcome of any trip. We can only increase our odds by going as often as possible and trying to make sense of the results within the greater context of a whole season (or many seasons). If you take the fruits of all that effort, in this case a beautiful striped bass that anyone would be thrilled to land from the surf, and – instead of relishing this moment that validates all of your time and effort – you find a reason to be disappointed by an amazing experience, you’ve sucked all the enjoyment out of it. My advice is to set your goals around yourself and what you can control, set a goal of fishing more, learning something and having a better season this year than last year. Because even if you catch ten 39-pounders this month, it would still be your best month ever. Right? Would the experience be that much better if one of those fish weighed a few more ounces?”
Whether your personal best is 25 pounds or 60 pounds, don’t be disappointed because your next big fish falls a few pounds or ounces short, be thrilled that you came so close and accept the fact that falling short – in no way – translates to failure. When I caught my 50 in 2012, someone asked me “What are you going to do now that you’ve caught your 50?” They seemed to be insinuating that the milestone would mark the end of some quest. I looked the guy straight in the eye and said, “Now I have to get a 51”
I’m still looking for that 51.