Every action and even the inactions in life involve a decision. Some are consciously well thought out decisions and others become unconscious, sometimes as a habit and sometimes as an ingrained way to avoid pain or discomfort. In fly fishing there are many decisions to make. What fly or flies to use? What type of rig or leader system? What size rod and line? Where to fish? How to wade to an advantageous and safe spot? When should I move to another spot? How do I get my fly out of that tree? There are many more decisions that you make as you fish. I have found a few strategies that help me to stay connected to the moment and to find joy while managing frustration if I feel like I’m not having success in catching fish. Those strategies include creating a low pressure expectation, having a general plan on how I want to fish (try nymphing first, etc.), giving myself the freedom to adjust as I feel conditions or myself change, and finding value in learning from my experiences and observations.
The general plan I set before I fish is meant to give me some constraints, so that the potential decisions I have to make can be limited at the beginning of a session. I have found my brain does better when I feel at least slightly prepared. So I will research online fishing reports or call a fly shop for advice and recommendations prior to heading out to fish. As I drive to go fishing I will decide based on that research and how I am feeling what type of fishing strategy I want to start with. This could help me select which rod set up I am going to use and which flies I will consider starting with. I know a number of experienced fly fishers will recommend waiting to decide what approach you have until you get to the stream bank. I see the value in making the specific fishing strategy decisions as you see the stream and insect movements, but I also know my level of impatience to get set up quickly doesn’t really work well with that approach. Setting myself up with a loose strategy in the car helps me stay relaxed and not rush to get all my gear together and run to the stream.
As I get to the stream, I notice I need to manage my expectations and keep myself engaged and flexible to adapt. When I put pressure on myself to make the perfect decision that makes the situation go exactly as planned, the pressure creates stress, and I get too worried to enjoy the moment, relax or to have the ability to take in all that is around me. Conversely, when I go to autopilot, my habitual mindset engages. Old patterns of behavior continue, and while I may be able to relax, my mind disconnects from being conscious of the environment around me. I find that as I am fishing I generally oscillate between these two extremes, strict concentration to day-dreaming.
As part of meditation, it is taught to concentrate on breathing and to focus on scanning through your body. Often your mind will wander and as you notice a distraction you can bring yourself back to focusing on your breathing and re-center. While fishing, I find if I can focus on the motions of casting, mending, and watching the drift, I can re-center myself. When I refocus on the motions, I can remind myself that I control my body, my mind and my actions. I remind myself that the responses to those actions are entirely up to the other participants, whether they are people or fish. Reminding myself of these simple facts helps me to be more observant, more relaxed, and more joyful and I see the perfection in imperfection.
I try to notice how my ideas and actions solicited responses from fish as I drive home or at some point after I get home from fishing. I try to either write down or think through my lessons learned. I have sporadically completed a fishing journal, which I find helps me to cement my memories and lessons learned. I haven’t developed the habit of recording every fishing trip, but I find enjoyment and value when I make time for it. I will look back at my notes from time to time to reinforce ideas and build upon my knowledge.
I have found that these methods to improve my fishing experiences, driven by the joy of being connected to fishing and streams, can also apply to other areas of my life. Feeling prepared with a flexible plan and some background research, creating a learning mindset to avoid frustration when I struggle, and being open to changing with the flow of my experiences helps me think fast on my feet at work in meetings, presentations, and in workload management. It is also a valuable approach to any potential stressful situations. It’s a simple and effective concept that being prepared, open and unconcluded allows me to get more enjoyment out of life.