Mine’s Bigger Than Yours!
The Fishing Year in Review

Harbor Angler Report, January 4th Photo

I was recently reading a book by David Brooks, The Second Mountain. For those of you not familiar with Brooks he is a political pundit on the PBS Newshour and a columnist for the New York Times. His most recent book is a reflective volume speaking to personal philosophy and living a moral life. Brooks, like me, is an old white guy so I related to many of the matters on which he opines. However, since he is also rich and intelligent, I gave many of his more salient points a miss. The book did not hold my interest like such classics as The Compleat Angler by Isaac Walton or Through The Fishes Eye by Mark Sosin. However, one phrase in the book really caught my attention and caused me to reflect on my fishing experiences. It was this: “Comparison is the robber of joy.”  Now I know what you are thinking, and yes, I have heard way too much about this “joy” thing lately.  Like how, according to tidying up guru, Marie Kondō, we are supposed to get all joyful by getting rid of all the cool stuff we have collected over the decades. I guess I just don’t get it. I got an awful lot of joy accumulating all that crap and I sure as heck don’t want to just give it away. Who knows, maybe that huge box of malfunctioning reels in the basement or the forest of busted rods in the corner will provide me with oodles of joy someday. Anyway, the notion that the joy of an experience can be destroyed by comparing them to either your own past experiences or the experiences of others is interesting to ponder, particularly in the context of fishing. How many of us have pulled up to the boat landing following what we thought was a pretty darn good day fishing, only to have the joy of catching three nice walleyes crushed by some nimrod in the boat next to you who got five huge ones? How many times have we done the same to another angler? Some guy proudly shows you a nice 8-pound steelhead he managed land, at which you wryly smile and declare, “Mine’s bigger than yours!” as you lift a 12-pounder out of the cooler. We’ve all done it or at least thought it. Anglers will even diminish or destroy their own fishing success by comparing to previous, more successful experiences, real or imagined.  I hear it at the Baileys Harbor marina almost every night in the summer. A group of anglers will come off the lake after a successful night of trolling, their cooler holding four nice King salmon. Now anytime you can catch such great fighting and wonderfully tasting Pacific salmon hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean should be cause for celebration and great joy.  And typically it is, except some guy will always pipe up and throw a wet blanket on the festivities by expounding, “Yea, that ain’t nothing! Back in the 80’s we’d get our limit of big salmon every time out in less than an hour!” You know the type. A killjoy.

I suppose it is human nature to compare. To always wish we had the fish in the weeds instead of the one on the line. To strive to do better. I know whenever I go fishing, I always want to catch the same number of fish, one more. However, over the years as I have grown more mature (i.e. old), I tend to savor and appreciate the moment more than perhaps I used to. Afterall catching a fish, any fish, is fun.  It is an accomplishment requiring skill, persistence and of course, a little luck. Each fish should be enjoyed. The fact that you caught five smallmouth bass on your last outing should not diminish the fun of catching just the one this time out. Enjoy the process. Relish the experience. Cherish the opportunity.

Which brings me to the annual review of my fishing year.  As I have mentioned previously in this space, I make a record of each fish I catch along with relevant information about lures, conditions, etc. My fishing records also serve as a combination diary and travelogue, as I seldom go anywhere without doing some sort of fishing. In fact, and please don’t think I’m a nut or anything when I tell you this, but I have kept track of every fish I have caught since my days at Suring High School.  I started off with index cards and then a journal starting in my college years. With the advent of those new-fangled computers, I utilized various electronic data management applications to record my fish including AppleWorks, Microsoft Excel, Filmmaker Pro and Bento. My latest app is called Tap Forms. I input the results of each fishing trip into my desktop computer and it automatically syncs to my iPhone. I have shown some screenshots of records below. This allows me to have the records of my past outings available every time I am fishing. The database currently holds the records of over 19,000 fish. This does not include all my paper records from high school and later, but does go back to 1976. The primary value of the data base is to help discern patterns in fish behavior that hopefully will allow me to be more successful. It also keeps me honest. All anglers exaggerate a bit, but my fishing buddies know that I don’t lie to my computer. If it’s in the database, it happened.

Of course, keeping such a continuous record gives one many opportunities to compare. Compare one outing with another, one angler to another, one location to another, or one year to another. This can be a useful and illustrative exercise. However, as I have explained, this can also work to diminish your fishing experiences. Comparison is the robber of joy.

By most measures I had a great year fishing in Door County. I boated thirty brown trout, several over fifteen pounds including my largest brownie ever at 21.5 pounds. Oh, let me explain what I mean by the term “boating” as opposed to catching a particular fish. I use this to describe fish that were caught while trolling in a boat I was fishing in. I may not have actually been the person holding the rod when the fish was caught. Trolling, in my mind, is a communal effort. Sort of like socialist fishing. Sometimes it takes a village to land a big salmon or trout. The person controlling the boat or handling the net may have more impact on whether the fish gets in the boat or not than the person holding the rod. On most trolling outings, the person who handles the rod is simple determined by who’s “up”. It is a matter of chance. So when I say I boated thirty brown trout this season, this includes those fish I caught when I was fishing solo as well as those caught while fishing with other anglers (often Paul) assuming I participated in the boating of the fish. I apply this criteria only if we are catching fish trolling. I offer this explanation for the purpose of full transparency, so as not to inflate my fishing success.

I had a good year catching smallmouth bass (over 200) and northern pike as well. I did not catch any smallies over 20-inches this season, but caught quite a few eighteen inches or longer. We caught a lot of big pike over 30-inches. Paul and I put some nice rainbows in the boat. We even tangled with a few Cohos and Atlantic Salmon this summer which was a nice surprise. I ended the winter with a freezer full of tasty whitefish. I even caught grouper and various other saltwater species in Florida. So, as I said, a pretty darn good year. Well, except for Chinook Salmon, not so much. I did not catch my first King until July 27th. I look to the increased stocking to improve my catch in the future. As for walleyes, don’t get me started. It sucked. I didn’t even crack double digits in marble-eyes this year. Why, I remember my days on Lake Winnebago when I would get my limit of eater walleyes every time out. Or so I remember. I’ll have to check the database.

The bottom line is that I fished over a hundred days in 2019 and caught fish on 92 of those days. I caught 423 fish (not 422 or 424) encompassing 28 different species. I endeavored to enjoy each and every one of the fish I caught.  The vast majority of those fish were caught in the waters in and surrounding Door County. Yes, this is a great place to fish and I had a pretty good year. But, I remember one year I caught over a thousand fish and some really big ones…. Damn, there I go again robbing all the joy.


So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Bruce

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