This year, my Stocking is half full.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make the general assumption that we all like opening presents on Christmas morning. It’s the kid in all of us that enjoys the surprise of discovering what’s inside that gift wrapped box under the tree, or revealing what PC210434special little surprises cause our stockings to swell as they hang by the chimney with care. And even if it’s not what we had hoped for or thought it might be, it’s a surprise nonetheless. As kids, I’m sure we all faced a certain disappointment on Christmas morning at least once because what we had asked Santa for had apparently fallen on deaf ears, like the time a young boy asked for a Billy Blastoff and instead received a new pair of Sears dress slacks (hypothetical scenario only). As we get older, we realize that it’s not what’s inside that counts so much as the thought that goes into it – that’s part of being an adult. And it’s that same sort of rational maturity that allows us to actually believe in sayings such as, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts.” Another one comes to mind as well: “There’s more to fishing than just catching fish.”

Fishing is a lot like opening presents because fishing is all about surprises as well. Sure, you might head to a lake known to have just been stocked with trout, but you’re never guaranteed success so catching a fish is a gift. That first cast into a river may or may not result in a hookup (it seldom does in my case), but you keep at it, hoping that the next cast will produce some action. Catching is one thing, but what you catch is another surprise in and of itself. Unless you’re at a fishery that is known to produce one and only one species of fish, what that gift will be simply adds to the surprise factor. You may be fishing for bluegill, but hook up with a fat bass. Rainbow trout might be the intended goal, but you may find an unexpected steelhead on the end of your line (and if you do, good luck with that). Or maybe you’re fishing for cutthroat trout on a mountain stream, but wind up dealing with a bull trout instead (make sure it’s not a Dolly Varden, by the way).  There are many possible surprises when you’re fishing, and sometimes that surprise is so glorious that you can’t believe your good fortune. But as it is with material gifts, mature and rational adults are thankful for the gift no matter what it is.

For the most part.

Sometimes, try as we might, that surprise on the end of the line is beyond (or below) our abilities to keep it in proper perspective and appreciate it for what it is:  A wild creature perfectly suited for it’s natural environment that, in a moment of poor judgment, actually fell for the imitation food item that we placed in the water for the sole purpose of fooling the fish into accepting our false advertising and engaging us in a bit of sport. It’s called success. A bend in the rod is better than the alternative, right? What could possibly prevent anyone from being pleased with about that?

Well, self-righteousness, for one thing.

It seems that all too often we focus too narrowly on our goal and become blind to the possibility that the fish we catch, while perhaps not what we intended to catch, is worthy of our admiration, respect, and maybe even a hero photo. OK maybe that’s a stretch, but shouldn’t we at least pat ourselves on the back for any successful catch, even if it wasn’t our targeted species? Specifically, you ask, what are we talking about here?  Oh, you know – “garbage fish”:  Whitefish, suckers, carp, squawfish and the like.  If you fish the salt, the list grows to include a whole bunch of maligned by-catch species (dogfish, just to name one).



Who determined that these poor, disrespected species were somehow beneath our approval? Yes, some species are known to feed on juvenile salmonids and others compete for food with the popular fishes on the block, but isn’t that what they’re supposed to do in order to survive? Anglers are like politicians in this regard: Special interests and partisan opinions keep us from being able to objectively see the big picture:  Fish are, in the end, fish.  The Great Creator of Fish made them all equal, and it was only we high-browed upright walking mammals, with our large brains and opposeable thumbs, who applied a status to the different species (which started by giving them names that sound bad to begin with). Certainly some fish may not make for the best table fare, but if we’re out to practice catch and release, as most fly anglers do, then why not be pleased with an unintended catch? I recall once fishing a section of an Idaho river  known as the “Whitefish Hole”. Imagine my surprise (and disappointment) when I actually caught a whitefish there! Looking back, what a snob I was. Sheesh, I’m just sure.



I’ve caught my fair share of whitefish, and a couple squawfish. I’ll readily admit that I’ve been disappointed when I’ve incidentally caught these bottom-shelf species, because I was out to catch a noble gamefish at the time. I thumbed my nose at these disgusting creatures rather than admiring them for what they were: Fish.  I even tried, intentionally mind you, to catch some crap- I mean carp, once, but they would have none of it. When those oversized pond guppies wouldn’t show me the love, I judged them immediately for being stupid, worthless, trash fish.  As I walked away, I hollared back over my shoulder to the fish, “Yeah, well, I didn’t want to catch you anyway cause you’re…stupid. And ugly!” Reflecting back, as I look forward, I see that this sort of negative attitude puts me into the same camp of doubting Thomases that in other walks of life always see the glass as being half empty: Dwellers of negativity. I strive to be more positive as an angler in the future: To be thankful when I catch something, even if it wasn’t what I was targeting.  I mean, with my catch record, who am I to be selective?  My new motto is going to be, “There’s more to fishing than just catching what you intended to catch.”



I need the odds in my favor, and if I embrace anything that will hit my fly I’m going to be a lot better off. So no more “garabage fish” for me – from this point forward they will be described as “unexpected treasures”. By embracing this new,  positive philosophy I am reducing the amount of inevitable disappointment I’ll encounter as I fish the future.

Squawfish (Northern Pikeminnow)

Squawfish (Northern Pikeminnow)

So, what are you fishing for this Christmas? I hope it’s a good surprise. And if upon initial inspection it appears to be a lump of coal, maybe you can make a diamond out of it.

Merry Fishmuch to you and yourn.


  1. FlyBill

    Very nice Itchy! I’m not always the glass if half full type of guy, but when it comes to chasing steel or anything that swims I find myself very optimistic! Just one more cast and I’m sure I’ll have it dialed in!

    And I’ve done the same w/ whitefish in particular.. at least until I hooked one on the Yak last year that took four solid runs and was over 20″‘s…

    Merry Fishmas to you and yours! And a Happy New Beer! Let’s go fish when you have time!

    • admin

      Bill, thanks for chiming in. I’m with you- when fishing for mythical creatures such as steelhead, we have to be optimistic. It is hope more often than hookups that keep us going back for more of the same. Good tidings upon you, sir- and yes indeed let’s get out soon and test our optimism. Merry Christmas!

  2. Nerveracker

    Kirk, I must say, that you have adopted the right attitude, my friend. Whether it be a whitey, a squaw, a bull, a steelhead, or a beautiful redside on the end of your line, we should all be thankful that there is something there to catch. We should look on it more as a gift rather than refuse. Hell, I’ve never been terribly picky when it comes to fishing. If I caught a whitey and a sucker, at least the skunk was off! And that meant more to me than actually catching a trout or the “targeted species”. The last few weeks, I’ve been hitting the coastal streams pretty hard in search of the elusive winter steel. So far, it has been just that… elusive. New rod, reel, and line should be here this week. (retiring the 9′ 6wt for a few months, replacing with a 10′ 7wt for chasing winter chrome)
    I’ve missed a few fish, with no solid hookups. Maybe I can get this awful smell of 4 week chrome skunk off of me soon! Maybe this weekend?
    True enough, I would have been happy as a lark catching a whitefish or a coastal cut or at least something tugging at the end of my line. Winter Chrome is definitely land of 10000 casts, and really makes one appreciate those “hidden treasures” such as a squaw or a whitey or any other “undesirables” that might just be tugging at the other end of your line!
    I hope you and your family had a Merry Christmas, and are looking forward to a Happy New Year

    Merry Fishmas!

    • admin

      The way I see it, Dave, we have to adapt as a matter of self preservation. The more species we embrace, the less the chance for damage to our self esteem. Enjoy the new 7 wt- may it bring you much happiness in 2010!

  3. Rebecca

    You took a big old drink right out of my glass half full of bottom fish snobbery. Do I have to like whitefish to be a well rounded fisherman? Truly? They are hard on flies you know with those tiny little mouths and I’m just positive they are fly hogs on the water and push perfectly respectable trout out of the way so they can grab my flies first.
    How about this, I’ll ponder for the rest of the week the possibility of putting down on my New Years resolution list the concept of, “Be nicer to white fish in 2010”
    But sorry, I draw the line at suckers. I mean seriously, look at the picture! Nope. You can’t guilt me into it.

    P.S. I got cornered by a Spey fisherman today. As he charmed it up and tried to talk me into a class, all I could picture was your sticker……

    • admin

      Rebecca: Embrace the bottom shelf fish- my hunch is they’re a heartier lot than the cool fish and will be around a lot longer. They may all we have to angle for in the future. Picture yourself one day swinging flies with your spey rod, hooking up with whitefish o’plenty! You’ll thank me, on several accounts. No charge for this insight ; )

  4. whitefish ed

    congrats brother! you’ve seen a light that many still can’t cuz they’ve rid themselves of eyesockets. good karma awaits you..and my freshwater bonefish buds will reward you! take a bow…

    • admin

      Whitefish Ed, Thanks for your thoughts. I’m hoping that Karma results in more hookups, and I’ll take whatever I can get and be thankful.
      Although I’m still struggling to fully embrace suckers and squawfish 😉

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