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Ronan's report

Sunday September 18th 2011

This week I was stocktaking at the tackle shop where I work now and again. Basically counting a load of fishing kit and recording it on forms.

Counting the fly tying materials was great; it's amazing what you can uncover in the darkest corners (yellow boar bristles!). I kept getting distracted, checking the quality of a pair of woodcock wings, looking for a feather of just the right size and colour to tie an imaginary spider.

I have to admit that there is a weird satisfaction in simply counting lots of shiny fishing gear:

Four nine-foot seven X leaders,
Nine seven-foot four X leaders;
Four weight-forward five, no wait!
Five weight-forward five weights.
Six short belly Spey lines, eights.

The idea behind all of this counting is that the stocks you have should match the amount you've bought during the year minus what you sold, plus whatever you had in stock at the end of last year. You don't want to be sitting on too much stock, it's supposed to sell after all. Also it's not good if you end up with less stock than you thought you had, indicating that someone has walked out with stuff without paying for it. Either that or someone screwed up on the paperwork somewhere. The latter is probably more common, thankfully.

So regular stocktaking is a good idea; one of the ways of keeping control of the business, helping to diagnose problems and point towards solutions for making things better.

Taking stock of what we've done in our fishing lives is much harder.

What do we count?

Fish-counters treat their lives like businesses, writing it all down in tabular form and doing an end-of-season body count. Like counting leaders and fly lines, there's a strange attraction in just counting and recording. But what to do with the numbers when you have them? Is more always better? Where does the law of diminishing returns come in to play?

Reviewing the numbers might remind you of a good fish that you'd forgotten but then, as Chris Yates once said, if you can't remember all the good fish you've caught in a season, maybe you've caught too many.

This all assumes that you can keep an accurate count of what you catch. I can't, and I don't catch that many fish. I usually lose count around about fish number five. Or is it six? Does that mean I'm catching too many fish then? It certainly doesn't feel like it.

Maybe my memory is just crap. If so does that mean I'm handicapped in how good a season I can have? I could buy one of those clickers that people use to do traffic surveys, or to count people in and out of museums (wonder if Simms do a funky fishing one?), but I don't think it'd make me feel any better. And what if it turned out I'd actually caught less than I thought I had? A mental paper-work glitch, or has the clicker just stolen my memories?

Occasionally I've caught myself remembering a single capture as two fish. A memory of hooking the fish separated in my mind from the image of its red spots as it slips from my fingers. One fish: two memories. Like buying the same rod twice because you love it so much.

We could just take stock of our experiences, and then record how they make us feel. We could imitate the Bhutanese government and institute a Fishing Happiness Quotient (FHQ); base it on things like the quality of our fishing environment, social interactions with other anglers, and personal fishing fitness. But then to actually measure this we'd be back to counting things againÉ

Wider happiness studies show that, beyond a basic quality of life, the biggest influencer of personal happiness is how we compare ourselves to others. So, you may think you've had a great day with your three brace of sea trout, but your day gets slightly worse when you meet your companion back at the car and he's had six brace (I think he must have a clicker). Maybe you should come back at night.


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