Do you ever get frustrated with your fishing mates’ lack of planning and sloppy timekeeping? Or maybe you resent the way they have to be in control of everything? Do you ever look at well known anglers’ trophy photos on social media and wonder how they’re so consistent in their fishing and you aren’t? Have you ever considered that the differences between you and these human trawlers might not just be down to skill and opportunity but more to do with how you think?
We’re often told in modern society that we are all the same (a common misinterpretation of the principle of equality) but anyone with more than a handful of cooperating brain cells can tell that we clearly are not. True, we all have (or are supposed to have) the same rights but that has no bearing on the fact that we all think and feel differently about the world and our place in it.
One of the problems with telling people that they are all the same is that they start measuring themselves against others and wondering why they can’t do what they do. In angling, as in anything else, this can be a particularly destructive cycle of thought. Although it’s often described in black and white terms, once the basic skills are mastered, angling becomes progressively more mental and dependent on things like focus, interpretation and decision making – all things that are governed by individual personality.
Science loves to make sense of the world around us through ordering it. I first became aware that there were ways of ordering human personalities in college when one day, during an employability skills development class, I was invited to complete a ‘personality test’. Having answered the questions, I was informed that my personality type (of which there are sixteen) was INFP (short for introversion, intuition, feeling, perception). I didn’t get much more information about what relevance this had to anything but then again, most of what we spent time discussing in these classes seemed about as useful as 40 grit toilet paper.
It was later when I began to wonder why the way I made some of the choices in my fishing seemed different to other people that the idea of personality types came back to me. The test used a series of structured questions to determine which end of the spectrum you leaned towards in four different categories. Once you’d answered the questions, the program generated a four letter acronym to indicate your personality type. A quick scan through Google revealed that this system (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) was well established and used, for example, as a way for HR departments to sort their worker bees into suitable roles.
I also found that all the sixteen types had cute little descriptors like ‘The Craftsman’ and ‘The Provider’. My type was described as ‘The Idealist’ which I took to mean that I was basically an impractical daydreamer (which I sometimes can be). As I read through the hallmarks of the INFP type, however, I found myself recognising a lot of the traits as pretty spot on. Others weren’t so much but then I figured the object of this categorisation wasn’t to nail someone’s character but to broadly outline what makes them tick.
Hopefully I haven’t lost you at this point, you’re probably waiting for the bit where I talk about what the hell this has to do with sea fishing and maybe why the bloke in the shelter fifty yards away has caught five codling to your two. I’m getting to that, trust me. First, let’s talk a little about the different qualities measured in the personality test and how they might affect how an angler thinks and behaves:
When you mix combinations of these thinking preferences together you quickly cook up some complex propositions and one or two whose characteristics seem particularly well-suited to becoming masterful anglers. Take a fresh cut of analytical qualities, trim away the need for idle chit chat and season well with iron will and drive for conquest and you have a fisherman who is likely to be insightful, scarily consistent and with no problem keeping their choicest pieces of knowledge to themselves. This could be the guy in the shelter over there who is now on eight codling to your three. He might even have brought you here, offering to show you the ropes on this unfamiliar turf. True, he told you what kit to bring and what bait to use but he gave you no choice over your spot and he’s stared coldly at you a few times when a wayward cast went too near to his swim. Tellingly, these are the casts that caught your fish.
If by some miracle something changes, your catch rate suddenly goes bananas and you manage to finish with more fish than your new friend, you can guarantee he will not be happy. There may be icy silence on the drive home and you can forget about a friendly goodbye and a loose arrangement to do it again sometime. But he will want to fish with you again – he has to so he can beat you this time. It wouldn’t be the silliest move to just allow this to happen as after he’s beaten you he’ll be much more fun to fish with. Also, if you stick with him he’ll begin to impart little pieces of knowledge and gradually you’ll learn more from him than you ever could have figured out in the same time fishing on your own. Perhaps over time you’ll come to realise that his reaction to that first session wasn’t just him being the worst kind of sore loser – you had inadvertently violated his whole scheme of life. In this context, his reaction is more understandable.
At the other end of the scale, you could meet a guy in a pub who is a keen angler and happy to talk about some of the species he likes to fish for and where he does most of his fishing. You arrange to go for a session together the following weekend. He’s a little late arriving to pick you up but is full of cheer and clearly excited to be going fishing. On the way to the mark he answers all your questions on where you’re going, what the main features of the mark are and what points of the tide the action is most likely to happen on. He’s already told you what kit to bring well in advance and has sorted the bait himself.
After a lengthy walk out you arrive at the top of a cliff which slopes down to a deserted spit of rock jutting out into deep blue water. The place appears almost mystical in the early morning sea mist like the last piece of land pointing towards the edge of the world. Once you’re down there you’re taken aback by how freely this guy seems to fish. As soon as he’s cast his main rods out, he goes scampering off a short way to cast a lure into a nearby gully, grinning to himself. He quickly hooks in to a succession of mackerel before coming back up and handing you one for bait. He passes you his spinning rod too telling you that you’re welcome to have a go with it if you want to.
Throughout the morning he appears to randomly tweak his approach and conjure a procession of bright and beautiful fish from the gently pulsing sea. He’s completely open with you about how he’s done this when questioned and seems genuinely delighted when you catch fish of our own, especially when you catch a tidy spotted ray with vivid markings. The day passes far too quickly and immediately afterwards you are left with technicolour memories that soon begin to lose their lustre like the rapid paling of a fish out or water. You try to arrange further sessions with him but soon discover that he is a very hard guy to pin down and seemingly lives and fishes at random. You are prepared to put up with these frustrations, however, as when you do get to fish with him it is always fun and on some level you sense that his elusiveness is not calculated or personal – it’s just how he is.
If you’ve made it this far hopefully you’ll have some idea of the good that understanding more about your own personality traits and those of other anglers could do for you. Getting an insight into your own character might help you identify unhelpful patterns of thoughts or behaviour in your fishing and why they crop up. If you can learn to recognise the first signs and nip them in the bud – you’ve just improved your angling.
It’s important that you’re honest with yourself to reap these kinds of benefits and that is likely to be harder for some people than others. I think it’s worth putting yourself through this, however, as making the connections between your character traits and the things stopping you enjoying your fishing as much as you could is a vital first step towards progress. After all, you don’t have to tell anybody that you’re an ISTP or an ESFJ or whatever – most people wouldn’t know what you were on about if you did. It’s not even important that you use the MBTI personality test – it’s just one of a number of tools available that will help you learn more about yourself.
As far as understanding others goes, this is something else that is likely to be a lot easier for some than others. I think it is worth the effort, however, as getting it wrong can cost you opportunities to learn new things from others and to grow as an angler. Different things upset different people also. For example, some people may be highly offended if you are 10 minutes late to pick them up for a fishing trip. Others won’t care a bit. Being able to pick up on the subtle cues that people give off about their character and respecting the fact that they think and feel differently to you is a great tool to have – not just in fishing but in all areas of life.