Patience vs Persistence

by | Feb 13, 2019 | 25 comments

A good angler doesn’t need patience. He needs persistence.

I forget who said this to me, and for that I apologize. But the message has endured. It’s a guiding theme for me, not just on the water, but in everyday life. The distinction between the two states of patience and persistence is a maxim that carries over, well beyond the river.

In some ways they are opposites. Patience is waiting for something to happen. And persistence is making something happen.

Over time, patience has been pinned to fishing, as if the two go hand in hand. And I think that’s a mistake. It’s an attached stigma that doesn’t fit — not for Troutbitten anglers, anyway.

Once again, it’s apparent that words themselves change the way we think about things. Words and meanings change how we do things. New anglers are taught that fishing is a quiet, patient sport. And so they wait. They are content when nothing happens.

Many anglers never grow out of this waiting, under some belief that simply putting in the time will eventually produce results. And to some, patience itself is a reward. It should be, really. There is value in seeing things through, in having the will to stick with a task where the fruits of labor are slow in coming, where waiting is a virtue.

But all you really need is a full day spent with a persistent fisherman to know that your patience isn’t really getting anything done.

The persistent angler doesn’t accept much about the idea of patience. He is restless. He knows that quality fishing means correcting the inefficiencies, scrapping bad technique and actively forming good habits. He is a tireless critic of his own performance and uses an honest overview as a motivator to be better.

Photo by Bill Dell

The passion for fly fishing grows quickly in the average angler. How can it not? The places that wild trout take us are a panacea that fills us with emotion and enthusiasm unmatched in daily life. The river calls to us, and we return. But in truth, that spark dims over time. The extraordinary becomes common, and we no longer feel that same effect of the woods and the water. It’s human nature to adapt and a find a comfortable place among our surroundings, and so we grow familiar with what was once stunning and magnificent. In short, just being out there no longer satisfies. The novelty wears off.

Patience in the face of such comfort fails us. And the angler who was once enamored with the extraordinary experience of a river is no longer filled with the same desire to return — when the newness is gone. He stands unimpressed and uncharmed by what have become common things. An angler who can cast a dry over conflicting currents to achieve a drag free look to a rising trout, for example, may eventually lose the spark that helped him achieve that success in the first place.

It’s a cycle. And those of us who’ve been with the woods and water for decades see the path from afar. Youthful enthusiasm burns out over time. But persistence keeps die-hard anglers involved in a long-game. A drive to understand a drifting nymph in totality, or to test streamer presentations regardless of failure or success — these are the things that keep an angler involved for a lifetime.

It is persistence that keeps us alive, open to new challenges, and on an unrelenting course to meet new goals.

Of course, we understand too that patience is a component of persistence. Because as we push to develop new skills, we must wait between trips until the moment our boots are wet again. Patience is necessary. And yet, too much of it fosters complacency, a satisfaction with memories and plans rather than a dogged determination to get back out there and continue on our path.

Persistence is the primary character trait of a good angler and one that keeps him involved for a lifetime. Patience is but a secondary helper.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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25 Comments

  1. Eager to return to the river .

    Reply
    • Me too. Always.

      Reply
  2. Dom, It is true that there is a general confusion about the difference between patience and persistence. I’ll take credit for the saying that “Fly fishermen need persistence, not patience”. Given that I say this every time someone says to me “I don’t have the patience to be a fisherman”. (I’m sure I said this to you at least once during our times together). Sitting on the bank watching for a rod to twitch, is patience. Reading water, changing flies, moving to new water, continuing to try for that perfect drift over a riser…that’s persistence.

    Reply
    • Ahhh. That WAS you, Bill. Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Wonderful piece of writing!

    Reply
    • Thank you, John.

      Reply
  4. Patience is necessary when entering a river before a hatch and sitting down and watching the water, bugs, etc. before entering the water. I had to learn this lesson while fishing the upper delaware. Patience and persistence goes hand in hand there. You can’t force that river with persistence when patience is necessary to dissect a hatch and figuring out what the hell is going on around you there.

    Reply
    • I force the Upper Delaware system with persistence every time I’m up there. I love catching trout mono riggin nymphs while people hang out waiting for risers.

      Reply
      • Same is true on central PA waters. You can patiently sit around waiting for bugs to hatch, and some do. Or, you can persistently arrive with a nymph rig so you can catch fish instead of sitting around, swapping that out for a dry fly rig when the bugs show and the fish start to look up.

        Reply
  5. Whoa, lots to think about with this piece, Dominic. Nice distinction. I just caught a beautiful steelhead, swinging a fly last week after 2 long years of learning how to skagit cast, find good water, tie flies…etc. This is entirely different than my trout fishing experience, where you know the fish are there and you just need to solve the puzzle. Intercepting anadromous fish like salmon and steelhead has so many added variables. I like this piece of wisdom: You need 3 things in fishing: First you need a fish. Then you need a fly that interests them, and finally you need to put it in front of them. For steelhead in particular, that takes a lot of persistence.

    Reply
    • Good call.

      Reply
  6. My father is a very patient angler that doesn’t get out as much as he’d like- and enjoys ‘just being out’ when he does.. I notice he will fish the same hole or run with the same flies rigged for inordinate amounts of time. When this tactic doesn’t produce results the common refrain is “that’s fishing”.. While not completely untrue, my limited experience has taught me that your chances of a hook up from a given hole, run, etc. decrease with each additional presentation. So while patience can give way to repeated water flogging, persistence is a restless driver that pushes me to put mileage on my boots and find those eaters. I often think about the old adage that ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’

    Reply
  7. A good article, and bang on. I tell clients they need patience and determination, but persistence is a better description. Here in Britain it’s the winter grayling season and persistence is definitely a requirement.

    Angle with poise
    John

    Reply
    • Right on.

      Reply
  8. When I think of patience when fishing, my mind goes back as a young kid fishing with bait and a cane pole. It didn’t take me long to be less than satisfied with results, so the hunting instinct came out. So to say I’m patient or persistent would be wrong. I’m both. I accept that the fly I use may not work, but I’m more than willing to try something else.

    When I work with my grandsons, I teach them patience and to own the results and do something about it.

    Reply
    • I like it, Lou.

      Reply
  9. Persistence must be combined with “awareness”, the awareness of a large brained predator.
    Fish Hard – and Fish Smart!

    Reply
  10. I had a coach that said “opportunity is often disguised as hard work”, the fish are there and you have to be persistent and put in the work to catch them. I used to think “fish hard” was long hours and covering lots of water, but from our trip I now understand that you need to put in the hard work, changing flies, weight, rigs etc. I used to be “patient” fishing the same fly over and over and be “persistent” by moving on to the next hole. Changing flies or switching to streamers to re fish a hole was hard work (my knot skills and eye sight sucked) but actually it’s an opportunity. With pre rigged flies, streamers and the mono rig, it is not hard work at all, its working smarter not harder.
    I have found that there are times when you have to be patient, in life,fishing, whatever, however I think you always have to be persistent in everything you do to be successful.
    Thanks for the great read.

    Reply
    • Perfect

      Reply
  11. Patience is waiting for your next post; persistence is checking at least once a day.

    Reply
  12. Great post on perspective. Patience to me is still working which leads me to be persistent in finding fishing opportunities. Two years ago I joined a local fly fishing club and last year I had 20 mostly persistent days on the water with my club. Highly recommend readers joining a club if they are having trouble finding reasons to go fish. In closing I try to always start my days on the water by reflecting on God’s amazing creation.

    Reply
  13. I’m new too fly fishing and stumbled upon your site. Wow! One of the best I’ve seen so far.

    I like the saying “make haste slowly” which for me means to move quickly but not so quickly that you make stupid mistakes. I’m learning to slow down just a bit, read water, etc and it’s paying dividends.

    Greg

    Reply

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