Satisfaction and Success

by | Oct 22, 2019 | 22 comments

For most of us, feeling satisfied with a fishing trip comes from a bit of success. And we measure that success in big trout landed or high numbers to the net. But are those stats really our best gauge? Probably not. Instead, I suggest finding satisfaction in fishing well, knowing that you improved your technique and you took steps toward being a better angler. Then, on the best days, in the process of refining your skills, trout will come to hand frequently. That’s fishing hard.

New fly fishers tend to link the numbers or the size of trout caught with success. But the river teaches all seasoned anglers that one thing cannot be controlled — you can’t make the trout hungry. And while the budding angler surely needs a fish at the end of the line once in a while — just to learn that his tactics are sound — the experienced fisher has enough confidence in his skills to recognize when the drifts are good but the trout aren’t eating.

It takes a long time to get to that point.

While guiding these wild, limestone waters with my guests, I sometimes assure my friends that their drift is excellent.

“Well, the fish don’t think so,” is the good-natured retort.

I understand the thought. But the truth is, a trout might love the drift and he just isn’t hungry at the moment.

How many natural nymphs, duns, crustaceans and baitfish does a trout let drift by in one day? Think about that. During a good hatch, you can watch this on the surface. Count how many mayfly adults pass over a good seam, while the trout lets them slip right by. Maybe the trout is in a feeding rhythm, and most of the passing sailboats don’t fall on the downbeat of his four-count. Maybe the trout just isn’t hungry. Can it really be that simple? Sure it can.


Fly fishing is hard (kinda). And building new skills can be especially difficult. Many good anglers come to me, asking for help dialing in their tight line tactics. By mid-morning, I usually tell my guests this: “There will be a day when both you and the trout are on. You’ll catch thirty trout in a full day, and everything will lock in. Then you’ll have it.”

Truth is, in the beginning, we need feedback from a trout to feel successful. We need a tug at the end of our line to affirm that our drift was decent. And my voice coming from over your left shoulder saying, “That’s a great drift,” can only teach you so much. Eventually, the trout have to do the rest.

So here’s the thing: Once you know what a good drift looks like — when you can recognize a great ride through the strike zone, read the sighter for contact or notice how a dancing dry rolls in the backwater without drag — that’s really all you need. If a particular trout doesn’t want the fly, go find one that does. Or, change the tactic, change the fly and change the angle. Change something about your approach and fool a fish.

READ: Troutbitten | Don’t Worry, Be Happy — Find Satisfaction in Fishing Well

You simply cannot rely on the trout to define your success. And basing your satisfaction on the trout-count will force you out of this game in short order. Eventually, you’ll venture to the river on only the “prime” days — when the fishing reports tell you that the action is hot — and you’ll still find disappointment because your skills will be in decline.

Day after day, I fish to refine my tactics and to learn new ones. Eventually, I know what a good drift with each new technique looks like. So I focus on perfecting the ride of my fly through each seam. I get the look that I want at every target. I take satisfaction from achieving that drift. And as the years go by, I set the bar higher — I want perfect drifts, not just good ones. Then, in the process of all this fine tuning, trout take my fly. By focusing on the skill of fishing rather than any trout on the line, I have control of my own enjoyment.

Some days, it all comes together, when my technique is right and the trout are agreeable. And those are fun times.

Fish hard, friends.


** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 900+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

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.

More from this Category

The Aquaculture Culture (from Dirt Roads and Blue Lines)

The Aquaculture Culture (from Dirt Roads and Blue Lines)

This is too good to let pass. My friend Chase Howard restarted and rejuvenated his blog, Dirt Roads and Blue Lines. And recently, he penned a short commentary on the state of the stocked vs wild trout situation in Pennsylvania.

Chase calls the stocked trout syndrome “The Aquaculture Culture,” and his choice of words is appropriate. There truly is an ingrained culture. Many Pennsylvanian’s have grown to expect (and feel they deserve) stocked trout in their local creeks, not because the creek can’t support wild trout and not because there isn’t already a wild trout population that would thrive if given a chance. No, the Aquaculture Culture expects and downright demands stocked trout in the creek because that’s the way it’s always been, in their lifetime.

As I’ve argued countless times here on Troutbitten, stocked trout do have a place in Pennsylvania. Our state hatcheries should continue to raise trout and stock them in streams that cannot and do not already support wild trout. I’m thankful for stocked trout. I caught my limit of stocked fish today . . .

When fishing for stockies, it may not pay to be ambitious

When fishing for stockies, it may not pay to be ambitious

Brandon barely cut the engine before I jumped out of the truck and into my waders, I strung up lines and laces in no time.

“I’m gonna head upstream past the second flat, into that woodsy section away from the road. When I pick off a few fish up there, I might circle back around to the lower end,” I said to Brandon.

“K. Those are big plans.” he replied flatly.

Brandon spoke again, while staring at the water. “Dom, when fishing for stockies, sometimes it does not pay to be ambitious . . .”

Catching Big Fish Does Not Make You a Stud . . . Necessarily

Catching Big Fish Does Not Make You a Stud . . . Necessarily

Go ahead. Look back through the Troutbitten archives and you’ll find a bunch of photos featuring big, beautiful trout. Chasing the biggest wild browns is part of our culture. It’s a challenge, and it’s a motivator — something that pulls us back to the rivers time and again.

I have friends who are big fish hunters to their core. Nothing else satisfies them. For me, I guess chasing big trout is a phase that I roll in and out of as the years pass. And although I don’t choose to target big trout on every trip, I always enjoy catching them. Who wouldn’t?

Hooking the big ones is part of the allure of fishing itself, no matter the species or the tactics used. What fisherman doesn’t get excited about the biggest fish of the day? It’s fun. And it’s inherent in our human nature to see bigger as better. But is it? Better what? Better fish? Better fisherman? . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #35 — How to Fish With Friends

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #35 — How to Fish With Friends

Fishing with a stick and line is a solitary endeavor by nature. It always comes down to the two hands of one angler: one on the rod, and the other in control of the line. Sharing the water with friends is great, but fishing, inherently, is not a team sport. It’s more like pole vaulting than a baseball game. It comes down to individual performance. And at its root, fishing is just a contest between one man and a fish.

. . . But we fish together to share our experiences, to learn from one another, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We choose to fish together because the bonds formed on a river are like none other, and because flowing water and shared moments can heal friendships and mend grievances . . .

The Dirty Fisherman

The Dirty Fisherman

I walked around the bend and saw his blue truck, but I couldn’t see Gabe until the lean man sat up. He stretched and slid slowly off the tailgate, onto his feet and into his sandals. The climbing sun made the blue paint of his pickup bed too hot, and when the shadows were gone, the dirty fisherman’s rest was finished.

Gabe leaned back on the hot paint again and grabbed the duffel that he used for a pillow. The faded bag was stuffed with clothes: some stained, some clean, and most half-worn-out. He pulled a thin, long-sleeved shirt from the bag and changed, tossing his wet t-shirt toward a damp pile of gear by the truck tires. The long sleeves were his sunscreen; the beard protected his face; the frayed hat covered his head, and the amber sunglasses filled the gap in between.

Gabe was a trout bum. Not the shiny magazine-ad version of a trout bum either, but the true embodiment of John Geirach’s term: authentic, dirty, and dedicated to a lifestyle without even thinking much about it. He fished on his own terms. He was a part-time fishing guide for the family business and a part-time waiter. We never talked much about work, though. I just know that Gabe’s life was fishing, and everything else was a cursory, minor distraction.

Back to Basics — Back to Buggers

Back to Basics — Back to Buggers

Bill texted me at 2:00 pm.

“How’s the fishing, and where should we meet?” he wrote.

The day was changing from a perfectly cloudy and drizzly cool day to a pure washout. More dark sky slid over the horizon as I hustled back to the truck. Patches of heavy rain were dumping buckets throughout the region. In a few hours the whole river would muddy completely.  Some sections were still fishable, but not for long.

Under the shadow of the rear hatch, I stashed wet gear into the truck and changed into a drier shirt as another SUV arrived from upstream and turned into the dirt pull-off. The side windows slid down, and I saw three fishermen inside.

“How’d you make out?” they asked. “Is it muddy down below too?” The driver gestured in the direction of the rising river, just out of site beyond the hemlocks.

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


  1. Great read. This is exactly how I view a day on the river. I still consider myself a novice, after many years of fly fishing. I’m always trying something new and trying to improve on the basics. I will always find enjoyment, regardless of the fish count. I’m still hunting the trophy and the next PB.

  2. Great stuff as usual Dom! While I definitely love big fish and numbers, I really get satisfaction out of a day where I can land a fish on top, underneath and stripping a streamer.

  3. I love the rhythm and feel of a good cast.

  4. Another good reminder of the importance and satisfaction of doing something well. Trout will come!

  5. Thank you! Namaste :-)!

  6. Thank you Dom,
    I think that is THE lesson of fishing that applies to so many other facets of life. I’m not sure another pursuit can give the same feedback as fishing on an easy day. I constantly see this correlation in business and this article reminds me to “fish hard” especially on tough days or weeks, or years.

    I have been in a business struggle for 4 years now, and my good fishing friend, recently was pushed out of his business. Now we can both continue to use the skills fishing is teaching us to strive for success in all areas of life.

    Another parallel I’ve noticed in business vs. fishing, when the business is succeeding, not many people look to make real improvements. As your article alluded to, when we have great days fishing, we might not be learning the lessons that become seeds of future success. I have truly enjoyed many tough days of fishing and my friends will tell you, that is when I am “fishing hard.” I’m trying to learn and apply that same lesson in life. Thank you for reminding me I already know how to “fish hard.”

    Or maybe, I am just trying to justify the time I put into fishing and the enjoyment I get with my friends and family while pursuing fish?

    Wish us goodluck, as I wish you all “good fishing!”

  7. Great insights. I believe that one of the things that draws myself and others to fly fishing is that there is a challenge and difficulty that you can only overcome with time, and some work at improvement. Or “fishing hard” as you say. So much joy can be found in progress at something that requires practice and work. And of course you covered it—-catching fish is important too! Thanks for another great post.

    • Right on. And fly fishing is another thing in life that has no end to how much you can improve. For me, playing guitar has always been like that — the more I learn, the more I realize how much more I can learn.


  8. Dry fly fishing gives us the ultimate feedback when we cast to rising fish. We know where the fish is and we know that it is feeding and we might even know what its eating. We just need to know if our fly, our wading, our relative position, our cast, our mends, our fly changes, etc. are refined enough to make the fish do what he really, really wants to do. The rewards are greatest when we dupe a very selective/pressured wild brown trout under difficult river conditions. The only fish count that matters is one eat.

  9. Timely article, yesterday was a 1 fish day, on some of the fishiest water I may have ever been on. The scenery and hike was beautiful. By the way, I started working on identifying holds, runs, seams and glides. Little evidence I’m getting better. Sometimes you just have tough days out there. Keep writing, it’s encouraging.

  10. I could not agree more. A good day on the water with a friend is the most satisfying experience a fisherman can have. Landing a fish and seeing it swim away, seeing the blue sky and watching a fish rise your dry fly is as good as it gets. I thank God my dad started me fly fishing from the age of 6. It is an art form.

  11. Nice. I think the more seasoned you get, the more you also know exactly why you’re not catching fish sometimes. Yesterday was rough – 20mph constant upstream winds with gusts up to 40mph. I should have stayed home but decided it was too nice of a day otherwise not to. Water temp 53, bugs everywhere, only the dumbest fish (and there were thankfully several) would eat my overweighted nymphs that I was having to drag downstream to try to maintain any semblance of a “drift”. Even a 6lb microthin leader at a severely acute angle was catching wind like a sail. Made me almost want to experiment with 4lb power pro braid as line…maybe next time a tornado rolls through…

  12. I fish for fun but I can’t help but think what you said about “possibly catching 30 fish a day” I don’t really care (maybe) but it means I have been out thought by a trout for going on 30 years.

  13. Another great article, Dom. I hope you and yours are doing well.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

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.

Pin It on Pinterest