Defining the Best: Part 1

Defining the Best: Part 1
The ability to successfully catch the fish within reach is certainly an important attribute of a successful angler. Chad Kelley shows grace in finishing a fight and landing a trout here.

Identifying the top performer(s) in any field requires analysis of the contenders' key attributes and of the outcomes they produce. In many cases, comparing one field of endeavor to other similar ones creates clarity in the process. Making such comparisons demands recognition of the analogous elements which connect the fields.

Parallel structures connect many human endeavors. Numerous activities show similarities in the ways people approach them and the skills demonstrated by those who master them. Recently, I've come to recognize many similarities between driving a van to deliver magazines across much of the state and running wadefishing charters out of a boat on the coastal waterways. Superficially, these two activities seem wildly different, but in many ways, they are much the same.

In order to deliver magazines to retail outlets from Edinburg to Cedar Park to Humble, from the coast to the Edwards Plateau and many points in between, a driver must possess excellent knowledge of the details related to using the highways and back-roads of Texas. In many cases, one way of accessing a place proves far more convenient and useful than others. Knowing all the eccentricities of the access roads and parking lots leading to and surrounding the stores facilitates running a route safely and efficiently. Additionally, a driver needs to have an awareness of how timing can and will affect the running of the route.

In some places, notably urban settings with high traffic volume, attempting to visit a store during specific hours becomes far more time-consuming, tedious and even dangerous than at other times. Sometimes, these facts render the endeavor pointless for a while. Drivers who proceed with knowledge of how rush-hour or holiday traffic, or the timing of the starting and ending of school days will affect their work will operate far more efficiently than drivers who ignore this information.

Construction projects, accidents and weather phenomena can also necessitate changes to the preferred pathways for drivers attempting to service multiple locations spread out over long distances. High levels of knowledge and vigilance help drivers avoid getting lost or caught in traffic jams, allowing them to complete their work in a timely manner, without unnecessary stress. A driver who knows more about getting to all the places on the route considering the timing and the other variables in play is simply a better driver.

This knowledge of the roadways and the issues related to getting to all the places on the route safely and efficiently has many qualities which make it analogous to navigating the inland waterways in a boat. A captain running charters, like a driver distributing magazines, needs to have intimate knowledge of the running lanes in the areas in which they work. On the water, this knowledge involves not only an understanding of which pathways provide the safest and easiest ways to move around, but also how environmental conditions like changing tide levels, wind speed and direction, fog and high boat traffic affect using these pathways.

In essence, the most accomplished captains know multiple ways to approach all parts of the bays in which they operate, also when to avoid using some of the pathways to those places, because of temporary conditions which render them too dangerous and/or rough for use. A competent captain focused on wading also knows where to leave the boat to start an effort in a place, given the prevailing conditions, just as a capable delivery driver knows exactly where to park outside a store, to best facilitate entering and exiting the place. Once a driver goes inside a store to replace old magazines with new ones, other issues arise, ones which require different types of knowledge and multiple skill sets.

Inside a retail outlet, a delivery driver must know the layout of the stores and where the racks holding the magazines should ideally be placed. If and when employees inside the stores move the racks, the driver must find them and return them to their prime locations. Doing so might require communication with people working in a store. If so, the driver's knowledge of the hierarchy of employees in the store and the system by which they operate becomes useful.

Additionally, a distributor needs to keep track of sales over time and leave appropriate numbers of magazines in the stores each month. Doing so means acknowledging how holidays and other events will affect sales. So, a magazine distributor needs to keep accurate data, make excellent predictions about how future events will affect the data and use functional people skills to best manage the sales of magazines at all the stores on the route.

The ability to combine voluminous knowledge and implement various skill sets is certainly an important attribute of a successful fishing guide, specifically one who runs charters in coastal waters targeting speckled trout by wading with artificial lures. The best captains use their intimate familiarity with the topography of the bays to identify productive sweet-spots, also how to direct their customers to those spots in ways which will enhance their chances for catching fish, just as the distributor knows where best to place the racks in the stores. If and when the catching doesn't go as planned, competent captains also know how to use their people skills to coach their customers toward higher catch-rates.

Accurate data related to the historical catch-rates at all these sites enhanced by a useful awareness of how prevailing conditions either elevate, diminish or even eliminate the potential for the data to repeat allows astute captains to make productive judgments about when, where and for how long to try the various spots lying within the bodies of water in which they ply their trade. This skill set closely resembles the one used by distributors to make decisions about adjustments to the numbers of magazines left in the stores each month, based on historical trends and the potential influences of upcoming events.

The structural similarities between these two activities appear subtle at first glance. Upon closer examination, they are clearly present and relevant. Drivers delivering magazines to various retail outlets along a route and captains running charters on the coastal waters need to have excellent navigation knowledge and skills, supreme familiarity with the places in which they do their business, functional people-skills and an astute awareness of how environmental conditions and future events will likely influence the productivity of their efforts. Additionally, the cream of the crop in both endeavors display this knowledge and use these skill sets over a far-reaching area.

The routes used by delivery drivers change when new roads are built, when retail owners alter and scrap operating systems, and in response to the habits of fickle consumers. The best drivers always keep their minds and eyes open, looking for new places which have potential to sell the products they deliver. Similarly, the best captains realize it's impossible to know everything about all the bodies of water out there, but they constantly strive to learn more about the areas in which they work and to add new spots to the catalog they use on a daily basis.

Becoming proficient at running a route which stretches for 100 miles and includes 10 or 20 retail outlets proves fairly easy, compared with the task of mastering a route which stretches for 2,000 miles and includes more than 100 stops. Similarly, mastering the art of fishing in one satellite bay takes far less time, effort and skills than mastering the art of fishing all the coastal waters lying within the boundaries of a state, especially a king-sized one like Texas. Drivers and captains showing high levels of skill and proficiency over the largest areas rank higher on the list of best in the business than those who operate in fewer places and smaller spaces.

These truths motivate people who run competitive fishing circuits to require their participants to perform in waters spread across a large area. Testing competitors in more places proves more about the anglers' levels of skill. Fishing in places far removed from each other, which also have disparate attributes, pushes anglers to adapt and grow. Regardless of whether they run charters or formally compete against others, anglers who become proficient at fishing productively in more places deserve higher status on the scale which rates the best in the business.

Captains and drivers who stand above the rest on the ladder of excellence recognize the significance of the constant need to evolve. They make every attempt to regularly increase their knowledge and skill sets and to expand the area in which they demonstrate high levels of proficiency. Consequently, one might conclude the ideal way to define the best angler is to identify the individual who demonstrates the highest productivity level over the broadest area. Significantly, the analysis in this piece limits its scope to consideration of delivery drivers who distribute just one product and captains who target a single species of fish. Part 2 of this pair of features, to appear in next month's issue, will investigate whether or not such a narrow focus optimally facilitates identifying the state's best angler.