The Satisfaction Meter

The Satisfaction Meter

Some types of satisfaction feel better than others. The degree of satisfaction one derives from an activity depends on the nature of the endeavor and on the priorities of the actor. Certainly, overcoming long odds and accomplishing something difficult and important pushes the needle on the satisfaction meter higher than simply completing a trivial task.

Mark Twain wrote, "Work is what a body is obliged to do. Play is what a body is NOT obliged to do." For most anglers, fishing qualifies as play, not work. Even for fishing guides, who choose to do what they do and often have fun doing it, fishing feels more like play than work, at least some of the time.

Changing the oil and filter on the truck, doing the laundry and mowing the grass all fit readily into the work column, at least for most people. If an activity dwells in the world of work, if it MUST be done, most anyone would seek the easiest way to complete the task and would derive the highest level of satisfaction from finishing it as quickly as possible, using minimal effort. In the work world, the degree of satisfaction sourced from an accomplishment directly stems from the outcome of the effort. The straightest, simplest path to the desired outcome leads to the highest level of satisfaction.

In the province of play, direct paths to a finish line do not necessarily lead to the proverbial promise land of premier satisfaction. When one actively chooses to do something, one often consciously builds some difficulty into the task, foregoing the path of least resistance. This makes the outcome more uncertain, and places more emphasis on the process needed to achieve the outcome than on the outcome itself.

When one plays, one relishes the execution of the task fully, without singular focus on completion. This fondness for process alters the type of satisfaction generated by the activity. A working person seeks satisfaction with outcome, while a playing person seeks satisfaction through control of process. These truths play out in the angling realm in several significant ways.

Despite the fact they perceive fishing as play rather than work, some anglers focus almost entirely on outcome satisfaction as a way to measure their success on a given day or in a given situation. Surely, a fishing guide or competitive angler would more likely do this than a weekend warrior. Winning a tournament or sending a group of customers home with their limits produces plenty of outcome satisfaction.

Some folks accuse fishing guides of becoming far too committed to outcome satisfaction, because emphasizing outcome more than process potentially places their own interests above those of their clients. A captain choosing to stop the boat and throw at working gulls in order to box fast limits after his customers told him they wanted to wade and learn something about catching fish on topwaters would be guilty of this. A guide showing up at the dock with a live-well full of bait after his customers told him they wanted to fish with lures provides a more extreme example of how prioritizing outcome over process can reveal a kind of selfishness in the person making the choices.

Guides who choose to fish with live bait with the goal of helping their customers catch limits so they can race back to the dock and run another charter would fall into this category, at least in some ways. To be fair, some customers want exactly what these guides give them, because they too perceive the easiest path to the desired outcome as the most satisfying one. It makes no sense for me to say I'm better than these people and the guides they hire, or that they're making a mistake or doing something wrong, and I'm not.

But, the truth remains. Whether a guide or a recreational angler, anyone choosing to use live bait instead of artificial lures makes a choice to make the path to the desired outcome of catching fish easier, so they place more value on outcome than on process. By doing so, they change the nature of the satisfaction meter.

The chart included here helps illustrate this point thoroughly. The colored bars represent what I've labeled the Bite Attitude Spectrum, which serves as the filter for fishing's Satisfaction Meter. On the left of the chart, green represents a full-on frenzy. The bulk of the chart shows paler green for good, yellow for mediocre and orange for a poor bite. On the far right, the red places an appropriate hue on a dead bite.

I've made the percentages about 5/30/30/30/5, but those numbers aren't really relevant in this discussion. Surely, a full-on frenzy occurs only a small percentage of the time, and conversely, the bite is not often completely dead. Anglers find themselves fishing in situations where the bite attitude of the fish ranges between good and poor most of the time.

Two primary aspects of a situation dictate an angler's perception of the bite attitude of the fishꟷthe number of fish present and the alignment of environmental variables I call stimulators, meaning weather events, the position of the sun and moon in the sky and tide movements, primarily. An angler experiencing frenzied activity and catching a fish every cast or almost every cast for some significant length of time likely operates with multiple stimulators in play AND in a place where plenty of fish swim within reach.

An angler fishing in a place with scant numbers of fish won't experience the sweetness of a frenzy to the same level as one fishing in a place crowded with competing predators. One simply cannot ignore the importance of fish location as a component in any angler's perception of the bite attitude from moment to moment, because of what I call Absolute Number One. Bluntly stated, the Absolute rules: you can't catch a fish that ain't there.

Certainly, an angler standing or drifting in the midst of plenty of feverishly feeding fish and experiencing a frenzy does feel some sense of satisfaction. However, the level of the satisfaction depends on the priorities of the angler. The two lines on the chart graphically represent the two types of satisfaction anglers feel. For people focused solely on outcome, fast and supremely easy catching spurs the highest level of satisfaction, as the black line indicates. For those who value control of process over outcome, the satisfaction in a frenzy reads lower on the scale. Making things too easy for these people steals some of their satisfaction.

The line representing satisfaction with outcome declines gradually from left to right, reaching zero during a dead bite. This graphically defines a central concept for people operating in this mindsetꟷsatisfaction is directly proportional to catch-rate. The tougher the bite gets, the less satisfaction these folks feel; many abandon the effort long before their level of satisfaction falls to zero. This truth motivates people like this to use bait. They believe strongly in a familiar mantra―"catching is more fun than fishing."

On the other hand, people who choose to fish exclusively with lures experience satisfaction in a different way, because they place more value on process than outcome, specifically on their ability to control the outcome through their process. The blue line on the chart represents this graphically. Moving from left to right, the level of process satisfaction declines somewhat from just above a hypothetical mid-line to slightly below it as the fish become somewhat tough to catch. But, if the fish become more difficult to catch AND anglers operating in this mindset prove they're able to catch some, especially some of the "right" fish, their satisfaction climbs to its zenith.

Fish location skills play a key role in this scenario, as they do in any fishing situation. An angler can't scratch out a few of the right fish during a difficult situation if said angler fails to find a place where some of those fish swim within reach. But, when an angler whose level of satisfaction depends on the ability to control some aspect or aspects of a situation and catch some of the desired fish succeeds in accomplishing the goal, their level of satisfaction rises to the top of the chart.

I've experienced this many times in my career, so I can testify to the veracity of what I'm saying. Standing in a group of anglers who can't catch a fish and producing bites on a regular enough basis to prove the efficacy of a specific presentation ranks right at the top of most satisfying achievements for a lure chunker motivated by process satisfaction. This often occurs on a day when a relatively easy bite dies, but the group believes plenty of fish remain in the place.

Then, if one of the members of the group discovers a productive lure, more likely a specific presentation method, then begins earning strikes at a higher rate than any other members of the group, this scenario plays out. A day of competition can also reveal the truth inherent to the lines on the chart. Anglers who've used creative methods to catch fish and come to the dock with what feels like a mediocre sack and then learned they're at or near the top of the leader board know how good this can feel. People who place value on satisfaction with control embrace adversity, because overcoming it feels so fulfilling and meaningful.

Easier is better, when the goal is simply to get a job done, and impossible is neither satisfying nor fun. Easier isn't always better, though. When we've chosen to challenge ourselves, to relish the process of playing, controlling what we can control and accomplishing something difficult becomes the springboard to the highest level of satisfaction.

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