fish dock

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When photos like this are filling up your news feed and you’re starting to think everyone but you is out there loading down their boats — don’t worry, they’re not.

Do you know anybody who slays fish every single time they go out? You might think you do (probably because they post all those photos on Instagram), but you don’t. No one kills it every single time. Everyone has off days. You might be the best fisherman in the world, but there are times when the fish just won’t cooperate.

This is a good thing. No, really. We all need to be humbled every now and then, and fish are really good at it. Humility is a desirable quality in any well-rounded person.

Now, that doesn’t mean we go out looking for failure. When I plan a fishing trip (or any other endeavor), I intend for it to be a rollicking success. I consider as many factors as I can and go out with the goal of a fish on every cast or drop. That’s not reality, but that doesn’t stop me from having hope.

But when reality rears its ugly head, and the trip that was supposed to see us bringing fish after fish after fish to the boat is instead turning into casting practice, it would be easy to get frustrated. That’s when the value of failure becomes apparent. If you learn to make peace with the idea that you’re not always going to get what you want right when you want it, you’ll have a happier life.

One way to maximize your success is to keep doing the same thing. For example, if you go out every day and do nothing but fish the reefs with natural bait, you’re going to get pretty good at it. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. You’ll be the envy of your Facebook friends as you post pic after pic of fat snapper and grouper. Before long, you’ll have a reputation as an expert.

Goals, right? Maybe, but it seems a little boring to me. Doing the same thing day in, day out — too much like having a job. I have to mix it up. Reef fishing is fun, but so is trolling. For that matter, so are surf fishing, beating the bushes, drifting the flats, shark chumming, and dunking worms for bluegills. I’d rather be a jack of all fishing trades than an expert in one.

Also, being an “expert” is not usually what it’s cracked up to be. Most people who reach that level get a little (or a lot) full of themselves. They have a hard time with things like experimentation or learning new information — after all, they already know everything, so why would they need to?

And then, when situations change and adaptation is required, they often discover that they just can’t do it. They fall back on what they’ve always done, and when it doesn’t work like it used to, they get frustrated and angry and sell their gear on Craigslist.

But they could have avoided all that negativity if they had learned to fail gracefully. Here’s how you do it: Go out and try something you’ve never tried before. Fish under the bridge that you always drive past. Look for fishy spots in areas where you don’t normally go. Drive up a creek and see what’s there. Get a freshwater license and go launch on Shell Creek.

Or, try something in a totally new way. You’ve caught snook on whitebait? Super. Now go catch one on a jig or a spoon. Pick a different method of tarpon fishing and give it a shot. If you normally fish from a boat, hop over and wade — or restrict yourself to land-based angling for a trip or two.

The benefits of getting outside your comfort zone are significant. First, you’ll be forced to learn new things. That alone is worth it. But when you’re doing something you’re unaccustomed to, you’ll be much more aware of your surroundings and what’s going on. Your new venture may work out, but more likely it won’t. If it does, you’ll have a new trick for your bag. If not, you’ll at least have learned something that doesn’t work (or, more accurately, didn’t work that one time — doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up on it).

If you fail, accept it. You stretched out and went for it. That’s great! You need to be secure enough in your abilities as an angler to sometimes end up with nothing to show for your efforts. I have a lot more respect for a fisherman who tries something new and gets no results than for one who takes the easy way out and has a bunch of pics to show off. Guaranteed success is not sporting.

It’s important to understand that failing doesn’t make you a failure. It means you’re willing to learn and experiment. Now, if you go out there and fall flat on your face every time, that’s not good. But every now and then, you should come up empty. It keeps you from becoming entitled, and also from becoming too much of an expert — and trust me, that’s a good thing!

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@


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