What Fishing Can Teach You About Business and Life – April 13th 2012

‘A bad days fishing nearly always beats a great days working’.


I never once went fishing with retailer par excellence, and current Chairperson of Galway City Business Association, Anthony Ryan without him beginning the day with the above toast. And I couldn’t agree more. Fishing has manifold benefits including:

  • It provides you with space to think and plan and create and resolve.
  • It gets you in sync with the rhythm of nature that calms you down and rejuvenates your senses.
  • It gets you actively back in touch with water which is mostly what you’re made of and is from where you first emerged.
  • It appeals to the limbic part of your brain that still triggers a primordial stirring deep within us at the prospect of hunting, and if you’re wise,
  • It provides a massively rich metaphor for learning about business and life.

Specifically, what it can teach you about business and life is:

1. Have crystal clear expectations:


People confess to a plethora of diverse expectations preceding the act of fishing. Some are sanguine and expect nothing on the grounds that anything extra is a bonus. Others will expect to return safely – refreshed, reinvigorated and reenergised. More again will expect to catch fish. If your expectation is the latter, and catching fish is your objective, good luck to you but you need to study and assimilate the following.

2. Beware beginners luck.


Many years ago, on a beautifully sunny and calm Sunday in June – conditions that any novice fisher person will tell you are only ideal for courting and getting a tan, but certainly not fishing – I espied a man waving frantically from his boat. Upon reaching him he politely asked me in a strong German accent if I could ‘identify ziss’. He proceeded to hold up a specimen brown trout of some 16 lbs weight. Struggling with reality, I explained to him that in 25 years of fishing I’d never caught anything like that and did he mind if I asked him what bait he caught it on. He hauled out an ancient child’s fishing rod which was affixed to a battered mackerel spinner that was (nicked good – did you get it) and matter of factly said, ‘ziss’. That poor man continues to fish Lough Corrib in vain every year since. Despite investing a veritable fortune in the best of equipment and studying every conceivable fishing tactic, legitimate and otherwise, from decent to dubious sources, catching fish has eluded him spectacularly.

In a quixotic quirk of fate the same frequently happens in business, particularly in start ups. Business start ups are frequently characterised by a flurry of enthusiasm and progress rapidly and formidably. This is typically followed by a plateauing of progress, if not regression. I often find a great way to revive a flagging business is to get them to revert to the things they did in the very early days of their business inception.

3. Actually go fishing – J.F.D.I.


There’s infinitely more ‘talking’ done about going fishing than actual fishing itself. The same is typically true in business and all its components of selling, marketing and recruiting.People talk a great talk without ever inciting themselves to walk the talk. One of the great affirmations I learned was from Paul Keyes, who was then Manager of Dawn Dairies in Galway. At the end of one lengthy team meeting I was attempting to summarise events when I was politely interrupted by Paul who synopsised with aplomb by saying ‘Lads, it’s like this now. Everything we’ve agreed here today can be summarised in four letters – J.F.D.I.’

4. Measure what’s work’s and what doesn’t.


I enjoyed two short spectacular periods of fishing success in my life punctuated by massive intervening periods of Zero success. One was when I was a kid, the other in my mid twenties. A cursory analysis of both situations reveals a telling success factor for both business and life. On the two occasions when I did regularly win competitions I was in the company of a master – one, my late Uncle Stiofáin, and the other, the legendary Brian Forde.

5. Get around masters.


My favourite business quotation derives from the direct hitting American writer Jim Rohn who once said ‘you are the average of the five people you are surrounded the most of the time’. In every walk of life, superior performance is predicated upon access to people of superior performance. Business, or fishing, are no exceptions. Your choice.

6. Become hypersensitive about safety.


I can recall vividly a typical day off Inchagoill on Lough Corrib in late August 1975. The day had started fresh and sunny but rapidly deteriorated into a vicious squall. My Uncle Stiofáin pulled in to the island to confer with another three fishermen who’d also been caught by the sudden inclemency. As one of the men had taken alarmingly ill, and given that this was years prior to the advent of mobile phones, it was decided that my uncle and I would attempt the hazardous three mile crossing to Oughterard to summon help. To his credit he took the time to check in with my emotional state prior to setting off. He asked me if I had any questions or queries regarding the crossing and how clear was I on how he expected me to perform on the journey. With only the precociousness of a teenager who’d have been much happier chasing girls in Salthill I rose to the drama. ‘What happens if we end up in the water and get drowned?’. After some reflection he said ‘Padraiceen, it’s like this now. No one ever drowned falling in to water. You’ll only ever drown staying there’. Checking my life jacket and the other safety equipment on board he elaborated on a number of courses of action in the event of certain circumstances unfolding.

Jim Collins, in his recent book ‘Great by Choice’ says ‘The winners in our research always assumed that conditions can – and often do – unexpectedly change, violently and fast. They were hypersensitive to changing conditions, continually asking ‘what if?’. By preparing ahead of time, building reserves, maintaining irrationally large amounts of safety and honing their discipline in good times and bad, they handled disruption from a position of strength and flexibility’.

7. Understand that fishing, just like selling, is a numbers game.


I remember the first time I went fishing with Brian Forde. I had just thrown my volcano kettle into the stern cabin when Brian asked me what it was for. ‘That’s to make a grand cup of tea for our breaks and our lunch’ I replied. ‘In that case you won’t be needing it ’cause we’re going fishing’ he responded amiably yet assertively. I learned a big lesson that day. The best fisher people spend more time on the water.

The same applies to selling. Frank Bettger, the iconic American baseball player was forced to take up selling life insurance after breaking his finger. He was an unmitigated disaster at selling. One day, in desperation he decided to pack it all in and would have too but for the advice of an old selling pro. This man advised Bettger that ‘the business of selling boiled down to one thing ……..seeing the people. Show me any person of ordinary ability, who will enthusiastically tell their story, to four or five people a day, and I’ll show you someone who can’t go wrong’. Bettger would go on to become one of the all-time selling legends and ascribed his success to that one sentence.

8. Go where the fish are.


From as far back as I can remember I got the importance, and ergo the sanctity, of protecting ones preferred fishing location and lure.

I can recall one day my uncle landing a glorious 7lb trout dapping a daddy longlegs and a grasshopper in a spot we affectionately called ‘Quinn’s Hole’. At that time a lovely retired English gentleman called Mr. Carberry would sojourn for two weeks each year in a caravan in Birchall. As we approached Birchall my uncle suggested to me, that me being of tender years, Mr. Carberry might prevail upon me to reveal the location of the caught trout. Furthermore, he counselled that I was not to tell an overt lie. Sure enough, upon our return, Mr. Carberry offered to take me for a spin in his Daimler car. Having plied me with the finest of chocolate and biscuits courtesy of her Majesties Government, he asked me the burning question. ‘Where exactly did you catch the trout?’ I’d been well coached. In my finest Connemara brogue that was so affected that many’s the Connemara man wouldn’t have understood me, I replied, ‘Poll Cúin’, which literally translated means ‘Quinn’s Hole’. The travesty was that Mr. Carberry lost much of the accuracy of the pronunciation in the period between interrogating me and enquiring of the local barmen where this place was.

Woody Allen once played the role of a bank robber in a film and he was asked why he robbed banks. After much reflection he replied ‘Cause that’s where the money is’. The same holds true for fishing and business. Go where the most fish and customers converge.

9. Create irresistible bait.


No two fisher people will ever agree as to the ultimate bait. One thing they are all in accord with however is that it has to ‘present well’.

The same holds true of your first contact point with your customer. Whether that’s your shop window, your foyer, your website, your response on the telephone, your sales letter, your advertisement or your sales people you need to get objective feedback on how seductive your offering is.

10. How do you land a fish once you hook it.


Hooking a fish is but a third of the battle. You need to play it and then successfully net it. Both require specific knowledge, skills and attitude.

So also in selling. Paul Faller, proprietor of Faller’s of Galway, likens closing a sale to fishing. ‘If you fail to show immediate interest in a customer you immediately let them off the hook. By the same token, if you are overly pushy you risk breaking the line and losing the customer forever. The trick is to get the fish on the windward side of the boat so it’ll fall easily in to the net. The same is true in closing. If the customer senses you’re selling they’ll back off. But, if you can get them wanting to buy, it leads to the two nicest sounds in the world’. I asked him what they might be and he replied ‘the sound of a reel singing and a cash register humming’.

11. You need a modicum of skill.


My Mother recently went ‘faoin scian’ for the removal of some kidney stones. Being understandably apprehensive about the procedure she sought my reassurance. Upon learning her surgeon was the redoubtable Mr. Denis Quill I instantly put her at ease by regaling her with the following insight. ‘You’ve no worries Ma. I witnessed him at first hand, from the bow of his beloved ‘Lady Mary’ on a lumpy force five westerly wind cast a line of three flies, tie another fly of ‘killer repute’ and guide the boat adroitly over a moving fish – simultaneously. What’s more, when I wiped his eye and got stuck in a lovely two pounder, he netted the fish for me while continuing to fish his line. The kidney stones will be a piece of cake in comparison’. I conveniently neglected to appraise her that scarcely had my trout coloured the floorboards before he’d whipped out his Swiss Army knife and proceeded to fillet the trout in a handful of decisive cuts. Later, on the beautiful island of Insequin, we feasted contentedly on that trout, cooked above an open fire of drift wood and washed down with a stirred and shaken Sancerre.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist but a modicum of skill is necessary to excel in business also. What areas do you and your team need to up skill in? You could then contact me at Smácht and we’ll happily create a training plan with you! That’s called AFTB – Asking For The Business – and you should do it more often.

12. Have an answer for the price objection.


Speaking of the said Denis Quill, I was shooting the breeze with him one evening in the Corrib Club as he attempted to fix

some gadget on his boat. A local mechanic, who had been struggling with the servicing of a troublesome engine (aren’t they all) approached us and said ‘Denis, you and I both do the same thing. We identify parts that aren’t working; take ’em out; and replace them with new parts. The only difference is that you get paid loads more than me’. After the ubiquitous mature reflection Denis replied, ‘I do it with the engine running’.

‘Quad Erat Demonstrandum’, as Joxer Daly said in a pronounced Dublin accent in ‘Juno and the Paycock’, know your competitive advantage, your unique selling points and clear reasons why you justify the top price you charge.



I once asked a group in Nenagh to identify the best time manager in the town. Unanimously they agreed on a participant called Sean Mc Cullough. When I asked them why he impressed them so much, they told me that ‘when he’s fishing he’s fishing; when he’s drinking he’s drinking; and when he’s working he’s working’. No management guru in the world could emulate that for erudition.

Get fishing.

Tight lines.



Fishing Fun

‘Today she met me at the door, said I would have to choose, if I picked up that fishing rod today, she’d be packing all her things and she’d be gone by noon….well I’m gonna miss her when I get home tonight’ – Brad Paisly

If fishing is interfering with your business, give up your business. (Quote by – Alfred W. Miller)

Give a man a fish and he has food for a day; teach him how to fish and you can get rid of him for the entire weekend. (Quote by – Zenna Schaffer)

Leave a Reply

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

More about Rocking Horse Sh!t