King Sketch

per – sist – ence
The quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people; the state of occurring or existing beyond the usual expected, or normal time.

per – se – vir – ent(s)
The quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult.

Browsing the Internet, and visiting the Oregon State University Library in Corvallis, I’ve learned that the qualities of persistence and perseverance, usually considered synonyms, are among fundamental, measurable, psychological personality traits of humans. Wikipedia tells me that these are measurable in something called the Temperament and Character Inventory and that these qualities are considered personality traits. Ok, so what the hell does this have to do with the life of a salmon fisher or any other angler for that mater? Want to find out? Read on.

King Candy

Some linguists seem to associate the slightest hint of negativity with the term persistence but seem to only associate positives with perseverance. Both character traits are acknowledged to lead to reward for “hanging in,” but the persistent person might be a little on the annoying side, while the perseverant person is usually lauded for the behavior.

For the remainder of this rant, I’m going to consider both perseverance and persistence interchangeably and consider both terms as referring to a positive character trait. Anyone who pursues their academic schooling, athletic training, language studies, salmon fishing (or whatever else) with great persistence and perseverance is likely to harvest rewards for their devotion.

I often think about the value of perseverance and the part it plays out in my passion as a salmon fisher. The un-initiated might think that skill is the name of the game when fly fishing for salmon, but it just ain’t so. Far as I’m concerned, three factors top the salmon fisher’s list of must-haves: the first is skill, the second is luck, and the third is perseverance. This list puts luck ahead of perseverance, but in reality I’d say that the two factors are about equal in importance when it comes to achieving success in fishing.

What are some examples of a Salmon Fisher demonstrating perseverance?

  • Launching your boat at dawn, fishing all day, with maybe or maybe not a break if the tide is too dirty, and fishing clear through until is dead-on dark, with nary a grab or a salmon to show for the effort.
  • Perseverance is a 2 AM to midnight day, leaving home in the dark to reach some salmon river on the coast, fishing all day, and driving home the same day, again, without a grab.
  • Perseverance is making your own braided fly line loops, not stopping until you have sixty loops in 35-pound and another sixty in 50–pound test, just because you want to make sure you have enough loops on hand as the season unfolds.
  • Perseverance is sitting down with a new fly box beside the work bench; laying out a supply of hooks, dumbbells, and bucktails; and tying #2 Clousers until you’ve filled the whole dang box with roughly 120 flies, all neatly aligned and perfectly proportioned.
  • Perseverance is staying on the water well after the last possible light fades, casting to the subtle sound of rolling kings. You do this because even though legally, you’re supposed to quit fishing, the salmon are there, and you remember the time when a perfect chrome Chinook took your fly long after you should have put the rods away and gone home.
  • Perseverance is stepping into your boat on Day Seven, heading out to fish another full day, even though the previous six days have not yielded a grab from a salmon, because today could be the day when things change.

Hooked Up 2

I’ve always been an angler who perseveres, just as I’ve been someone who delivers on work assignments, and completes tasks. Some refer to this ability to deliver product and meet deadlines as being a “closer.” I am admittedly stubborn, tenacious, dedicated, and passionate about many things. As a professional, my reputation was based on accomplishing novel tasks, submitting my reports on time, imagining new ways to communicate ideas, and so forth. As a Salmon Fisher, I’ve shown my mettle over the years by fishing more hours than most mortal humans could endure, during times when the catching was far less than optimum.

The questions one could legitimately ask about perseverance include the following:

  • Is perseverance always good?
  • Will perseverance be awarded with salmon caught?
  • Are there downsides to perseverance?
  • When does perseverance become pathology rather than a virtue?

Of course, I pose these questions from the perspective of one who has experienced the downsides as well as the rewards of being especially perseverant in my angling. When one is stridently perseverant in, say for example, tying flies or writing, there is always a product to show for the effort. There is always a positive outcome, even though the flies or written material might not all be the finest quality—you will always have a tangible product to show for your effort, for your persistence. When it comes to angling, perseverance may or may not yield anything but exhaustion, failure to get the porch painted, failure to communicate in a meaningful way with friends and family, a pissed-off cat, the trailer axle that doesn’t get lubed properly, a burnt-out brake light that stays burnt out, and such forth.

Imagine yourself sitting at a slot machine at the Casino. You pull the lever. Nothing. You pull the lever again, but still nothing. Then you pull the lever a zillion times but nothing good happens. You move to a different machine and pull that lever but no rewards issue from these new machines. Yet you persevere, pulling levers as you move around the Casino, until you either get a reward or don’t.

Where the slot machine is concerned, you rely on intuition and superstition to help you select the machine that will eventually spit-out a pile of cash as a reward. As an angler, you rely on experience and intuition to help you select flies, fly lines, anchor points, and such forth to put you into a position where a salmon will eventually grab your fly and make it all worthwhile.

Fact is, all of your angling skill, experience, and intuition can’t assure a positive outcome, any more so than if you were sitting at a slot machine blindly pulling the levers.

Chinook on Clouser

I try to guess what proportion of the salmon I’ve caught over the years have come as a result of raw perseverance in contrast with fish caught principally because of my skill set. Tough to guess. Certainly, more fish have come from skill. But the fish that I’ve caught from expenditure of raw perseverance are especially memorable, even though they may comprise as little as 10% of the total.

Pure-persistence salmon are memorable because they have come to me at the end of grueling hours, days, weeks, or months. To say that these salmon are memorable is a gross understatement. The salmon I’ve hooked (and lost) at the end of any remarkably exhausting stint of perseverance created my very brightest memories. A single Chinook I hooked in high water on Day-Five is precious, as is the fish that ate my fly in the dark well after I should have been back at the cabin.

Pure-persistence salmon keep me casting, keep me on the water when flows are too high, to low, the moon is bad, the tide is all wrong, and I should be pulling weeds or painting the shed. Pure-persistence salmon keep me on the water, using every ounce of skill, intuition, and luck I can apply, tying the best knots I can manage, changing out my leaders, switching flies, lines, anchor position, and so on.

Can perseverance in angling go too far?

Hooked Up

Sure can. Sometimes I’ve run myself to the edge of exhaustion, and still had nothing to show for the effort. Sometimes I’ve put off opportunities to interact with other human beings with not a grab to show for the effort. The distinction between perseverance that is constructive and destructive to maintaining one’s employment, relationships, and so on is a very indistinctly defined line and it is not at all difficult to find oneself on the bad side of perseverance in angling to the detriment of the rest of life. Like any addiction, the angler who has experienced the big payout because of pure stubbornness only remembers the payout, and never fully appreciates the depths of sacrifice that were required to achieve the payout. The gambler measures—or fails to measure—how much money went into the machine to earn the two hundred buck payout. The salmon fisher never adds up the hours not spent with friends or family, the home maintenance not accomplished, the books not read or written, and so on, in order to catch that extra fish. The payout is so electrifying after the endurance contest that it eclipses any thought of the costs incurred.

Where to draw the line with perseverance in one’s angling effort?

I usually have to find my own boundary threshold by over-stepping my pain tolerance. But the memories of the few fish caught from pure perseverance are so thunderously bright that they will eventually bring me back to the edge of reasonableness again and again, and my dance continues on the edge of the sane world.

King Candy 2

Yesterday I did the right thing. I didn’t go albacore fishing like I wanted to. I didn’t devote ten hours to mind-numbing tuna chasing out in a 65 degree ocean with nary a bird circling overhead, hoping for a grab on a tolled fly because Ed got one the day before. No. Instead, I drove to Bay city to meet my buddy Rob. I showered and shaved and dressed up in my nice clean Simms Guide shirt. I visited with Rob over fresh, hand-made Sushi, went over his edits to my next book project, wrestled with the conundrum of how much to say and how much to hold back when writing about the places we love to fish. I drove home to my family and got myself mentally prepared to write for the next week. I wrote this short essay about perseverance because I’ve wanted to explore the virtues and down-sides of hanging-in while fishing for a long time now. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to go tuna fishing. I really did, and I remembered every cloudy day when I had caught albies in the past, forgetting every fishless day in the process. But yesterday and today, I’m applying reason to the life balance equation, putting off angling persistence for at least the next week.


My advice to any angler who has managed to read this far? None. No advice. Be assured that many passionate anglers wrestle with the perseverance demon, that it requires much from us to deliver a but a few more fish at the end of each season, and that each of us must find where to draw the lines each day. Perseverance is a great thing, until all of a sudden it isn’t.

King Sketch 3

Jay’s fished for some sixty years; fly fished and tied flies for more than fifty years; served as an officer in the US Navy; been dad to two sons; established a reputation as boundary-testing fishery scientist over four decades; and written few memorable work reports including a life history monograph about Oregon Chinook and the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. More recently, Jay’s taken to writing and creating art to express his thoughts and feelings. Check out his work on his personal blog the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog, and a series of self published books including titles Fly Fishing Book of Revelation, Home Waters (Forward by Frank Moore), and Intruder Essentials (foreword by Trey Combs). Let’s Just say Jay’s one ultra-busy guy…