I’m a big fan of Star Wars. As a little kid, I saw the first film, Episode IV, in a theater in 1977. I was blown away—far, far away.
Like many Star Wars fans, I was disgusted by the three prequels, and won over again with the final trilogy.
In the latest episode, one of the more memorable scenes introduces the character, Finn. On the run from the bad guys, the young rebel bumps into Han Solo. Finn, trying to impress Solo, lies “I’m a big deal in the resistance.” At that, Solo quips: “Listen Big Deal, you got another problem.”
From then on, Finn’s nickname is Big Deal.
So, what’s the point?
Bass Fishing Suffers by Comparison
Last spring, to celebrate the bass-season opener, my family travelled to Ontario’s Algonquin Park. We were camping on a lake close to town and easy to access. The place is popular with local anglers and holds a good population of cooperative fish.
Bass season opener should be a national holiday; I often see a couple dozen kayaks and canoes on the water. The first evening, I set up just off a boulder spit.
Big stone flies were hatching. Bass don’t usually take a natural fly off the surface, so I tied on a nickel-sized black nymph and cast towards the rocks.
I let the fly sink for three seconds, strip, strip and bang! I caught a nice-sized bass and released it. Every second cast I would catch a big, bright spring bass.
Bass season opener should be a national holiday.
Other anglers on the lake were watching. While they futilely cast their lures, I caught one fish after another. The fish were gorging on nymphs, and I was the only one with a fly rod.
As the sky grew dark and the lake became quiet, I could hear my colleagues’ friendly conversations.
“No, but that fly fishing guy over there is pulling them in every cast. He’s next level.”
I didn’t know Han Solo was fishing the lake.
Looking to Social Comparison Theory
As a risk management consultant, I may be guilty of over-analyzing these situations.
I know social comparison theory states people have a need to understand themselves in order to come up with their own sense of self and identity. In the 1950s, social scientist Leon Festinger argued people build identity by comparing themselves to others.
For example, school kids are more concerned with their test scores compared to classmates than the actual score. They won’t be happy with 98 percent unless they know it is the highest grade in the class.
These days, social comparison theory is invoked when discussing self-esteem and social media. Many people compare themselves against what they see online, whether the images are healthy or even real.
Marketing also harnesses the social comparison phenomenon. Advertisements create aspirational messages: Buy this product to be like these cool people.
Sure, social comparison isn’t always negative. Of course, competition can be a positive force motivating me to improve.
Social Comparison Feeds Into Fishing
So, what’s the theory to do with fishing? Social comparison floats to the surface every time we fish with other anglers. It is one thing to get skunked; it is totally another to get skunked when someone else is pulling in fish hand over fist.
Honestly, my all-time favorite days have been fishing alone.
No one to compare. Just me enjoying the challenge of figuring out
what’s going on under the water.
When I am alone, I can be proud to land two or three fish in an afternoon. But if the next guy lands a dozen fish, my three become disappointing. Sadly, our evaluation of our own enjoyment sometimes hinges on how we compare to other anglers.
Honestly, my all-time favorite days have been fishing alone. No one to compare. Just me enjoying the challenge of figuring out what’s going on under the water.
Fishing for a Higher Purpose
To be clear, I’m not “next level.” Last year’s bass-opener was one of those rare days when fly fishing wins out over conventional tackle. There are just as many days when the fish are deep and I can’t buy a bite.
That’s when I need to remember my goal is to evaluate my fishing based on enjoyment, not how many fish I catch. I think that would be next level.
This article was first published in Kayak Anger Issue 44. Subscribe to Kayak Anger and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos or browse the digital archives for your desktop here.
Comparison is the thief of joy in fishing. | Feature photo: Barry Beck