Experience – What Does This Mean?

Twenty years ago I wrote a number of articles for various fly fishing magazines. At the time I’d been fly fishing sixteen years, enjoyed success on stillwaters and rivers, I thought I was rather good at this game.

Eight years later, I started guiding and instructing full time knowing a huge amount more than when I penned those articles. I also recognised their was much more to explore and  learn in fly fishing.

Now I know a phenomenal amount more than either of the above periods in my life. I also know I will never (thankfully) know it all, though that won’t stop me trying. You could say I’m “experienced”, but what does that mean?

The Oxford Dictionary describes it as: –

Experience – Actual observation of facts or events; activity or practice in doing something and skills or knowledge gained in this way. An event or activity that gives one experience.

Experienced – Having knowledge or skill gained from much experience.

Wondering where I’m going with this? OK, I get to hear many people use the term “experienced fly fisher”. This can, I’ve learned, mean many things. Typically, we use the term in reference to the number of years we (I do mean we, I can relate to this too) have fly fished.

This can be an error. Why?

Person one may have fly fished for ten years, only fishing six days each year. They may do the same thing every time they go, at the same places, not changing, adapting and only learning a small amount. Person two may have fly fished for ten years, fishing forty days each year. Trying new places, techniques, adapting to conditions and their observations better due to what is basically their greater experience.

Using time to describe experience suggests both these people are “experienced fly fishers”. In fact their respective knowledge and skill levels will be completely different.

What does this have to do with becoming a better fly fisher? Two things.

Firstly, once we get it in our heads we are “experienced fly fishers”, it’s easy to become resistant to change and block learning and development opportunities. If your opportunities to fly fish are similar to that of person one, you are more likely to fall foul of “Excessive Self Regard Tendency“.

Secondly, in order to gain maximum benefit from any instruction and/or guided fishing you take, be crystal clear with your instructor/guide when explaining your level of “experience”. I know it might feel daunting, however you will gain so much more if you open up fully. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of the fence!

On group days I often here someone say “can I ask a stupid question?”. My response is typically “As long as it’s about fly fishing, their are no stupid questions. Many times in my life, I’ve felt stupid for not having asked a question I should have.”

Enjoy the journey and thanks for reading!


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