Ten Fly Fishing Lessons for Business

My husband and I are semi-retired and have taken up—of all things—fly fishing!  As crazy as it sounds, I’ve traded in my Manolos for waders. I’ve decided I enjoy the sport because there are so many similarities to being successful in business. Here are my top 10 observations about the two.

10. Fly fishing, like business, is not a sedentary sport. There’s no sitting around on your butt waiting for a fish to come and grab hold of your bait.  You better be proactively moving and thinking or you’ll miss the catch. Sound familiar? 

9. Fly fishing, like business, is part science and part art. You have to know the habits and needs of your target audience and then lay that fly down ever so gently to get them to bite. A lot of marketing strategies seem to miss the importance of research and the concept of subtlety.

8. Fly fishing, like business, requires good intuition. I learned from two guides that women are typically better fly fishers than men because they can read the waters subconsciously and are more patient. I was fortunate that during my hay day (the early 90’s) at CompUSA, my fellow male execs valued my intuition and trusted me. Who in your company has great intuition? Utilize their gift. Trust them.

7. Fly fishing, like business, requires silence. Fish are scared off by noise. Leaders who can stay quiet and really listen get the most out of their team and provide the best solutions for their clients. (Those of you who know me personally are probably shocked to learn that I can stay quiet for hours.)

6. Fly fishing, like business, requires a delicate dance. Once the hook is set, you can’t always pull that baby in by brutal force, especially if it is really large. How many times has your sales team failed because they were too aggressive or pushy with the client? Or, do you even know that’s why you lost the business?

5. Fly fishing, like business, requires you go to extreme places. We’ll sometimes fly or drive for hours only then to hike miles to get to the best water. The most successful brands will go to the extreme to serve their customer. How far are you willing to go? (If you’re an airline, it seems you’re not willing to go beyond the tarmac. What has happened to this industry?)

4. Fly fishing, like business, requires perseverance. On those days when the fish are not biting you can’t continue to hang out where you are. Instead, you go and seek new waters and you start casting there. If your business is stuck, you might need to move on to a new business strategy.

3. Fly fishing, like business, requires a good guide. Sometimes my husband and I go fly fishing on our own but when we’re on a new river or wanting to learn a new technique, we hire a guide. This is my biggest regret as a business owner for 25 years. I failed to identify an expert who could help us cost-effectively expand our business. 

2. Fly fishing, like business, is catch and release. Or at least it is for us. We have learned the art of removing the hook, massaging the trout and releasing it safely back into the water. Some businesses would benefit from applying a similar technique to release team members and clients who are caustic.

1. Fly fishing, like business, requires the proper attire.  Showing up in flip-flops would be a disaster. I’m all for business casual but good grief! Need I say more?

 I love this semi-retirement gig. I think I’ll go fishing today.

Ellen Miller