The Unintentional Lie

A week or two ago I wrote about a really great fish that I lost during a few days in the mountains while fly fishing with a colleague. I remarked that it was as long as my arm. And it was. Well, pretty close to it. My arm less, perhaps, my finger tips. And some of my palm. Most of it really. 

Fishermen, like used car salesmen, politicians, insurance salesmen and occasional drunks (or is that covered by ‘fisherman’?), are popularly not considered to be the most truthful of sportsmen. This is an unfortunate fallacy. 

I’m given to sitting still for extended periods, ruminating on the complexities of human nature and for the life of me I can’t believe that an average sample group of anglers would display a bigger propensity for mendacity as, say, a group of statisticians. That is perhaps as bad an example as if I were to use weathermen to make my point, but what I’m saying is that there is no reason for a representative cross section of fishermen to contain more dishonest individuals than any other group of enthusiasts of any kind. 

If fisherman, as a group, were statistically proved to register higher relative to the mean dishonesty index (mdi) of any other random group then it would mean that there exists a propensity for liars to be attracted to angling. Setting aside the discourse on the effects of nature versus nurture on human behavior (Freudian and relationship models notwithstanding) I find no evidence to suggest that fishing attracts liars. Or, put another way, that liars are attracted to fishing. Were we discussing golfers I may be swayed to modify my opinion, but not in this case. 

Certainly, anglers are known to knock back a cold one after a day of plying their trade under hot skies (or a chest warming one after a day of exposure to icy winds and frigid water) and that this may lead even the most sainted proponent of the pursuit to slightly modify his perception of reality. This is understandable and, in the words of a late cricket captain, this falls into the category of ‘the devil made me do it’ indiscretions. It should be common cause that the mortal angler, awash in a wave of human fallability, is no match for the devil and that he who is without sin, etc., etc.

It has to be said that the modern trend toward catch and release practices isn’t helping our lot much. Like the golfer walking through impenetrable bushiness along the outside of the golfing field all the while kicking his ball toward the edge of the mowed grassy bit, catch and release is, well, dodgy. (My mastery of golfing terms is I hope adequate to make my point.)

Our grandfathers posed for riverbank photographs with the carcasses of dead fish all around them. There is something more convincing about hearing of your loved-one’s day on the stream over a smoked salmanoid dinner than hearing about it over a bucket of KFC hurriedly procured on the drive back. No, catch and release frankly smacks of the murder weapon being lobbed into a dumpster behind the motel and does little to shake our unfortunate mantle. 

So back to my fish. I say ‘my fish’ in the same way as I say ‘my lotto’ for the day that I got the first four numbers in a row; much excitement followed by much bugger all. 

It was truly a good fish. 70cm if it was a millimeter. Maybe even bigger. Yet, as I talk about it, I find myself not actually saying how big it was but leaving a suggestion in the listener’s mind that it was bigger than it was. A sort of piscatorial neuro linguistic programming technique if you will. (I have a subscription podcast service available if you’d like to master this technique.)

Let’s unpack why we would try to create the impression of our quarry being more impressive that it’s actual physical dimensions are evidence to. 

There are several contributing factors that we first need to get out of the way and primary on that list is low self esteem. This is easy to identify; you also fish for bass, play golf and cycle (because you like the outfits). This all proves my long-held theory that low self esteem is earned. Lie then, if it makes you feel better. Very few anglers suffer from low self esteem. Fact. No group of people who so demonstratively share the trait of not giving a, err, damn (you thought I was going to say ‘fuck’, didn’t you?) could possibly care about the opinions of others. 

So then, you ask, why do we fisherfolk sometimes create in the listeners mind an image of reality that is not sort of entirely completely totally accurate? Passion. Excitement. Passion and excitement. Passion and excitement fueled by adrenaline. That’s the reason. The unfortunate angler is a plaything at the feet of cruel evolutionary circumstance. 

Back to the fish I caught. Here are the facts (read them fast for dramatic effect). 3 weight rod, 5X tippet. Sun behind mountains. Colder than a whore’s heart. Identified fish rising to unknown emergers. Waded out in flip flops deeper than my dangly bits. Many sharp gasps for air. Occasional swearing. Long cast between reeds. Tippet moves slightly. Tighten up. All bloody hell breaks loose. Fish tries to convince me he’s a sailfish. Grip above shoulder, rod tip beneath surface. Much wailing, anguish and gnashing of teeth over choice of tackle. Screaming reel. Masterful display of technique (I tell you, it was a joy to behold such that future generations will write folk ballads about it) brings fish against all odds to where I should have had a net but in this case only had my left hand. Fish rolls over onto the cast. What’s left of the tippet flies over my shoulder. More swearing and ‘tell me you saw thats’. A bit more swearing. 

I have no need to exaggerate or create in the mind of anyone the impression that the fish was grander then it was. But, seriously, it happens. I’ve turned to science and cold, hard mathematics and I believe that I’ve uncovered the formula to explain why and by how much an angler will exaggerate his experience. Using this formula we we calculate the fisherman’s PTBTT. 

[at this point either read on or wait for it to appear in your favorite scientific journal or the live feed from the forthcoming Nobel awards for exceptional work in the field of the quantifying of human behavior; subsection – piscatorial mendacity]

I’ve already explained the mean dishonesty index or mdi. This is the factor to which a person, based on his natural propensity to bend the truth may exaggerate. A man of the cloth would, one hopes, have an mdi of less than one. A golfer would more be than one (a propensity towards untruth) and a purveyor of women’s night creams would tend to be in the region of three or four on the mdi. 

For the purpose of this exercise and as demonstrated above we will use an mdi of one for an angler; I.e. He is no more or less prone to lie than the average of general society. 

We now need to apply several other factors. The difficulty in stalking factor (dis) is really just a measure of the effort put into getting your fly in the face of the fish. It is either a one, two or a three. One is for a fish hooked while your fly drifted off behind you while you were doing something unconnected to actually pursuing it – lighting a smoke, for instance. Two is for moderate effort – a blind cast while smoking said smoke. Three is for a seriously proper stalk, cast and faultless presentation in tight quarters – like with nchi-chi bushes blocking out the sun, so densely are they growing around and over you and spooky fish in thin water.  Get the picture?

Strength of fight (sof) is an important component of the formula. For instance, the fish that has been hooked a hundred times and which fights like a wet paper bag gets a one. Brisk run, tries to take you through structure, a jump and needs to be put onto the reel would be a five. Maximum is a fish that fights hard, fights dirty, puts you into the backing, makes a muscle lock up, forces you to chase him downstream or around weedbeds, tailwalks, etc gets maximum points; a ten. This scale of one to ten is sliding. You will intuitively know where to score it. 

Then we have what golfers refer to as a handicap.  In this instance it is termed the honesty handicap (hh).  You are a regular churchgoer – score one. Your wife and / or highly competitive fishing buddy saw it – score four. You had been drinking at the time – score 0.5. You’ve been out for seven sessions without so much as a bump – score 0.75. Basically, any circumstance that would keep you honest gets a score of greater than one. Anything (see ‘devil made me do it’, above) gets less than one. You may not have any point allocation under zero. 

So, your Propensity To Bend The Truth (ptbtt) is calculated by the formula:

Ptbtt =[mdi x dis x sof] / hh
To demonstrate this assomebthat:

  • Your mdi is 1 (see above)
  • You stalked the fish, naked, through nettles – dis of 3
  • It turned tail downstream, tailwalking, 8X tippet wrapped around the gill plates and you were left with one wrap of backing around your spool – sof = 9
  • You were sober and a wandering Buddhist monk, Rabbi and the Pope were looking on – hh of 3


Ptbtt =[mdi x dis x sof] / hh

Ptbtt = [1x3x9]/3

The answer is that you are 9 times more likely to lie about your experience than without theses situational pressures assuming that you’re fairly normal in every other way. 

It’s really just science. 


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