Is Fishing Luck or Skill? Breaking it All Down

kids fishing and luck

Human beings are incredible creatures. One of the many traits that sets us [humans] apart from the animals is our ability to learn and to hone a skill. One way or another, this intro is going to come back around to the topic of whether fishing is luck or skill, but I want to give a little backstory as to why I’m writing this article.

The Backstory

Regarding the topic of luck vs skill, my girlfriend is as skeptical as they come. To this day, if she’s ever burdened with the task of watching a game of hockey with me, it’s almost a guarantee that she’ll eventually make a remark that goes something like this, “Did he really mean to do that?” or, “How much of that is really skill?… It looks like it’s all luck.” 

The other night, we had dinner together with my brother, mother and grandfather. As the conversation progressed, my brother brought up the topic of one of his buddies “working” full-time now as a professional online poker player. You know what happened next? I saw it coming from a mile away. “Isn’t poker all luck?… How is that reliable?”, she interjected. 

You can probably guess by now that she’s made similar remarks regarding my passion – that is, fishing. So how about it? Is fishing luck or skill?

The Premise

Let’s clarify a few things before we get into the main course. This article will strictly be referring to hook and line angling. I understand there are other types of fishing including the use of nets, spear fishing, bow fishing etc. But, since I focus mainly on surf fishing or beach fishing, it’s only fair to clarify my angle. 

I think it’s safe to say that fishing involves luck. But at the same time, some anglers are objectively better than others. This would have to mean that there is skill involved in fishing. After all, why do you think it is that fishermen flock to informational websites, forums and social media to find and learn the best tactics for fishing in their area? It’s because there’s something to learn that will make you better at fishing (at least per area). Take the home page of this website for example, it’s filled with all the most important information that I think anglers in this location should learn in order to maximize success.

So fishing is a combination of luck and skill. But is there more skill involved in fishing or more luck? Let’s dive in.

Some Skills Involved in Fishing

surf casting
surf casting

First off, what is skill? Merriam Webster defines skill as “the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice.” Other sources have added an additional clarification: “the ability to do something well“, rather than at any mediocre level. Without a doubt, anglers across the world get better at fishing as they practice, train, and gain experience. Not enough for you? Let’s answer your question then: what are some skills required to be good at fishing?

The main skills involved in fishing pertain to knowing what to do and how to respond to all the different scenarios and conditions you’re presented with. But, let’s not overlook the skills required to engage in the actual activity of fishing. One has to know how to use a fishing rod and reel, how to manage their line properly, cast and reel, fight with finesse etc.; the list goes on.

These initial skills would be deemed the hard skills (in my opinion), while the next steps would be gaining the soft skills like reading the water, picking and distinguishing good fishing spots, gaining the patience and confidence that is necessary to have success on a regular basis etc. These all, by definition, are skills that must be learned and practice to become better at fishing.

How is Luck Involved in Fishing?

lucky fishing catch
Barred Surfperch Caught on Lucky Craft FM 110

Alright, this is where the skeptics would be happy to chime in. So what is luck? The most fitting definition I could find was “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” I think that definition right there is how my girlfriend defines fishing, poker, hockey and many other activities that both amateurs and professionals partake in.

So what aspects of fishing are most “out of the angler’s control”. Well, the big one is whether the fish that may be out there decides to eat your bait or not. That’s a tough one to get past for many people. If none of the fish out there want to eat, you can’t catch anything. That’s a huge factor that shows how fishing does involve luck and the variable of chance. Next is whether the conditions are even fishable. There’s also the chance involved in whatever intuition an angler might have to place their bait here vs there while the difference between the two casts could result in the difference between a record fish and no fish at all. This list also goes on.

I know fishing involves chance. I know from experience that no matter how prepared, skillful, and knowledgeable you might be, there’s still a chance you finish you’re outing with a big ol’ goose egg. It’s happened to me and it still happens to me. I don’t know anyone who regularly fishes who has yet to get skunked. So yes, luck and chance is a big part of fishing. But one could argue the same for any activity. Isn’t it a similar concept in almost every aspect of life. Nothing is fully in your control. From people who are paid millions of dollars to do advanced, expert things, to your average Joe going about every-day activities as simple as peeing into a toilet, there’s always a chance you miss.

Is There More Chance Involved In Fishing Than There Is Skill?

I don’t know that there truly is a way to measure this. Take for example football. There are a few players and teams that are considered to have really good chances of winning more games than their opponents because they’re more skillful. But a single player has to rely on his teammates, how they’re feeling, the level of communication, the crowd, and all the same factors in relation to their opponents.

Sure, fishing involves a great deal of chance, but, many anglers who nail down a specific type of fishing and/or fishing spot catch fish much more often than not. In fact, I would bet that my “win %” (meaning days I catch fish rather than don’t catch fish) is far better than any professional athlete/team’s win percentage. Is it easier to learn how to catch a fish than to compete at a professional level? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t involve skill. After all, professional fishermen exist too.

I know it’s a rough subject to measure, but to say fishing is more about luck than skill is a little questionable in my opinion. This is especially true when you consider the other subjects and activities that are broadly considered to be “skill-based”. While the skills necessary to catch a couple fish might be easy to learn, they’re still skills and there are so many levels of competency within fishing. Like anything, with practice, training, and experience, one can get really good at fishing.

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