Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fish On!

Fly fishing
(Photo credit: Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock)

by Jay C Stalnacker

A few years back, I started to learn to fly fish. Over the years, I had tried to self teach and had very little success. After all, it seemed fairly simple. Fish eat bugs; and one would assume the bigger the bug, the more likely a fish would want to eat it. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple as fly fishing is both a science and a art. You can educate yourself by reading books. You can buy the most expensive gear. But ultimately it’s about an accurate cast--sending the right fly to an exact spot. It’s a memorizing effort as you stand in the crystal clear mountain water listening to the river glide over rounded rocks. If you know where to look and watch closely, you can actually see the trout nestled in the slower pockets occasionally moving with lightning speed as their favorite food passes by.

Fly fishing is not for the inpatient. It’s a slow, purposeful effort to identify the right bug and the best location. Worse is watching as trout surface to sniff your fly and then dive back under and continue feeding on some unknown food. One also needs to have self control as the knots are small and complex, and the flys are even smaller and a bit sharp. Tying a fly or your line leader can just about send a guy like me into a fit of explosive frustration. Casting is a even bigger test of nerves. Accurate and controlled fly casting is about as difficult as a unbeatable carnival game. Your just about to get it then something goes really wrong like a tangled line in the tree behind you or a fly snagged on your friend's ear.

When it all comes together it is a magically feeling. Looking up, you see rustling fall leaves with vivid reds, greens and yellow glimmer against the clear water; and as you stand in the cool water, you feel grounded and connected to something bigger. Looking around, you begin to identify the insects hatching and flying low over the water; and soon you see a beautiful rainbow trout sipping them off the top of the water while slowly moving against the current upstream. As you cast, you feel the line glide backwards; and with a gentle snap forward, it silently glides past you placing the fly on the surface as if a insect naturally landed. With very little notice, the fish attacks; and your line goes taunt. "Fish on,” you yell. You pull gently but with constant pressure, allowing the hook to set. You cautiously allow the fish some room as the reel spins with tension. Soon the trout is tired and allows you to reel her towards your net. There is always one last effort; and usually as you reach for your net, she will run again often with a violent thrashing. But soon she is worn out and ready. As you hold her in your hand, you look at her beauty as it’s truly a rainbow of colors. Quickly, you unhook the fish and gently place her in the water, helping her catch her breath. Soon she recovers from the fight and swims out of your hands upstream towards freedom.

Granted fishing is not for everyone, but there is a greater lesson in this story. I believe leadership is a lot like fly fishing. There are folks who read a lot of books. They buy all the equipment; and as we say in fire, perfect their “fireline fashion.” They look like the tourist fly fisherman that just left the guide shop. Everything is new and shiny, but they have no idea what to do with it or how to use it. Like fishing, a leader must spend some time on the river occasionally falling in and filling their waders with water. A leader must also learn to read the current of the organization and see the hazards where their line can get caught. They must be able to create strong knots that hold under stress and untie the line when it becomes tangled. Leaders need to be able to see what folks not only need but what they want. A great leader can match that pattern and attract the best followers to surface and join in a fight. They encourage them to to run with the line and fight for what means most. But in the end, they will hold you up while you catch your breath and gently return you to the water always ensuring you're moving up stream.

Leadership takes both science and art; and when those two elements come together, the results are amazing. It’s a truly unique leader that can shout “fish on” as they attract the best to their organization. It’s this leader that is connected with the water and sees what is above and below the surface. This next week spend some time standing in the current; identify the folks that are looking upwards and help them move up stream.

Jay C Stalnacker

Jay Stalnacker, a regular blog contributor, is the Fire Management Officer for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. You can read more from Jay on his blog "The North Star Foundation." All expressions are those of the author.

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