A Few Words on Luck

...As Luck Would Have It
I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking and then I thought...
"What the hell good would that do?" - Ronnie Shakes

Luck... to a greater or lesser extent, all of us have it. On the surface, it should be a simple concept. Either the divine shines on you or it doesn’t. Luck can visit us in many forms. It could be good weather or lots of fish. Maybe it involves catching a big trophy or perhaps a prized species. But when you look at luck a bit closer, you'll find that some anglers seem to have gotten more than their fair share of it and there seems to be different types of luck.

We all know about “blind luck”. Blind luck is the guy that catches that incredible fish on his first day of fishing.... ever. It’s the guy that doesn't know zip and can’t keep fish off his line. It’s the “you-gotta-be-kidding-me” kind of luck that makes the recipient’s companions shake their heads and mutter under their breath. Dumb, blind, beginners... we all know this type of luck. We also know it won’t last, because eventually, we all start TRYING!

The second type of luck is what we'll call "serendipitous luck". It is a step-up from blind luck. For the angler to receive this luck he must stay active and work at it. Eventually, fly will intersect with fish and voila', luck ensues. This is the “infinite number of monkeys with typewriters will eventually type the Declaration of Independence” type of luck. This is not blind luck as effort and perseverance is involved. It’s the “can’t rise if you don’t stumble” type of luck favoring Horatio Alger types.
Louis Pasteur was thinking about our next type of luck when he said, “Luck favors only the prepared.” This type of angling fortune presents itself only to those who have the sagacity and astuteness to recognize it when it comes along... and an ability to take advantage of it when it does. Although Pasteur wasn’t an angler, I think he would have recognized that practicing casting and a few well-tied knots is a good idea. In order to receive this type of luck, you must see the clue and have the tools to both make the pitch and close the deal. Good anglers seem to get more than their fair share of this type of luck.
The last type of luck is the type Benjamin Disraeli had in mind when he said “We make our own fortune and we call it luck”. This is where the discussion about luck gets interesting. Those who seem to have this type of luck have a collection of personality traits and perhaps an intuitive ability that not only put them at the right place at the right time, but allows them to relax and be in the moment when luck comes knocking. They have everything that the previous luck recipients have, wisdom, experience, preparation, but they also have a bit more. A bit more of the type of luck that Thomas Edison described as “ 99% perspiration creates 1% inspiration” Of course, these anglers come prepared and have the necessary skills, but we all know plenty of great casters who have only mediocre luck. No, these anglers have a bit more. We’ll get back to this later.

Now I have a confession to make. After over over 20 years of sending thousands and thousands of anglers all over the world, I have developed an ability to not necessarily foretell who will have a good trip, but I can often tell who will have a bad trip. These fishermen, God bless ‘em, are usually only interested in results. They want to know how many fish they will catch or what is a typical day. They’re anxious about their trip. Not really excited, just anxious. Often they tell me about their past crummy trips and how they want me to guarantee that this will be a good trip. This is when I start to get nervous. There is a pessimism that creeps through the phone line and I can feel the beginnings of a self-fulfilling prophecy. More often than not, these people return saying they didn’t have very good luck. When I talk to the guides, they will often say the fishing was great, but Mr. Doe couldn’t see the fish or couldn’t make the cast. Remember the part about preparation?
Now we have some clients who seem to always have great trips. They are unfailingly optimistic and relaxed. They see what is there rather than what they are looking for. They don’t press, they let their trip unfold and they are determined to have a good time regardless... and they do!
We have always wished we could impart the attitude of the good luck anglers to the bad luck guys. We have wondered aloud if it would be possible to change the bad luck group by assuming the attitudes of the good luck group. We did a little research into this and found some surprising results. Apparently, a number of psychologists have wondered about the same thing... maybe they like to fish!
These scientists have conducted a number of experiments designed to help the unlucky think and behave like a lucky person. First, they identified the behavior that made someone unlucky or lucky. The first and foremost was anxiety. Unlucky people are more tense and this interferes with their ability to notice things and as a result they miss opportunities. On the other hand, lucky people are more relaxed and open and therefore more observant. The second behavior consistently displayed by the unlucky is a pessimism that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy whereas the lucky are confident and know they will be successful. I once read something on how to see fish on flats well. After mentioning the importance of Polaroid sunglasses, the author said the two most important tips were to: # 1... relax and “get in the groove” and # 2... be confident. He said, “If you don’t think you will see fish, you won’t!”
So back to the experiment... the researchers took a group of “unlucky" people and had them perform exercises that made them think and behave like a lucky person. These exercises helped them create and spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky and be more resilient to bad luck if not transform bad luck into good luck. After a month, low and behold, 80% of the unlucky came back and said they had become luckier.

As a result, these researchers identified four tips for starting the process of going from unlucky to lucky: 

#1. Listen to your instincts, they are probably right.
#2. Relax and be open to new experiences. Don't worry about breaking your normal routine.
#3. Visualize yourself being lucky. Luck is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
#4. Be optimistic.

So maybe it is possible to change one's luck. Maybe it’s not a divine accident or a cosmic benevolence. Maybe luck is a learned skill just like casting or knot tying. Maybe it's just a simple matter of starting to think you are lucky. Then, maybe you start to relax, you start seeing fish and you think your luck has changed. Who knows, but it is sure worth a try and it's sure cheaper than buying dozens of new flies or a new rod and reel in an effort to change your luck on your next trip.