If you’ve followed me much at all these past two seasons, then you know fishing has been a bit of a struggle for me. I’ve had a handful of moments where all the mechanics made sense, but they were brief, at best, and made of a magic I couldn’t seem to tap into on demand. I’m a competitive man by nature, and the more I age, the more I realize the wildest war I’m waging is typically within myself.
While documenting my first-time foibles and showing viewers how to overcome obstacles to the outdoors are reasons I joined this show, two seasons of feeling like you’re coming up a little short can set back your self-confidence a bit. So, when my Producer first approached me about this episode, I looked at her and nodded—this one was fish or bust.
My mission, simply put, was to measure up. To the fish, sure, but more so … to myself.
Orvis Class & Fishing:
When I think of the ultimate man, I always think of my father. From my perspective, he somehow seemed to know how everything was done, he rarely faltered, and he never showed fear. It was a badge of behavior that I believed would be biologically betrothed at a certain unknown interval, and I waited with anticipation of its arrival.
Many years later, heart heavy with having held my breath so long, I accepted that maturity is made rather than inherited. I know now that my Father was actually afraid quite frequently. He made decisions hoping for the best but never having a guarantee. He was brave and dedicated, but most importantly, he always did his best, regardless of all the reasons to just do “good enough.” It’s a simple concept, but multiplied over many years, it adds up to a legacy worth leaving behind.
In the legacy of landing a big one on your fly rod, there’s simply no room for “good enough”. You’ll get tired, you’ll probably get cold, and depending on whether you got your waders from Orvis or not, chances are you’ll end up wet more often than dry. It’s not about the factors working against you but instead whether you have the wherewithal to keep your composure and continue to cast.
I caught a lot more than a quick tutorial at Orvis today. I caught on to the importance of consistency, at all costs, and by the end of the day, I’d caught my first fish as well.
When it comes to doing things right, Elliott’s was founded on the idea of operating outside the ordinary and what has emerged 34 years later is nothing short of exceptional. So, in addition to sifting through a selection of water shoes to see me through my fly-fishing future, I stopped in at the Farragut store for a quick summary on what has set Elliott’s apart for over three decades.
As a singer-songwriter, I’ve bought more than a few pair of boots and, on each occasion, looked to my local Elliott’s to help me in making a memorable selection. Because of these visits, I already knew that I was in store for quality and customer service. But as the lives of Elliott’s clientele have grown, Elliott’s inventory has grown right along with them. Shoes may make it easier to get into the great outdoors, but the sunglasses, camping chairs, and coolers will guarantee you have a great time once you’re out there.
As familiar as you may be with their brick and mortar mainstays, Elliott’s story actually started with a mobile model. After settling my bill, I threw my shopping bags in the back of one of their big rigs and hopped in the cab to make back a little spending money.
Three decades ago, the Elliott’s family made a firm commitment to customer service. “Good stuff that works,” their motto claims, but what’s really working has been their willingness to meet their customers where they’re at, whether that means taking a few tons of safety shoes out to a job site or increasing their inventory so your Saturday shopping list is one stop shorter.
To be truthful, lasting legacies seem to be something that we specialize in, here in Tennessee. We can philosophize over the source of these successes, but, as far as I can see, it’s as simple as taking pride in the products you produce. For the folks at Lodge Manufacturing, their foundry has cast their commitment to quality in iron for more than a century, setting them up to be as celebrated by chefs as they are campfire customs and special family recipes.
As I mentioned earlier, having heart and having success don’t necessarily go hand in hand. No matter what gifts you’ve been given in this life, success will always be below the surface. You might catch glimpses that give you hope, but all you can really ever do is put your very best out there and keep casting.
My field trips with the teams at Elliott’s and Lodge taught me about a lot more than just safety shoes and skillets. There’s something to be said for drawing a line in the sand and casting your standards with clarity. Tomorrow, my crew and I would head out on the Hiwassee, hoping to haul in trout after trophy trout. And whether it took me one day or a dozen, I had my own set of dreams and aspirations that I was after on our outing—I wanted to forget we were filming, forget we were fishing, to stop counting and comparing. To just get lost in laying out my line over the surface of the stream until “my best” was, in fact, good enough. For the trout, sure, but more so … for me.
As a songwriter, I’m all too familiar with chasing successes that can’t be easily quantified. It’s frustrating when I’m trying to find my way, pushing my pen into the paper without making my point. It’s a process that can’t be rushed and is entirely my own, wandering to write the words that feel right. There’s always that moment, that little bobble at the end of a line, where you finally realize that you’ve hooked onto something real. And just that’s enough—you’re ready to cast and cast until, finally, you find that feeling once more.
To me, there’s just something about good company and getting out of your head that go together like tippet and topwater. As TWRA Fisheries Program Manager here in Region three, seeking sanctuary on Tennessee’s streams is second nature to Mark Thurman. For Mark, this waterway flows with far more meaning than most. It ripples with years of real work, no guarantees, and an unsinkable sense of serving this stream, as well as those who enjoy it.
But today isn’t about data samples and survey sizes. It’s about standing side by side, a guide and two anglers, each searching for success by our own definitions.
Speaking of challenges, I’ve had the best day of fishing in my life so far today. And while I’d like my newfound commitment to casting to take all the credit, I’d be leaving out a long list of fisheries staff who live and breath the health of this river to ensure that moments like mine aren’t one in a million.
We lost count of how many fish we caught this trip. Like how many shoes Elliott’s has sold in thirty years or how many skillets Lodge has cast in the past hundred—we stopped fixating on quantity and focused on quality.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that taking a class or trying something new gets easier the older you are. As adults, our minds are minefields of infrastructure and routine, and what was once boundless can easily become closed off. But when we go that extra mile and explore outside the enclosures of our every day, what we find is bound to be exceptional, whether it be within our environment or ourselves.
I certainly found what I was looking for during this trip. I took on my toughest critic and sent all my self-doubt packing. However, I’m sure that, just like the crisp chill of the Hiwassee, eventually those insecurities will slowly creep up again one day. Having surrounded myself with folks who fearlessly pursue what they feel is right, having held the fruits of their labor in my hands, I feel like I hooked onto something special today, though—and it’s called hope. That’s enough really. For a fishing trip, sure, but more so … for myself.