Big fish thinking

Mickey achieves a remarkable goal.

I was never particularly good at sport when I was younger. I thought I was great, but looking back, I was just enthusiastic. I’d bolt all over the shop, trying to be everywhere at once, tire myself out and generally get in everyone else’s way. I lacked focus or dedication; I was simply happy to run around and have a good time. Most of the other people playing sport had some type of goal in mind. They actually wanted to win, or impress someone, or beat their personal best. In my case, when it came to sport, I just didn’t care that much.

But it turns out goals aren’t a bad thing. Without investing in personal goals, you’ll have no growth as you work towards them, or feel any real satisfaction if or when you achieve them.

In sport, your goal is to beat the opposition and in doing so prove you are the best, with a ranking attached and a clear progression to a pinnacle. That’s why I don’t think of flyfishing as a sport. It is however my life, and it’s a lot harder to set goals for a life! What type of goals should you set? What factors influence you in these decisions? At what point can you say you’ve achieved your goals? What do you do after you’ve accomplished what you set out to? These are all the questions I had to confront when I recently achieved one of my top goals, catching a trophy Goodoo (Murray cod).

What type of goal?

Just having a general goal of enjoyment is totally fine for a day’s fishing. But if fishing is your life, or at least a passion, a solid goal gives you direction. Direction is something we all need. If you lose direction, fishing can be a fantastic place to find it again. That’s why it’s a common theme for people to come to fishing, especially with the fly, after a life-changing event.

I need direction in fishing because of the huge number of options and opportunities which are constantly presenting themselves. This sounds like a great problem to have, but you can end up becoming that kid tearing all over the pitch, while never actually making a difference or achieving some form of satisfaction.

A goal becomes a lot clearer if it’s actually achievable, and its value increases enormously if it’s relevant. You need to have the confidence you can actually do what you’re setting out to do, otherwise the tendency to despair or give up can creep in easily. That’s why this season, I set a clear, single, relevant goal for myself: to catch a metre-long Goodoo.

I knew a metre cod was an ambitious goal, but not impossible.

In this case, I knew from personal experience that catching a metre-long Goodoo on fly was possible. In fact, I helped land my mate Josh’s trophy for him with my bare hands – and felt the cod’s teeth rip off the first few layers of my skin! I also witnessed the satisfaction Josh enjoyed after achieving his goal.

But although you want your goal to be achievable, I think it’s also important that it isn’t merely difficult, but extremely difficult; requiring meeting a lot of smaller goals and steps along the way. We all know how hard it can be to catch Goodoo on fly. Add the challenge of a metre fish into that equation, plus doing it on a lake (Googong in this case) as opposed to a river, and in some respects, I basically created the hardest conditions I could think of.

At any size, Goodoo are a worthy challenge on fly.

Practical value

My reasoning was also practical though, and practicality is a key part of defining goals. I had a large impoundment holding big Goodoo within spitting distance of my winter base; and I had time (winter is a slower part of the guiding season for me). In terms of tools, I already had my raft and the right fly gear. I also had mates who are much better at fishing than I am to help me learn the skills I needed. (More on this point shortly.) Finally, as Goodoo are one of the species I target as a guide – including on Googong – the task would further my professional development.

So I had all the ingredients for a challenging yet achievable goal. But what about the other factors at play when setting goals? What about the influences, external and internal, that we take for granted? They warrant further understanding too.

Internal and external factors

What’s personally important to you should outweigh all other factors when setting goals. However, it’s impossible to set goals without some form of outside influence. The key is to find a healthy balance between the two. First and foremost, your goal should lead to personal growth and understanding, both of which require effort and some sacrifice.

Now from the outside, chasing a fish for a few weeks might not seem like much effort, or much of a sacrifice – in fact for many readers, it might look like the exact opposite! However, I can assure you it takes a lot of effort – physically and mentally – to chase a fish like this, especially when fishing is your job. When you make your 200th fishless cast for the day, you do start to feel a little stupid for setting that one metre Goodoo goal in the first place! And when you reach your third day without a touch, you start to go a little stir-crazy.

This is especially the case when you watch people catch fish all day for a living. Now I love guiding, and I would rather put people onto fish than fish myself most days. But when I have time off, I like to fish, and with results. So, after a week or so of no results, you can start to lose confidence, or patience, or both.

Yet you need to keep casting, you need to make the effort to get out of bed, row your boat, be on the spot when you have to be and not get distracted by much more ‘achievable’ fishing results that surround you all the time. This type of discipline is a key part of the process. In guiding (and in life!) it’s good to understand that delayed satisfaction, following considerable effort put into a task, is massive for personal growth. That concept became my number one influence.

Another early start.

The joy, satisfaction and the pure elation you know you can look forward to if you achieve a goal like this, is also just fine as an influence. There’s nothing wrong or superficial with wanting to feel good; it doesn’t need any explanation or justification. Achieving goals creates memories which contribute to your identity and your values.

So I’m pretty satisfied that my goal was a good one. But what about society? How much weight should you attribute to what your community feels about your aim? These outside factors are unavoidable. For instance, like a 10 pound trout, it wasn’t me who decided a metre-long cod was a trophy. The general fishing community had settled on that benchmark ages ago. That’s a perfect example of societal factors influencing a goal. It’s not a positive or negative influence; it’s just there.

Looking at hypotheticals, would I have been devastated if that fish was 99cm long? Of course not, I would’ve been stoked to catch it! But at the same time, having set the one metre mark as what I needed to crack, I would know I’d fallen short. If I allowed this thought to get to me too much though, it’s possible I would let it ruin such an experience, which is something to avoid at all costs.

That’s the danger in purely taking external factors into account. They might have some relevance, but they can’t be the be all and end all. I was lucky enough to have caught plenty of Goodoo, and over time some really nice ones. I just hadn’t cracked a metre yet, so in my situation, setting that mark was fine. But if you went out tomorrow and caught a 98cm Goodoo, and you were working towards the same goal, would you be frustrated? Disappointed? If the answer is yes then you are putting too much weight on an arbitrary yardstick. If your answer is ‘no, I just caught a huge fish and I’m so close to my technical goal of 100cm’ then you’re bang on track.

When have you achieved your goal?

Although this would seem to be one of the simplest aspects of a well-defined goal, it can actually be a way more difficult question to answer than you first realise. I wanted to catch a metre Goodoo on fly. Simple goal, right?

Then after reflecting a little, I realised I’d set some ‘conditions’ for my goal. I had to be casting the fly on normal gear (in this case a sinking flyline plus a fly I tied) and it naturally had to be open season where I was fishing. (For example, if I’d caught a metre cod as bycatch during the river closed season, I’d know I hadn’t really achieved my goal.) Another thing I realised, was my goal needed to be repeatable – eventually.

Achieving a goal like this never happens completely independently of other people. At some point, you are using either the knowledge or skill of others (or both) to help achieve your aims. The idea that you have to accomplish a goal completely independently, is both erroneous and impossible. Although I spent plenty of days by myself in my boat casting away, I was still drawing on the knowledge of others to help achieve my goal. On the day I did manage to catch my fish, I wasn’t by myself, or even in my own boat. I was in good friend Will Curtain’s boat, and we were fishing together. Will wanted me to achieve my goal as much as I did. (Even though he isn’t a guide, he’d make a great one!) He genuinely hoped I’d succeed. When I caught the fish, we shared in the success we’d worked together to create.

At last!

And having someone else there with me when I caught the fish (especially a good friend) made that accomplishment feel even better. Not only did I have someone to share the experience with, but in the case of Will, he also knew how hard I’d worked for it.

So when pursuing a goal, ask for help; no one lives in a vacuum. In the end, you are the ultimate judge of your own success. If you feel you’ve succeeded, you have. That’s where self-confidence comes from. And being able to relay the story to others, is one of the best parts of fishing!

However, if you’re feeling sort of cagey, or wrong about ticking a fishing goal off your list, then why might that be? Put simply, you have decent ethics. I’ve seen enough ‘trophy’ trout jagged in the Eucumbene River over the years to see the look in someone’s eyes who’s lying to themselves. If you just set a goal at face value and let accomplishing it cloud your judgement on how you should accomplish it, then that can lead to problems.

So that nagging feeling is sometimes justified, although if you’re a decent, ethical angler, you’re probably beating yourself up about something minor, like not having tied the fly. If you’ve legally caught the fish, roll with it, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. These days with social media and all the usual suspects, no one exists in a bubble; but what you see in a mirror is more important than what’s in a photo. If you can look at your capture and know you’ve done everything right, that’s the best place to be.

While I wanted to catch a metre cod on a fly I’d tied, that part of my goal was very much an individual decision.

What Next?

You shouldn’t just sit back once that goal is achieved though; you’ve just set yourself up for more fun! Do it again and again and again. There’s a certain value in the repeatability of goals, which can sound odd yet it makes perfect sense. For instance, as soon as I finish writing this article, I’ll be back out on the lake trying to catch another monster. In fact, I’ll be doing that all week, just like I did last week and the week before.

Of course, sometimes it may make more sense to move on to another goal, and some goals really are ‘once in a lifetime’. For example, costs or logistics might mean you could only ever expect to have one shot at achieving a particular goal.

However, many ‘fish of a lifetime’ moments can be repeated in theory: you’ve done it once, why not do it again? In my case, the logic behind attempting to do it again is easy. I’m a guide, these fish are my life and livelihood, and the more big Goodoo I can catch, the more I’ll understand them and can help others to catch them. In fact, that’s usually my ultimate goal: to eventually guide someone onto their fish of a lifetime. But first, I need to do it enough to have the confidence in my own knowledge and skills.

Heading back out again.

Now for most people, it’s not a case of wanting to eventually guide other people to achieve the same goal. Even so, by doing it again and again, your skills will improve, your understanding will improve and, far from becoming a less important goal, it becomes even more important and fulfilling.


I wrote all the above right after achieving my goal. I’d caught a 105cm Goodoo out of Googong and I was over the moon. I then had a couple of days off with the ‘flu. (Possibly a result of pushing myself way too hard to achieve my goal!) Editor Phil received the article, but being out on the water himself, he couldn’t read it in full. In the meantime, he congratulated me on an incredible capture, and said he’d chat more about the article in a few days.

Now to catch a metre Goodoo is a massive task, and catching just one for the whole season was my aim. I could probably have happily gone trout fishing the rest of the week instead of going back out to Googong.

Every now and again though, I listen to my own advice. I thought about the importance of repeatability, the satisfaction I had catching that trophy fish, and everything else I wrote about above. Plus, the best time to catch a fish is right after catching your last one, right? So, I got my boots on and went back to Googong.

I’m still processing what happened next. After fishing most of the morning with no result, I put a cast hard against the bank while Will (who I was out with again) looked down at the sounder and announced there was a massive fish under the boat. It turned out there was another massive fish against the bank as well! As Will looked up, we both saw my line ‘tick’ and I struck.


I think my exact words were, “Will, I’m still asleep, this cannot be happening again!” As we saw the cod swim off the bank and past the boat, we both instantly knew it was a special fish. When you see a metre fish in the water, it looks big – really big. When you see a fish that’s starting to push a buck thirty, its bigger again, to a scary extent.

I was basically in shock, wondering if my system would hold (both my nervous system and my gear) and figuring out how the hell we would land this fish. Well after about 5 minutes, I did get it up and we had to sort of fold it into the net (the largest enviro-net on the market). Once we did, I just collapsed on the deck laughing.

It was almost impractical to hold that fish for a photo. My back was falling to pieces, I couldn’t stop laughing and everything was happening very quickly.

In no time we had it out of the net in the water, it was holding onto my hand with its jaws, staring right back at me. Then the monster bit down, I let go, and it swam away.

That fish measured 127cm; to my knowledge, the largest Goodoo that has been caught on a fly. Just goes to show the importance of getting back out on the water and trying to repeat a worthwhile goal!