Have you ever pondered what makes a “good day” of fishing? Skipping the clichés, this is an important question for fishery managers because their job is to provide satisfying fishing opportunities for anglers. 

I have little doubt that experienced anglers have both clear and personal definitions. But what about anglers just coming into the sport or occasional anglers — those who fishery managers want to hook or keep hooked so they can maintain a large legion of people that support healthy fishery resources and buy licenses.

Indeed, there is some science that defines “a good day” of fishing.

The study was conducted in Texas as part of a community program. The fishing opportunity was a winter rainbow trout fishery in neighborhood lakes.

Catchable-size rainbow trout were stocked during December through February, and the fish survived until the water warmed to about 70 degrees in April or May. The lakes ranged from about 3 acres up to 6 acres, and fishing was restricted to bank fishing.

Creel surveys were used to record angler effort (hours fishing) and catch rate (trout per angler hour). 

The anglers were asked to rate their satisfaction with their catches as poor, fair, good or excellent. Points were assigned to the ratings (poor = 1, fair = 2, good = 3, and excellent = 4) to allow calculation of average ratings and conduct statistical analyses.

Catch rates averaged 0.6 fish per hour. Most fishery managers would consider that a successful fishery management program, but the anglers thought differently.

Only 5 percent rated their catch rate as “excellent,” and 17 percent rated catch rate as “good;” 28 percent rated their catch rate as fair, and 50 percent rated it as poor. 

Yes, anglers with higher catch rates tended to assign higher satisfaction. Nevertheless, the average rating was 1.76, a rating less than “fair.”

A lot of work and money was invested in a program that produced relatively high catch rates, but catch rates were perceived by the anglers as less than fair.

When it became obvious that anglers were not satisfied with their catches, the creel clerks added a question. After the anglers provided a rating for their satisfaction with catch rate, the creel clerk asked if they were aware that the average catch rate was 0.6 trout per hour.

The creel clerk then asked the angler to again rate their satisfaction with catch rate.

The second rating — the “informed rating” — increased to an average of 2.15.

Although this seems like a small change, the difference was statistically significant. In other words, by changing nothing — not stocking more trout or stocking them more frequently — but merely providing some simple information, anglers’ rating of catch rate changed from less than fair to better than fair.

The anglers were generally inexperienced anglers. They participated because it was a unique and readily accessible fishing opportunity.

For many anglers, the only benchmark for judging their fishing success was the daily limit of five trout. That’s what you’re supposed to catch, right? Catch a limit and go home, right?

Regardless of the species sought, experienced anglers know there are days when fish are easily caught but that there also are many days when bites are few and far between.

Further, many of these community-lake trout anglers were only fishing a couple hours.

Are these results unique to anglers fishing in small lakes for stocked trout? Apparently not, as anglers in other fisheries expected high catch rates — indeed, unachievable catch rates — to say they “had a good day.”

Fishery managers would get more positive credit for their fisheries management programs and increase the satisfaction of “newbie” anglers by providing the anglers with realistic expectations. And many anglers would feel more gratified in their accomplishment of catching only a few fish in a couple hours if they had more realistic expectations.