Didn’t You Strip the Fly?
When I first began fly fishing, I was learning the sport on the Lower Laguna Madre where redfish were king, and it took months for me to capture their attention. I could hook schoolie trout off the dock, but to sight cast and land my fly anywhere in the vicinity of a redfish’s attention was frustrating at best. There were a number of factors impeding my success, a mix of Mother Nature and mindset, and the combination brought me to my knees — literally and figuratively.
About six months into my quest, which I had been pursuing under the tutelage of my then-husband, I came to a crossroads. I was sitting in the warm, hyper-saline water of this 350-square mile estuary, with my fly rod perched across my knees and a tangle of bright orange line all around me. The wind was blowing its usual-steady 10–15 mph, and I hadn’t yet learned to use it to my advantage. Upon a cast, I created a delightful bird nest that needed to be untangled before I could either continue fishing or hang up my rod for the day.
As I sat there, frustrated with myself and my very slow learning curve, one of the guides in the area walked by me with two of his clients — both male. I was horrified and kept my head down, refusing to make eye contact. I was hoping he didn’t recognize me, but in all likelihood he did. My husband and I had set up a fly fishing lodge across the bay from his home port, and we were becoming known on the scene. It was imperative that I learned the sport.
With the line untangled, I ventured back to the boat, and once underway, tears began streaming down my cheeks. I was ready to quit. “I’ll never get this,” I cried. It’s not like me to give up, but I felt like I had met my match.
A couple of days later, Scott came to me. He said, “I know where there is a big school of redfish, and they start tailing in smaller pods. You can catch your first red there.”
The next day, just before sunrise, we sat in the boat, sipping coffee, as Scott gave me my instructions. “Slip off the boat, wade quietly over to the tailing pod, and then cast right in the middle of the group.” I nodded and then proceeded with the task at hand.
The water was cool against my legs as I shuffled carefully in the direction of a pod of tailing redfish. There were at least ten tails waving at me from above the surface of the water. My heart was beating rapidly and my stomach churned. The wind was barely a whisper, as I felt the first rays of the morning sunlight touch my back.
The pod drew closer and I held my position. I unhooked the fly from the guide on the rod, and gauged when I should cast. When I determined the pod was close enough — less than thirty feet — I raised my rod and sent the orange topwater fly through the air, landing perfectly in the center of the pod. I held my breath as a large redfish poked his head out of the water and touched his fleshy lips to the fly — before turning away. I was stunned.
Scott had been watching from the boat and then waded over to me after witnessing my failed attempt. He asked, “What happened?” I described every step I had taken, which had been exactly as he instructed. His response: “Didn’t you strip the fly?”
“You didn’t tell me to strip the fly!”
My frustration peaked that day — along with a bit of anger which fueled my determination. I didn’t quit the sport. I went onto catch my first redfish, and then another, and another, plus many more species since then. I also began guiding after passing my US Coast Guard six-pack license exam, and many years later I serve as a volunteer mentor for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. My cast is beautiful and accurate.
That incident where Scott didn’t tell me to strip the fly stuck with me, and now I use that story in my writing classroom as I stress with my students the importance of details. One of my technical writing students says that’s what he remembers most from the semester.
Many times we know our subject matters so well that we forget the minute details that might lead a team member to success or cause a project to fail.
Recently, I was working with a colleague, Pete Winiarski, on his book, Virtual Teams That Thrive: How to Use the 5Ps of Effective Virtual Teams to Increase Productivity, Build Autonomy, and Elevate Your Business in An Age of Uncertainty. We were using templates from Amazon’s KDP Publishing to finalize the manuscript and the cover. Both were faulty. The interior design template had a number of bugs that caused the manuscript to “blow up.” It was as if it was possessed where text appeared and disappeared at will.
Once that was rectified by stripping the manuscript of its formatting and creating our own template, the cover was an issue. The directions which were followed to the “t” by the graphic designer failed to clearly state the boundaries of the dimensions. The cover had to be redesigned to compensate for an eighth of an inch discrepancy. These problems cost us hours upon hours of extra time and delayed the launch of the book by more than two weeks. These challenges also disrupted the flow of other projects.The ripple effect of someone not honoring the need for exact details created a huge impact on Petes’s company and my own.
So the next time you’re setting expectations, describing a project, teaching something new to one of your mentees, look through the lens of a beginner’s eye. Break down each step and clearly describe the actions needed to meet the desired end result.
Remember to tell them to “strip the fly.”
#flyfishing #stripthefly #detailsmatter #leadership #leadershipcoaching #mentoring #petewiniarski #virutalteamsthatthrive