Fishing Inside an Angler’s Mind

Tabarak Khan
4 min readMay 28, 2018
Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

I always thought of avid anglers as a special breed. While our ancestors went fishing primarily for food, what do modern-day anglers fish for? Why do they spend hours on the water, sometimes without any success? Are they motivated by competition, community, or curiosity?

My own curiosity on this topic led me to a delightful book — Pavlov’s trout.

Pavlov’s Trout is not a book about fishing; it is a book about the psychology of fishing. On the surface it’s a light read, but think deep and it leads you to great insights about life beyond fishing. I knew this book was going to be interesting because, while Dr. Quinnett explains the psychology of fishing, he is an avid angler himself. His love for fishing can be summarized in this excerpt about his reaction when an agitated mother consulted him about her son’s ‘dreadful’ career choice.

She said “He wants to become a fishing guide.”

Sometimes in an interview psychologist are required to put in extra effort to keep a straight fa…, uh, maintain our decorum.

I realized that, given my lust for angling and the risk admitting this might have on a potential client, my next question had to be purged of any interviewer bias or excess emotion and delivered in the most impartial professional voice possible.

“Walleye or salmon?” I queried.

Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash

Dr. Quintett explains the thrill of fishing by introducing the concept of freedom reflex. Dr. Ivan Pavlov, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist who studied conditioned reflexes, described the freedom reflex as the struggle all animals exhibit when they feel restrained from their regular movement. When a fish is threatened it spends every bit of its energy trying to break free. Would it be exciting to catch a fish that doesn’t fight back? Anglers seek challenge. The book suggests that the thrill of holding a wild thing, which expenses its entire essence to break free, is at the core of angling. The struggle for its freedom reminds us of what we are capable of.

As Dr. Quinett describes the rush of holding a live fish, I couldn’t help but draw analogies to the…

Tabarak Khan

I write about the psychological, emotional, and cultural factors that affect our decisions. Engineer | Brand Strategist | Curious