The One That Got Away and Why It Doesn’t Matter

Scott Styrmoe, MBA, CPA, CFP®

Mar 5, 2018

In the Apache Tribal Lands of east-central Arizona, the fish was a legend among anglers: a wise and wily brown trout with vivid black speckles and a belly as bright and orange as a hot ember. He’d lived for probably more than a decade, or maybe two, in the cool and still waters of Hawley Lake, eluding capture and fostering myth. Weighing 25 pounds, or more by some estimates, he was a fierce fighter who would test the strength and determination of any angler who hooked him.

Which is exactly what he did to me one spring weekend. I’d organized a fishing tournament for charity that weekend in late May and I’d been busy all day with the details of the competition. By late afternoon, the fishermen were starting to come off the lake so, on a whim, I decided to try my luck. Using a bead head black woolly bugger — a favorite of the big browns that are common in Hawley Lake

— I cast my line out across the water and let the fly sink down below the surface. At first, I felt only a soft tug. Then came a ferocious yank until my rod bowed nearly in half and the tip was flicking the water. I didn’t know it at that moment, but I was going to be locked in combat with that fish for the next four hours.

That isn’t how I usually spend my days. I’ve been a CPA since 1985, but I shifted gears in 2006 and became  a certified financial planner, or CFP®, in 2009. For the past twelve years, I’ve been working with clients to help them meet their short- term and long-term financial objectives, the last five of those as a sole practitioner in Tucson. Six months ago, I joined TCI Wealth Advisors, a move that has allowed me to focus less on administrative tasks and managing a business and more on helping my clients plan for and achieve their goals.

Still, I’m a passionate weekend fly fisherman and I’ve been fortunate to cast my lures into some of the best rivers and lakes in the Southwest. Fishing gives me time to think. One of those thoughts: fly fishing is a pretty good metaphor for my profession.

Contrary to popular belief, neither fishing nor investing involves any sort of magic or voodoo. Some folks spend a fortune on fancy rods and lures, probably in the vain belief that a lavish display of might will frighten the fish into surrender. They’ll buy an expensive English fly box, reels with the precision of a Swiss watch, but none of that insures a creel full of trout.

Successful fly fishing is more about patience and discipline. Success is keeping a steady hand on a strong and flexible rod while dropping the right fly precisely into the dark pool of water where the fish might be feeding. The biggest fish are, like mine that afternoon, wise and wily. So, the best fishermen are careful students of nature: the wind, the sun, the warmth and depth of the water. Keeping all those principles in mind, the most skillful anglers cast into the water over and over with quiet perseverance.

That’s probably a good summary of a solid investment strategy, as well. Research has shown that a patient and disciplined approach – even in challenging markets – yields better results than voodoo strategies like timing the market or chasing hot stocks. A well-crafted portfolio – with the strength and flexibility of a graphite rod – will withstand the inevitable ups and downs of the market. There’s no such thing as one perfect portfolio. Markets are unpredictable. What works best is a portfolio strategy designed carefully to meet specific goals over time.

I’ve always believed that fishing is for optimists. What lies beneath the water is pretty much a mystery. An angler carries only a few tools: rod, reel, line and bait – and faith. In terms of gear, less is more. Too much complicated stuff just gets in the way. What’s more important is a generally sunny outlook about your prospects and a willingness to practice the necessary skills.

Investing is for optimists, too. Actually, I believe that investing requires a kind of pragmatic optimism. To quote the legendary economist and investor Benjamin Graham, “The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists.”  All markets will, over time, experience corrections, dips, inexplicable spikes, lusty run- ups, followed by recessions or even doldrums. In the short term, markets can be highly volatile. That’s why trying to beat the markets is costly and counterproductive and usually results in lower overall returns. But investors who take the long view generally prosper. The data show that since 1926 in the U.S., the historical average annual rate of return on the S&P 500 index has been about 10%. That, among other reasons, is why I have faith.

Fly fishing is usually seen as a pretty solitary pursuit and often that’s the case. But not long after I’d hooked that big brown trout on Hawley Lake, a crowd started to gather on the shore to cheer me on. Hour after hour, while I wrestled that trout, they watched and waited, occasionally offering advice and encouragement. After a while, my arms and shoulders began to burn with fatigue. The sun dropped low on the horizon. A bone-chilling cold set in. Those 100 or so anglers on shore were more than weary, I’m sure, after a day on the lake. Still, they stayed with me.

Support: that’s one of the reasons why I joined TCI. Here, I found an encouraging environment and a shared philosophy of conservative investing principles. TCI’s deep bench of experienced advisors have a wealth of combined wisdom from decades of navigating financial challenges.

My TCI experience has been characterized by teamwork, commitment to sharing resources and information that will benefit our clients and their families for generations to come.

For nearly four hours as the sky darkened over Hawley Lake, I fought the good fight with that fish, but in truth he had me beat from the start. When I was so exhausted that I could no longer hold my five-weight rod up, he made a swift turn and snapped the line, vanishing into the deep. I felt a little guilty. I thought maybe the folks who’d gathered to support me would be disappointed that they hadn’t gotten so much as a glimpse of that legendary brown trout. Maybe they were hoping for a celebratory fish fry.

But I was relieved, too. The titanic battle was over, and the fish had won. I’m a catch-and-release guy, so there never was going to be a fish fry. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a lifetime of fishing. Hooking into that big fish and joining the TCI team were both once in a lifetime opportunities. In hindsight, there are no regrets because I definitely landed the “big one”.

Maybe that’s the point of this story. In life, we talk about the pursuit of happiness. Maybe the most important word in that phrase is actually pursuit. We have less control over our lives than we’d like most of the time. We have limited resources. (Try landing a 25-pound fish with a five-weight rod in a float tube.) What I’ve learned is that happiness isn’t an end point; it’s embedded in the journey. So, craft a good plan, have a little faith, and hope for the best.

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