Hardware vs. software

Fishing the Deschutes

My friend John and I used to discuss what to ask for when it comes to birthday and Christmas presents. We both enjoy woodworking (him, professionally; me, for fun). I once mentioned asking for woodworking supplies – sandpaper, glue, finish – for a present because, well, I needed them for an upcoming project. “You never want to use precious gifts on ‘software’,” he’d replied.

What he meant was, invest the “special” money (i.e. gifts from others you want to remember) on ‘hardware:’ tools and things that will last. That way, every time you use the tool, you’re reminded of the giver and if you get good tools, you can pass them down to your kids. Spend the gift on supplies or even wood and you’ll never build up your tool collection or have memorable associations.

It’s a wise way to think about giving and receiving well.

So I tried to apply this to fly fishing. Only it didn’t fully line up. Here’s why. I had inherited a reel from my dad and I bought a decent but not-too-expensive fly rod recently (“not-too-expensive” in almost all my hobby areas these days – woodworking tools, cameras and lenses, surfing equipment, mountain bike components and now fly fishing gear – is a relative concept. I’ll save my thoughts on the economics of hobbies for a later entry). I knew that if I wanted to be serious about this sport/hobby, I’d need to invest in better “hardware.” But the more I talked to fly fishing friends and read books, the more everyone pointed toward another form of investment: going out with a guide to learn the basics.

But the price of guides isn’t cheap. You could get a decent set-up of rod, reel, line and flies for less than a day with a guide.

The guide seemed to me like “software,” something that didn’t last longer than the time you were out together. But here’s where my thinking has changed.

With travel, which is more important: The places you’re going or the gear you have that goes with you there? You need a certain level of quality with your stuff – suitcases that fly open during baggage handling don’t make for a fun trip. But for the most part with travel, I’ve found that it’s better to invest in the experience than in the stuff.

And so it seems with fly fishing as well. All the best equipment won’t help me catch fish if I don’t know how to cast, retrieve or even know where to look for the fish. Thus, on that recent trip to Oregon, we splurged and hired the guide.

It was horrible.

Not the guide. He was great. Incredibly patient with both my son and me. Supportive, funny, encouraging and never dismissive. But I didn’t catch a single fish and by the end of the day, I was ready to give up on the whole idea of fly-fishing.

What I later came to realize was that the investment in “software,” in hiring the guide, did pay off. Just not at the time any more than great tools – hardware – will help you immediately if you don’t know how to use them properly.

What I came to appreciate from my “software investment” is that not only does learning take time – I can’t become a master angler in just one day – but that how we learn can matter as much or more than our hardware or software.

Over the next several entries, I’ll be sharing some principles gleaned from that day with the guide. These are principles for learning something new that most of us may have known but we all too easily forget. These “rules of thumb” will dramatically increase your ability to acquire a new language, play a new instrument, develop a new skill or navigate your way around a new city.

Or maybe even fly fish…


If you haven’t already, you might want to check out other entries in this series on lessons on learning through fly fishing: Gone Fishin’Knowing and DoingLearning in Small Bites and Eliminate Your Variables

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