Fish-Tale Template

Fish tale

How to tell a good fish story.

A talented fisherman is only as good as the yarn he spins. Because, let’s face it, nobody’s going to care about that 22-inch brown you caught on the Madison unless you have a good story to go with it (I’m speaking from experience). The story has to have suspense, it should include dramatic rises and falls, and you must stare peril in the face and come out victorious. And the best part: success isn’t measured by the length of the fish in the basket, but more by the lessons learned along the way. In fact, sometimes you don’t even need to catch anything to impress your buddies—you just need a compelling tale.

To structure a good fish tale, refer to the formula of the hero’s journey. Think Odysseus from The Iliad, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, or Luke Skywalker and Star Wars. These protagonists follow a similar direction along their rise to power—from ordinary to legendary. Use the same timeless format to formulate your next story and have everyone at the local watering hole on the edges of their barstools.

Keep in mind that a good tale goes beyond the words on the page. The hero’s journey is relatable to anyone who has struggled, and inspiring to those who need the courage to persist.

1. Call to Action and Near Refusal
This is where the journey begins. You are living your everyday, ordinary life when something more is revealed to you: a reason to break out of the routine. The story becomes increasingly more compelling when you express your initial desire to ignore the call. However, you are urged further, by something external or within, to answer. Don’t be afraid to delve into the supernatural or other far-fetched ideas here. They’ll serve to prove it was your destiny to be on the river when you were. Perhaps you see a fish-shaped cloud in the sky or a caddis land on the bill of your hat. Regardless, it’s an omen and you follow it to the river.

2. Encounter with a Mentor, Guide, or Mystic
Within every story of greatness, there’s a mentor that helps to put his mentee on the right path. He bestows important lessons upon his student that will prove invaluable along the journey. Oftentimes, there is even a memento or a special, enchanted artifact that the mentor sends his student with on the way into the unknown. Maybe he tips you off to some secret hole or provides you with a one-of-a-kind fly pattern he tied himself.

3. Point of No Return
To show you are truly devoted to the call, you must cross a threshold: a point where turning back is not an option. It’s Caesar’s proverbial Rubicon and you are committed from here on out. This may seem like a small detail; however, proving your mandatory dedication to the task at hand will create a more exhilarating story. Some possible thresholds are crossing a log bridge across a side channel that washes away as soon as you leap to the other side. Or maybe your car gets stuck in the mud when you get to the river. Either way, you’re locked into the journey.

4. Trials, Temptations, and the Abyss
Though you’re committed to the cause, your will must still be tested. Thoughts of regret and the way things used to be will cross your mind as you face the throes of the river and its sirens that try to distract you from your true path. Sure, the struggle here can be with a monster brown trout, but keep in mind that a good tale goes beyond the words on the page. The hero’s journey is relatable to anyone who has struggled, and inspiring to those who need the courage to persist. It could be that your fish continues to swim downstream as you chase after it, pool after pool across a steep and rocky riverbank. Or the story could go beyond fishing altogether, as your day on the water turns into a rescue mission to save an injured animal along the shore.

5. The Epiphany and the Return
The story comes full circle. The legends I mentioned before—Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Iliad—all have important lessons learned by the hero. What did you take away from your journey? What did you gain from your challenges and how did you grow as a result? Your listeners can similarly grow from your story and experiences without having to endure the same challenges. Call it a lesson learned the easy way. The final epiphanies are for you to decide. But think hard, because this is the meaning of it all, what made it all worth it; and that’s much more than just basketing a big fish. And finally, how does it feel to be a hero among men?