There’s an old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, referencing that what you might think is a thing of beauty, I might see as ho hum and vice versa. The difference lies in our perspective and neither one of us is wrong. That very difference is beautiful in and of itself; it’s what makes up diversity and makes us individuals. It would be a bland world if we all saw beauty in only the same things. I feel that way about trophies.

As a professional outdoorsman, the term “trophy” is commonly tossed around. Sometimes it relates to some very specific qualifiers, as if the trophy status is directly dependent on a minimum size or score. Personally, this kind of bugs me. Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t keeping me up at night and we can be friends, but I’m always skeptical when someone goes down that road. In my mind, trophy status, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and not standardized. You can call whatever you caught or harvested a trophy and I’ll do the same for my quarry. See, still friends!
The reason I’m not a fan of tying trophy status directly to a certain score or size is because it removes elements of the pursuit and those are key aspects of a sporting adventure. As an extreme example; a five-pound trout caught in a hatchery pond is not the same trophy as a five-pound trout caught from cirque lake high in the Rockies, at least in my eyes. However, say a five-year-old catches that same five-pound trout from the same hatchery pond on his Snoopy pole. The kid will forever view that trout as a trophy and I wouldn’t disagree. The surrounding circumstances are different. The funny thing is that the kid’s dad would view that trout as a trophy even if it was covered in saprolegnia and its fins rotted off. It’s the situation that dictates the status, not the fish itself.

There are a few keys to earning trophy status in my own hunting and fishing. The most important one is how much luck was involved. If I feel a major dose of luck was involved, it diminishes trophy status. Now, some of you will immediately recognize that I have put myself in jeopardy with the fish gods by dismissing otherwise trophy-sized catches as lucky, but I see it as the other way around. If I take credit for something I lucked into, the fish gods will have their way with me for being arrogant so I recognize lucky catches for what they are – lucky. Don’t get me wrong, luck is commonly part of our success, but it should never be mistaken for skill.

A great example of this is catching a fish I was not targeting. Even if I catch a true trophy-sized specimen, if it’s not the flavor I was targeting, the element of luck played too big a part in the success for me to honestly feel like I’ve caught a trophy. Sure, some skill was required to fight and land the fish, but we all know that finding the intended fish and getting it to bite is the true hard part. But if I were to post a pic on my social media of said lucky catch, I’d get lots and lots of “atta boys” for my trophy catch. For the record, lucky catches I post are labeled accordingly to avoid issues with the karma and the fish gods. Another solid element in earning trophy status is the difficulty of the conditions faced to conquer said quarry. Easy success automatically discounts trophy status. For instance, I harvested a huge mule deer buck last season, a true giant. I did so after hiking 56-miles over eight consecutive days, glassing for what seemed like eternity and finally putting a plan together to get within range of and execute the shot. Had I shot the same deer 50-feet off the road on the first day of the hunt, I don’t care how big he is, I would not have the same sense of accomplishment and he therefore would not feel like as much of a trophy. Here again, those that saw pics or his mount would spew trophy comments regardless, but I’d know better in my heart.

All fish being equal, I feel a higher sense of accomplishment and thus trophy status for fish caught EXACTLY how I thought I’d catch them prior to fishing, especially at places I have little or no recent experience. It means I read and recognized and the conditions and then executed correctly. Hence, I take pride in that day’s fishing and nice fish will be a be trophy to me. While I’m always grateful for surprise catches, they just don’t feel the same.

My best trophy fish of all time is a big ‘ol lake trout. Why that fish? Because it is a species I had targeted for a long time with little success. I studied, learned from a couple laker guides and planned to hit a good lake at what I thought was prime time, fishing solo. My plan and skills worked, resulting in a true trophy by any standard, but even more so to me.
May your 2017 be filled with trophies, however you choose to judge them!