What traffic cones and salmon fishing have to do with business

Phil Castle

I learned two things over the course of a week-long road trip with my father to the Pacific Northwest. First, a good portion of nearly every highway between here and there is under construction. Second, trophy salmon fishing is hard.

Both experiences renewed my respect for business owners and managers given the challenges they face every day and what’s required to succeed. Namely, patience and perseverance.
I suppose there’s a also lesson to be learned about savoring the journey as much as the destination and the struggle as much as the achievement.

My father and I traveled nearly 3,000 miles on our trek from Grand Junction to Forks, Wash., and back. Most of our route followed highways. A lot of our route was lined with orange traffic cones. I didn’t realize that many cones existed in the entirety of the universe, much less the western United States.

The cones marked the end of autobahns in Utah, Idaho and Washington where speeds of 80 mph are legal. Along some stretches, construction slowed traffic only moderately to 60 mph or so. But along other stretches, highways became parking lots. Long, narrow parking lots. It was a buffet of safety.

I’m a safety guy. So I’m not going to question the necessity in construction zones of restricting passing cars to something less than the speed of light. But I also won’t deny the impatience of road-weary travelers eager to reach their destination. That hotel just off the next exit seemed so close, yet remained in a miles-long string of vehicles so far.

We arrived in Forks — famous for not only salmon fishing, but also vampires as the setting for the “Twilight” novels — a bit late, but better than never. By the way, Forks also claims fame as the rainiest town in the contiguous United States.
We instantly discovered why.

But even the wet weather couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for what awaited: two days of fishing rivers full of migrating salmon fresh from the ocean. Visions of 30-pound king salmon danced in our heads. We trembled in anticipation of the tug of war that would ensue.

Before I continue with my fish tale, allow me a moment to digress.

I’ve enjoyed fishing my whole life. Growing up in Eastern Colorado, I fished farm ponds teeming with schools of bluegills and perch. Sometimes a surprise awaited at the end of the line — a plump catfish or largemouth bass. Outsized equipment that included a bobber nearly as big as a beach ball, enough lead weight to anchor a battleship and a hook skewering a nightcrawler with the girth of a python seldom failed to catch fish.

I’m normally not one to brag, but I’ve also enjoyed some success catching trout on this side of the Continental Divide. That includes a few lunkers pulled from the White River near Meeker.

As I learned in Forks, though, past performance offers no guarantee of future results. Over the course of two days, I brought to the boat four fish. My catch included two king salmon — but only foot-long relations of the leviathans against which I’d hoped to battle.

We outsourced to a fishing guide the equipment and expertise we believed we’d need to catch trophy salmon. To be fair, there were factors beyond his control with which to contend. And he seemed to try hard. I guess the proverb holds true: You can lead a fisherman to water, but you can’t make him catch a fish. Nonetheless, our frustration with trophy salmon fishing soon surpassed our frustration with highway construction.

I don’t mean to make in my comparisons light of the far more serious business of business, especially when livelihoods are so often at stake. But taking into account what I’ve also learned over 20 years as editor of a business journal, I gained anew an appreciation for the patience and perseverance required to achieve success.

We persevered and got to Forks and back. I’d like to believe we eventually would have been successful in catching big salmon. We just ran out of time.

What I expect to remember most about the trip, though, is how much I enjoyed spending time with my dad. Even when we were stuck in traffic or sitting in a boat in the pouring rain while cast after cast failed to elicit so much as a nibble.

Savvy business owners and managers strive to earn a profit. Their operations depend on it. But almost all the owners and managers I’ve met enjoy what they’re doing and take pride in the products and services they’re providing.

For motorists, fishermen and entrepreneurs alike, the journey often constitutes the destination. And the very struggle of trying constitutes an achievement.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at phil@thebusinesstimes.com or 424-5133.