Would You Keep The Fish Or Throw It Back?

Fisherman holding trout S stock


The sky and the lake were awash with hues of golden pink and streaks of lilac as the sun began to sink into the early evening.

There wasn’t a breath of wind in the air.

Everything was still.


It was a glorious night for fishing at the end of the dock.


The boy was 11 years old and went fishing every chance he got at the dock at his family’s cabin on an island in the middle of a lake, and on this day, the day before the Bass Season opened, he was fishing there with his father, catching Sunfish and Perch with worms.


The young boy decided to practise casting and tied a small silver lure onto his line.  It formed a beautiful arc as he cast it into the water; the lure breaking the surface, causing silver ripples as the moon rose over the lake.


When his pole doubled over, he knew he had something big on the end of the line.  His father watched with great pride as his son skilfully brought the fish to the dock.  It was a Bass, the largest one they had ever seen, writhing, there, at the end of his line.


It was 10pm.  2 hours before the Bass Season opened.


“You’ll have to put it back son”, his father said.


“Dad!” the boy cried!!


“There’ll be other fish son”


“Not as big as this one!” he cried.


They both surveyed the lake.  They were completely alone. The son looked imploringly at his father.


Even though no one would ever know what time they caught the fish, he could tell his father would not be moved on his decision and so slowly, he relinquished the enormous Bass into the dark.


The boy surmised he’d never again see a fish this big.


That was over 35 years ago and today he is a successful architect in New York and his father’s cabin is still there on the island in the middle of the lake.  He takes his own son and daughters fishing from the very same dock.



The boy never did catch a fish so glorious as the one he landed on that perfect night with his father, but he does see that fish in his mind’s eye, over and over again every time he comes up against a question of ethics. (1)


As his father rightly taught him, knowing what is right and wrong is easy –  it’s actually doing the right thing that’s hard!  Do we keep the fish when no one is looking?  Do we pocket the cash in a wallet we find and not hand it in?  Do we download a pirated movie?  To we keep to the handshake deal we made with a business partner? Do we skim some of the profit because no one will ever know? There are so many opportunities for us to choose right or wrong – to choose integrity or the easy, short term fix?



In the 21st Century, the commitment of people to their word and always following through on what they committed to, and simply choosing to do what is right, is becoming rarer. Why are we, in this day and age, more prepared to compromise our ethics, to counter what we stand for – or do we even know what we stand for so we’re not really compromising anything, ……..or are we??



Do you know what you stand for?



I’m in the middle of my FLITU series today – Family. Loyalty. Integrity. Trust. Unity.  These are the values I strive to live my life by.  And yes, you guessed it, today I’d like to discuss Integrity.


Integrity means doing what you know is right, no matter what the cost.


Integrity means keeping your word.



Warren Buffet, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said it best:


“In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy.  And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.” 



The goals we have for our life and the dreams we want to fulfil can never be achieved in their purest, sweetest, almost desirable forms if we are prepared to sacrifice them for a few trinkets and baubles along the way.


For instance, say you were offered an opportunity that could really benefit you but it would mean you had to back out of a long-term partnership?  Or say you committed to meeting up with some friends but then cancelled at the last minute as you got a better offer? No big deal. Different situations, with two different choices – and maybe to you the choices are vastly different in levels of damage to your integrity, but damage is damage, and damage to your integrity is not easily repaired. Many people seem to dice with their long-term success and good name, for a short term “gain”.



What are you dicing with?


What have you committed to that you must deliver on to maintain your integrity?



When your integrity is diminished by not keeping your word, it robs you of power in every area of your life, because people doubt what you say, and when they do, even just a little, your word is devalued and your influence is diminished.


I know you know what I mean – we can all think of people we’d share highly sensitive information with and those we wouldn’t, even when they promise they won’t tell anyone. You know who you can 100% count on to do what they commit to doing, and those you can’t, and you adjust how you interact with them accordingly.



Who don’t you trust?


Why don’t you trust them?


How do you think others view you?


Can you be trusted upon?


What’s your reputation?



Trust is the glue of all relationships – both in business and in life, and it’s your reputation that will open the next door for you, or close it.


Every decision impacts your life so choose carefully.  Make the right decisions for right reasons.


What is a decision that you need to make right now?


What is an opportunity you have right now?


In life, it is so easy to forget that who you are behind closed doors is who you really are.


Who are you when no one is around?


Who are you when no one else is looking?


The young boys’ father taught him a valuable lesson that evening at the end of the dock, a lesson that has stood him well in life and I’ve no doubt he’s passed a similar lesson on to his own children.



Are you happy with what you see in the mirror?


I recently read a true story by a high school referee about a high school basketball game he refereed.


It was a league championship basketball game in New Rochelle, New York, between New Rochelle and Yonkers High. New Rochelle was coached by Dan O’Brien, Yonkers by Les Beck. The gym was crowded to capacity, and the volume of noise made it impossible to hear. The game was well played and closely contested. Yonkers was leading by one point with 30 seconds left to play.


Yonkers, in possession of the ball, passed off-shot-missed. New Rochelle recovered – pushed the ball up the court and shot. The ball rolled tantalizingly around the rim and off.


The fans shrieked.


New Rochelle, the home team, recovered the ball and tapped it in for what looked like a victory. The tumult was deafening. The Ref glanced at the clock and saw that time was up. He checked with the other official, but he could not help him.

Still seeking help in the bedlam, the ref approached the timekeeper, a young man of 17 or so.


He said, “Mr. Corvino, the buzzer went off as the ball rolled off the rim, before the final tap in was made.”


He was in the unbelievable position of having to tell Coach O’Brien the sad news.


“Dan,” he said, “Time ran out before the final basket was tapped in. Yonkers won the game.”


His face clouded over. The young timekeeper came up. He said, “I’m sorry, DAD. The time ran out before the final basket.”


Suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, Coach O’Brien’s face lit up. He said, “That’s okay, Joe. You did what you had to do. I’m proud of you.”


Turning to the ref, he said, “Al, I want you to meet my son, Joe.”


The two of them walked off the court together, the coach’s arm around the son’s shoulder. (2)


Powerful stuff!


You can imagine the reputation that precedes this young man, not only with his father, but everyone who hears this story.  His integrity has immeasurable worth – way more than the short-term joy of his father’s team having a “victory”.


When all is said and done, the biggest mistake you can make is to deviate from the pathway of honesty and transparency. Your integrity is one of the very few things you get to take with you to your grave.


What do you need to be honest about?


What do you need to be transparent about?



To have integrity you also must keep it humble. There’s no point in making the tough and right decisions, only to big note yourself and your outstanding character! Doesn’t go down too well with others. We must make the right calls because it’s the right thing to do – not to use it as a Public Relations campaign for ourselves. High five yourself in private by all means, but keep the self-appreciation party on the down low.


Do you need to have greater humility?


Being led by someone you respect and admire and by someone who’s experienced greater success than you, is an incredibly effective strategy for building your integrity, keeping it intact and also keeping it real and humble.  My mentor, Jim, called me out on many occasions about the potential poor choices I was making, and encouraged me on the tougher, though ultimately more successful path of keeping my integrity intact. And he kept me accountable to it!  I am forever indebted to him.


Who leads you?  


Who challenges you?


If you don’t have a mentor, I highly recommend you get one. You will not look back. All great leaders are led, as you’ve heard me talk about many times, and they are led for good reason – because it makes them dead set more effective and influential leaders. Seriously, get a mentor.


I trust my blog today on Integrity goes a small way in encouraging you to make the right decisions for the right reasons, even when no one’s looking – you’ll know and that is all who should matter!


Let’s keep spurring one another on to make these hard choices and to be known as men and women of great integrity and focus on the long-term gain of integrity and not sway from its path for some short term “profit”.


Thank you for taking the time to read my article.

I trust my articles can play a part in helping you grow your Leadership strength to live a better life!

Peter (Coxey)



I talk further about the importance of values in my book, “The Dream Is Everything”.
If you’d like to receive a FREE e-copy, (RRP $24.95), click here.



Some other articles I’ve written on this topic (or similar ones) are:


The Only Thing You Get To Take With You To Your Grave



  1. The Catch of a Lifetimeby James P. Lenfestey in Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, et al., A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul: More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit. (Health Communications Inc., 1997) pages 141-142
  2. https://www.sacredhoops.com/famous-sport-quote-a-true-story-on-integrity/


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