He caught the fish, he stayed with him for three days and brought him in. It was the biggest fish the man had ever seen and to catch such a monster at his age, well that was a feet of the gods. By not cutting the fish loose, he showed respect for it and for himself. His three day ordeal was definitely a triumph. In order to stay with a fish for three days, a person has to have a cretin kind of love for no just the fishing, the ocean and the prize of the catch but a love for the fish its self. .
In order to understand how the man was victorious, it must first be understood how he was defeated. Yes he did loose the fish, and yes he did not make money off of his catch. But when you shy away form the monetary value of his prize and look at its spiritual value, you can begin to under stand the Old Man's victory. By catching the fish the Old Man proved to himself that he could still catch fish at his age but catch the biggest one he has ever seen. The moment that he landed the fish on the third day, the Old Man was victorious. He caught the biggest fish of his life and proved to himself that the sill had what it took to do so.
When the Old Man landed the fish and sharks began to attack it, that sequence of events could be misinterpreted as a defeat. In fact it to was a Triumph. The Old Man stated that the fish was too grand, to great for other people to enjoy. By the sharks eating the fish, the Old Man was insured that other people would not be able to feast on such a magnificent fish. Although the Old Man him self did not know this. He still wanted to reap the rewards at the dock by selling his catch. He was unaware of the part of him that wanted the fish to be eaten. This leads directly to another point about the man's battle with the sharks. That battle was rather pathetic, it was a vein attempt that just delayed the inevitable. But it was better this way, the fish went back to the only place where it could rightly be accepted with grace and elegance after it had been defeated, it went back into the ocean form which it came.