So do you fish alone or with a group?
Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone. I shall remember that son of a ***** forever. -Norman Mclean
Do you ever go fishing alone? I have fishing buddies that fish almost exclusively alone and others who never venture out unless it’s a group effort. I try to mix the bag and do a little of both. My grandfather spent hours on the water by himself. When my brother and I were fortunate enough to accompany him, we rarely fished together. A series of shouts and whistles kept all parties in contact. We preferred it that way.
Without getting too deep here, I think that being on the water alone forces one to stay in the moment (my sister in law Ali would be proud) and help forge a greater connection with his or her surroundings. It is during these times of intense focus that we shed away the stresses and tensions of everyday life. It is almost like we take a little time to step outside of ourselves for a breather…or maybe we are stepping inside to use a different part of the brain. Whatever the process, the experience can be very rewarding.
Here’s a story that I will always remember.
A few years ago, while fishing a somewhat remote stretch of water in Northern Michigan, I was descended upon by a giant hatch of hex flies. Hex’s are sort of the holy grail of mayfly hatches.The bugs are a couple of inches long and frequently, skittish trout will come out from their dens and feed with reckless abandon. I had seen (actually heard) this on other occasions while fishing for brown trout after dark. You see, for the most part this hatch occurs during the nighttime hours. Brown trout tend to be nocturnal feeders, so it all works out – the mayflies get to propagate and the trout get dinner.
So I’m standing in the midst of this plague-like hatch, but, as the sun had not set, I could see all the action going on- and it was amazing. I knew there were some large trout in this area, but I was shocked at what I was seeing. It’s always difficult to estimate size from watching trout rise, but some of these fish were leaping out of the water- like steelhead. These were very large fish. Several (well okay, maybe 3) fish in the 20” range completely separated themselves from the water. I stood in utter shock and amazement. As I have gotten a little older, I have tried to stop and appreciate when God gives you front row seats to his production.
However, in my moment of devout observance, I had let my fly line wrap completely around my legs. -so completely in fact, that I had to scoot my way to a log and tackle the issue from a sitting position. As I was frantically pawing at the disaster around my feet, the show was still on in full force out in the pool ahead of me. Luckily, I had extensive experience extricating myself from my own fly line, and the issue was resolved within few minutes. I had no hex flies, so I adeptly tied a massive stimulator pattern my brother Tim had created in one of our tying sessions together.
The trout were still feeding, I was in prime position to make a cast into the most active area of the pool, and I knew this was going to be my moment of greatness. At this point the sun had started to set, and light was fading…I made a nifty little roll cast to a side pool to get some line to work with, and started a few false casts to ensure a perfect presentation. It was all coming together now, and I could already feel the inevitable heavy tug on my line that was in my very near future.
A little known skill to the beginner is the ability to make a tough cast under pressure- (ask anyone who has gone bone fishing). I’ve always had a little problem in this particular area, and more times than not, I spook fish with a sloppy cast or end up in an upper body version of the previously mentioned scenario. Today, however, I had the time to position myself beautifully and make a great cast to the top of the pool. As I stripped the slack with the pace of the drift, a tiny little bubble appeared directly were my fly was floating a second before. I raised my rod tip while sharply pulling down the line, and I was treated to the familiar heavy tug of a large trout shaking its head. Keeping my rod high while winding slack back onto the reel, I prepared for the inevitable run.
I knew this was going to be a tough fish to land without stepping into the pool, but other trout were still rising, and I was sure if I could land this one without spooking the others, I could get at least two, maybe three more.
Fish in a barrel, so to speak.
The smart fisherman, the grateful fisherman, or the savvy fisherman would have stepped into the pool, tried to let the fish fight the current as well as the fisherman, landed the fish, been happy with his good fortune, and treated himself to a pint on the way home.
Hubris : n.- excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.
I decided to fight the fish from a disadvantaged position on the bank. As I expertly played the fish out of one log jam after another, two things crossed my mind: 1) My net was lying on the bank 30 feet away from me (I had set it down while I tackled the earlier tangle) and 2) that this was a very large trout and there was no way I was going to land it netless without getting into the pool. At first I thought I could just let line out and walk back to the net while keeping the fish on, but after a quick mental calculation, I dismissed the idea as idiotic and decided to make my way into the pool.
Miraculously, the fish was still on and seemed to be tiring out in the current. Because of my earlier decision to stage my fight from the bank, I had to step into a fairly deep area of the pool. As I did so, I allowed slack in the line and the big fish made another run for cover –this time successfully finding the salvation of an old beaver dam. I could still feel the fish pulsing on the end of the line, and after another quick thought of going for the net, I decided to reach down and see if I could free the line from the sticks and logs of the dam. Maybe I could get the fish back out into open water… As I reached into the shocking cold up to my armpit, I actually felt the tail of the fish brush my hand. I wanted to get an idea of size, so impulsively I reached in a little further and grabbed a very thick dorsal area. My mind rapidly calculating, I thought that if I let slack into the line, I could lift the trout out one handed (stop laughing, it seemed like a good idea at the time) and somehow wade to shore or finagle my camera out of my vest where I was. I slid my hand around to the belly of the fish and tried to lift it out. I got it out just far enough to get a big surprise. In my hand (sort of) just under the water, was the largest brook trout I had ever seen, easily 20 inches or more.
Just before the inevitable occurred, the fish turned and showed me a coal black side dotted in that beautiful brookie way -every time you catch one it seems like it’s the most spectacular coloring you’ve ever seen. After giving me a good look, the big trout slipped out of my hand and into the depths of the dam.
I knew it was gone. I followed the line down expecting to come up with nothing, and, surprisingly, I felt my fly stuck to a branch just under the surface of the water. Apparently while I was attempting to bring the fish out of the water, I helped release the hook.
As the feeling of loss washed over me, I began to appreciate the experience for what it was –a window into the natural world where I got to play a part for a few minutes. I had utterly destroyed the fishing for the nearest 50 yards and it was getting pretty dark, so I decided to call it a day. I was still kicking myself a little for my arrogance, but when I replayed the event over again in my mind, I was sort of happy the big trout had outsmarted me. After my greedy decision to fight the fish from a poor position, I would have felt like I pulled a fast one on God after he was nice enough to invite me to the evening performance.
I don’t need that kind of thing on my conscience.
As I walked up the hill in the darkness, I could hear my grandfather’s words, uttered with a smile whenever someone lost a large fish: “That’s how they get so big, by not getting caught.”
So obvious, so simple…but then again.. so is fishing.