I’ve been asked, more than once, what it is about fishing that makes me love it so much?
I can be on a large boat on the open ocean pursuing tuna that will take 30 minutes or more to land, or I could be standing knee deep in a tiny stream, pursuing trout that wouldn’t be big enough to be used as bait. It doesn’t matter to me. I love it. The question remains. I have struggled to answer.
A lot of my reading over the years has attempted to put focus to these questions. I challenge you to read “A River Runs Through It” and not feel in your guts that Mclean loves fishing as much as he loves his family, and that it united them throughout their lives (and continues to unite his descendants).
Thomas Mcguane, an author of numerous books and screenplays, writes about fishing with a sense of longing. You can feel that as he is writing, he wishes he were out there right now. Roderick Haig-Brown famously said you can never step into the same river twice. Was he really talking about the river or saying something about himself? John Gierach has made a career of writing books filled with essays about fishing and it’s obvious he loves it. But still the question is the same. Why do we love it?
Maybe we should start with the “what?” What are the things we love so much about it? Maybe that will lead us to the “why?”
I love the anticipation of going. I love the making plans with friends and the back-and-forth texts that start a few days before, the planning out meeting places and times. The bigger the trip the more planning that has to go in.
If you’re going to your usual place, it might be nothing more than, “Meet you at the usual place at the usual time.” If you’re traveling, there’s even more. Plane tickets? Car rentals? Hotel rooms? Guides? New rods, reels, lures, whatever?
Even a short trip of an hour’s drive or so carries commitment that requires a certain level of preparedness that leads to anticipation. You hope that the weather is good that day and that the conditions are favorable for what you want to do. You would certainly hope that the fish will be where you expect them to be and that they will be doing the thing you hope that they will be doing. Is your tackle in order? I’ve spent many a night at the kitchen table tying knots, rigging tackle, fixing rods, and pretty much making sure everything is right before I even leave the house.
I prefer to have all my gear in order the moment I arrive. Nothing is worse, in my mind, than having to rig up at the boat ramp or standing on the beach, while the fish are snapping and we are wasting time.
Then we get to the spot, and the fish are there, and it all comes together. All the planning has paid off and all the equipment is right, and all the lures, baits, or flies are right. Then, if the anticipation and preparation come together, a perfect soufflé, right from the oven, isn’t as satisfying.
I love standing in the water. There’s a certain uneasiness that comes with entering an environment in which we are not suited. It creates uncertainty and therefore you’re not quite sure what the outcome will be.
I get in the water when I am in a situation where the fish are just too far to reach from the shore and a boat would only mess things up. In trout streams you need to be right at the same level as the fish. You need to see where the fish are going to be and what they are eating. Be close. Wading on bonefish flats actually offers the opportunity to get closer to the fish than you can in a boat. These fish are super wary, always on guard for unwelcome sounds, and being on foot is quieter.
If you go surf fishing you are exposed to elements that can actually hurt you. If that random wave catches you just right, you can find yourself underwater. Constant vigilance is required. I love these kinds of fishing more than most. Being in the same element as the fish puts you on a more even keel — you seem to lose some of the advantage we have otherwise — and I appreciate the challenge. It’s just a lot of fun too.
I love that instant where the fish makes the decision to bite what you are showing. It’s the culmination of all I’ve worked for up to that point. To cast a fly to a fish I can see, I first need to find it and then determine its direction of travel. It’s helpful to have foreknowledge of the types of things it likes to eat in that situation, in that case I will have also created an imitation. I have to make my cast and, in so doing, determine how the wind is blowing and how it might affect me. Then I have to land the fly in the spot that is closest enough to the fish so it will be seen but not so close as to cause it to spook. When the fish turns toward the fly, I have to fight with my emotions and not get overly excited and mess up by pulling the fly away too quickly or even falling out of the boat (Yes, I’ve seen it happen). In the exact moment the fish takes the fly, I have to set the hook in just the right manner so I don’t pull the fly out of its mouth before it had a chance to get the hook inside or break the line. There’s a lot that can go wrong here!
So, it appears that what I really love about fishing is the anticipation. The waiting. The hoping. Simply being in that place I need to be in. A moment. The feeling that you get when you are about to put it all together and have a great day with your friends in a nice place, far from the world and full of potential for memories.