Every now and then I run across a fisherman who’s all about how many fish they caught on a given day, or catching only big fish, or only trout, or only bass, something specific that when not achieved sours their attitude on the water, makes them gripe and complain, or even worse yet, turns them into cocky, arrogant, and egotistical braggarts. They could be the best angler I’ve met in a long time, possibly ever, but as soon as they start making excuses for why they’re not catching the biggest fish, or why they aren’t catching enough of them, or complaining about the creek chubs and pan fish that keep taking their flies, all their knowledge loses most of its merit in my head. Likewise, when they start bragging and belittling other anglers because they don’t catch as many, don’t fish for the right fish, or the right way, when they have to tell everyone they meet how great they are, then all the knowledge they might actually have is, in my mind, lost. Meaningless. It means little to nothing simply because they’ve missed the most important part of it all. And that part has nothing to do with the size of a fish or the number, with perfect casts and the ideal fish.
At some point it becomes about you and the water, and everything else just falls into place. Fish only matter when they’re caught, but don’t ruin a day when they’re not, and life balances out for those brief times in between all other life.
I figured this out a long time ago, but it still hits me like an epiphany on a regular basis. It’s pretty much the reason I string up fly rods and struggle into waders. Why I douse myself in as much deet as I can get out of a bottle of bug spray and fight through swarms of black flies and mosquitoes. Why I layer up in the winter and deal with frozen toes and frozen guides. Why I drive for hours and hike for miles, and why I make spur of the moment decisions to drop what I’m doing and run out back to the creek. To find that balance. I’m still amazed at how it happens after it’s happened more often than not. The feeling hasn’t gotten old, hasn’t become normal. I haven’t become complacent about it, haven’t taken it for granted. Each time out is like a gift I never saw coming, even though it was what I went looking for.
I made a three hour drive this weekend and hiked and fished a gorge for about five miles, all for one fish. Of course if I could’ve hooked forty of them I would've, and then I’d have said I made a three hour drive to catch a ton of fish, which would sound much more impressive to some people. Not that I’m trying to impress anyone with my fishing. If that was the case I’d be making stories up, not telling true stories about catching one, or very often getting skunked. But just because I only caught one fish doesn’t mean it was a bad weekend. To the opposite, it was actually pretty great. I met some good people I’ll now refer to as friends, picked up some new tools in the form of skills and knowledge I wouldn’t have acquired on my own most likely, explored new waters in beautiful places because of new friends, and caught a steel head from a pocket pool about the size of a large kitchen table at best.
And that was my moment of balance. Not just that fish, but the rest of the time before and after it, searching for another, lost in a current. Making casts to hope. Lost in a moment as long as a day, a day as long as a memory. A memory stuck in my head like a tune on a radio that will come and go. Forgotten at times, remembered at others. The memories brought on by a smell, a sound, maybe a story told by someone else. And with the memory returns the balance. And everything else falls into place.