Hook, Line, & Sinker

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

-Henry David Thoreau

Frustration isn’t a strong enough word. I meticulously maneuver over the mossy rocks with my clumsy feet. I can feel each rock shape, more irregular and unpredictable than the last, but it is nearly impossible to see down through the murky water.

“You need to walk sideways, like a crab!” he shouts. The man means well. After all, how can a woman be helped when she’s wearing the wrong footwear for wading in the river to fish? I struggle to walk against the current abounding from upstream. The soles of my sandals fold under my heel, causing the Velcro straps to dig into my ankle. I nearly fall forward into the water, but I balance myself to stand up straight, remembering to hold the fishing rod above my waist. I can only nod back to him to confirm that I heard his suggestion. I was afraid that if I spoke, I wouldn’t be able to control the pitch of my voice, which always gets higher when I’m pissed off.

This was not my first fishing excursion with him. I’ve been told that a successful fishing trip can be one that doesn’t end with a single catch, but I have yet to wrap my mind around that logic. In middle school, if I missed a foul shot during a basketball game, I dedicated hours of practice shooting against the hoop in my driveway. I knew what I had to do to become a better basketball player; even if I spent more time sitting on the bench than on the court.

There are a lot of unknowns in fishing. There are differences between using artificial lures and live bait. I ask questions when I’m confused. Sometimes one simply cannot explain why the fish aren’t biting. He’s told me before “This was a successful fishing trip.”

“But we didn’t catch anything!” I’d exclaim.

He would then comment on the weather, overcast enough to add a bit of a chill to the water in the stream. This was good fishing weather. For whom, I’d ask myself, the fish or the fisherman? If the water’s warm, fish seek out cooler water. If it’s cold, well, they want to be warm.

If you get to experience this conundrum, it probably wasn’t raining. On one occasion, we managed to drive half an hour away from home to stand on a riverbank for less than five minutes before realizing that there was an impending storm brewing over our heads. Once we saw lightning we had to flee very quickly back through the woods to the car.

“We don’t want to be caught in these woods right now!” he yelled behind to me, as we ran. “There’s a chance that we could get struck by lightning.” Fantastic, I thought to myself. They’ll find my charred ruins gripping the fishing rod in the middle of the woods. My family won’t even be able to claim that I died doing what I loved because at the moment, the very act of fishing was endangering my life. We managed to make it back to the car unscathed, but we later had to pull over under a gas station awning to avoid the hail that was coming out of the sky. At the time, I was flummoxed: when does fishing become fun? Or, Is the universe telling me that I wasn’t destined to fish? That experience is now one of my favorites to tell.

It took a few more times out in nature to realize what was encompassed in a “good trip.” The first time I went out fishing with him, I felt the urge to talk, filling the air facts that I’d just learned or notes about my work day. He would politely try to explain how big a factor being quiet was in catching fish. Once I learned to stop speaking, I discovered how serene fishing can be. When you stop talking, you hear how loud the nearby sound of rushing water can be. You can see the splashes where fish are actually jumping out of the water, always several feet from where you’ve already submerged your line. If you’re lucky, you can feel the tension on the rod when a fish begins taking interest in the bait on your hook. You have to learn to quiet yourself so that you can be ready for the chaos that ensues when you’ve hooked a fish. That means shutting off the unnecessary senses so that you are plugged into the environment.

Fishing does not get easier with time. It takes a lot of effort and footwork to get yourself into the element and to be ready for whatever the water gives you. Fishing is not an activity for the faint-hearted or easily-discouraged. But if you can learn to be patient and appreciate the steps in the process, you can have a great experience.