I am not very good at fly fishing. Actually, I’m pretty bad at it. While I’ve had those days on the river with the perfect cast, the flawless drift and the fine hook set, and while I’ve experienced the sensation of netting a brook trout miles from civilization, and while I have no small number of pictures on my IPhone of trout in my fishing net, most of my days on the river are fly fishing fails.
Take last week for example. I woke up around 5:30 in the morning, loaded the truck and was on the river well before 7. It was supposed to start raining around noon, and I wanted to have a good half day on the river before the rain set in. I also wanted to get in one more trip before June 1st, after which the summer crowds would make this particular river un-fishable. I’d driven up from Charleston the night before so I could pull together my gear, rig my fly rod and be ready to go first thing in the morning.
I left the cabin just before it started getting light, and I waded into the Green River just after sunrise. However, in spite of all my preparations and all of my effort, I did not come close to catching a single fish.
First, I am not very good at tying knots (a bit of a problem if you want to fly fish). I’m also not particularly good at casting. These lack of skills meant my tippet and flies occasionally snapped off during my back cast. On top of that, this particular morning it seemed impossible to get a decent drift, no matter where I cast. Frustrated after losing a handful of flies, I decided to walk upstream to fish below a small waterfall. I hacked my way through thick Rhododendron and crawled under and over fallen trees, only to discover—once I arrived at the waterfall—that a section of my fly road had fallen off as I bushwhacked my way upstream.
It seemed my fishing was over for the day.
I made my way back to the truck after being on the river for less than 2 hours. I had lost half a dozen flies and a section of my fly rod. And I had not had as much as a single bite.
There are times when I am so attached to my actions and choices, that I expect the universe to provide me with particular results if I put forth a certain amount of effort. And when I don’t get those results, I feel I’ve been cheated. As I climbed back into the truck, the lawyer in me thought, “What an absolute waste of a morning. All that work–and nothing to show for it.”
After accounting for the loss of half a dozen flies and the tip end of my fly rod, it had been a pretty expensive outing. And I didn’t get as much as a single bite. Think of how much better off I’d have been if I’d just gotten up, gone downstairs and billed a couple of hours.
But if I had done that, I would have missed a few things. I would have missed climbing out of my truck and smelling air thick with honeysuckle. I would have missed the early morning light dancing on the water. I would have missed the sensation of being the only person on a river just after dawn on a fine Spring morning. I would also have missed the opportunity to appreciate a well tied knot and a perfect cast. There will be another morning when my line will go tight and the huge rainbow trout will jump out of the water as I try to keep him from escaping down stream. And when that morning comes, it will be all the richer for mornings like this.
A fishing guide recently said to me, “If you only go fishing to catch fish, you miss the point.”
It’s certainly more fun when you catch fish. But I’m beginning to understand what he meant. All that’s really required is that we show up and not get too attached to the result.
And that we keep coming back.