I’ll be honest, which in fishing is rare, but only for 547 more words.
I don’t know when to set the hook on a fish. Truth be told I don’t even realize that I’ve set the hook. My arm just does it. By the time my brain catches up to the fact that I have what I’ve been casting for, I’m so afraid of losing it, or scared of its size that it’s only after I’ve released it, or clubbed it and put it in the cooler that I take a breath and exchange all the chaos for modifiers relating to excitement. Then begins the telling and retelling of the story which leads to embellishment and exaggeration.
After all, the fight was only good if I won, and if I did win, why not make the story good? Who wants to say, “I was wondering if I should change my oil, you know, not really paying attention and all of a sudden a fish bit. It fought okay. I reeled it in, took a picture and let it go.”
It’s always a perfect, focused cast. The rod always bends and the reel always screams, but in the end, despite an epic battle no smart old brute of a fish has a chance against my masterful technique. Right? If the fish does break off, the details are hazier and story shorter because I fish to catch. I can go without, but I’d rather not.
To have a fish snap your line, or a sea lion eat the king salmon off your line or a black bear steal your silver salmon is heartbreaking. Sure it’s a good story to tell, but you can’t fill a freezer with flash-frozen, vacuum-packed anecdotes. You can’t grill a lost trout over a campfire.
When everything does end up going right and the line holds, then the birds come out, and the world explodes into beautiful colors. On a day when your buddy catches a dozen lunker trout and you get none, the world isn’t exactly drab, but it’s not the earth of a poet either.
When I was 18 I thought fly-fishing was for pretentious fools that couldn’t catch fish the manly way, and needed some creative way to trick fish in order to impress an audience of disinterested trees and later a quorum of their pretentious friends drinking expensive bottles of wine and eating duck they paid for rather than shot themselves.
But what the heck did I know as an 18-year old? If things had worked out the way I had planned based on the clueless desires of my teenage self, I’d probably be married to some girl I had a crush on because she had a nice smile, sang in the choir and could hit a mid-range jumper in a fundamentally sound yet still girlish sort of way. I had no idea where all this would have taken place or where I would have my 1.5 kids, dog, cat and mortgage, but I certainly wouldn’t be in Manteca, and there would be no chance I’d be a fly fisherman.
So maybe, like life, fishing is great because of the chaos, the allusion of control, and the looking back upon what just happened and thinking, “Hey, that was pretty sweet. Let’s try it again.”
And that’s the truth.
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