Contextualizing expectations

JJ brings a miniature rainbow to the side.
JJ brings a miniature rainbow to the side.

Waking up for a fishing trip is no problem. Staying awake when you’re not driving is another story. Nate and I were in the back of JJ’s rig on our drive to Redding to float the Lower Sacramento River, and there should have been no expectation that we stay awake, but we tried anyway.
Just as Nate’s neck turned to jelly and gave under the weight of his sleepy head, we pulled into Black Bear Diner and poured coffee into our mouths as fast as Debbie Sue could bring it.
Another note about expectations. I expect to catch every time I fish. I’ve been shut out before, but I expect myself to work hard and smart enough to land at least one, regardless of conditions. When you get a guide, you expect to catch fish, but he or she expects you to listen. This agreement isn’t verbalized but it is understood. And why not? If you had the means or experience, you’d probably do it yourself rather than hire a dude who will yell at you to set the hook while you’re looking at geese.
If I did things the way I’m supposed to, I would be a more successful angler. However, the more I dabble in idiocy, the more chaotic things become. This of course leads to better copy on Wednesdays.
I’m assuming Shane, our guide from The Fly Shop, understands the phenomenon that turns relatively competent fishermen into maniacs swinging a stick with two hooks and chunks of weight attached to the end, and prepares accordingly.
Shane’s a good guide. He’s experienced, thorough and diligent.
“We’re going left side in 15 seconds, fish the edge of the change in water color.”
Part of his pre-casting drift boat orientation included examples of what not to do, naturally the self-deprecating writer in me who looks for ways I can cause disasters and write about them, took notice.
After some long dead drifts from an anchored spot I stripped in line, then whipped it back up river, narrowly missing Shane’s face and mine.
“Woah, probably shouldn’t do that.”
Shane had nothing to add to my comment on the obvious. He must have sensed the contrition in my voice or was just quietly thankful he didn’t have a hip new face piercing. When I did follow instructions, things went well. He directed me to the edge of a pool that lifted to a small riffle off the main current and I hooked up with an 18-inch rainbow. He anchored us in the slack water near shore and netted the fish. Nate took a picture and we worked the edge of the current.

There are plenty of these on the Lower Sac in Redding.
There are plenty of these on the Lower Sac in Redding.

I hooked up again. Because it would just be too much for me to fight two consecutive fish correctly, I stripped more off my reel and gave it to the fish after it took all the slack line. When you have line off your fly reel, your finger works as the drag. (The tighter you pinch it against the cork, the tighter the drag). You can ignore the reel and instead just strip the fish in, but sometimes the fish “earns the reel” by taking all the slack line, in which case you gladly get it on the mechanical drag system which is not subject to emotion.
So what would possess me to ignore the entire purpose of the reel in favor of potential line burns on my fingers, or losing the thing altogether? It’s because the fishing universe, and my writing alter ego think that sort of thing is funny. I’ve never even heard of anyone stripping out line to a running fish, so it’s not like it was a bad habit I took years to get over. It has never been a habit. I’ve done it exactly once and that was Saturday.
It’s cliche to say “expect the unexpected”, so a better, and perhaps more befitting rewording would be something along the lines of, “expect fish to make you creatively stupid without warning.”
I did eventually land the fish after a slight scolding from Shane, which I fully deserved.
On the drive home the next morning I looked out the window and thought about my left hand peeling line off the reel and shook my head…just before I took a nap.

This column appeared in the August 28 issue of the Manteca Bulletin.

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