All of my outings this Spring have been less than stellar. In fact, I believe that I have caught one fewer fish than the number of times I've been out fishing. There are a lot of reasons for my continued failure, but they are all starting to sound like excuses.
So, one of two things has happened. Either I've again run into a string of bad luck or, as I get older, a veil is slowly lifting from my eyes, to reveal how incomplete a fisherman I truly am.
It's easy to blame things on luck, or circumstance, and most of the time this is probably the right approach to take. It's certainly the simplest and it's usually true enough. But blaming oneself, or worse - one's skill - is an approach that requires a personal admission of guilt and, more delicately, clear identification of past mistakes. Without first knowing that you did something wrong, you can live in ignorant bliss. Knowing you committed an error, and exactly what it was, you can at least hope to fix it. But knowing you fouled things up, without being quite sure how or even what it is you fouled up, is a lonely and confusing state. This is, in a nutshell, the fisherman's eternal dilemma and even the best among us go there sometimes.
I'm sitting in that place right now, as I type. Did the cup get smaller as I've grown older? Have I forgotten what I knew? Did I just think I knew it, but had it wrong all this time? Was I luckier than I am now? The truth is, I don't know.
This past Saturday had its little insight. After watching Mike catch most of the fish, as I often do anyway, I finally followed his lead, tied on one of René's white bunny jigs with chartreuse collar, and I jigged it in a patch of slow moving water. After a short while, I felt the pull as a fair-sized fish engulfed what it had taken to be a shiner. I set the hook, a short battle ensued, pictures were taken and the fish released.
The crux is that I felt, at the time, that this was in fact Mike's fish - or René's - rather than my own. You can see it in my face, in the picture: I look like the guy at the pageant who gets to kiss his sister. I was looking back on the past 3 or 4 outings, poor performances all, letting them weigh in on the moment in a way I shouldn't have. Not just because every fish is a gift, but because of what James Reimer said.
The emerging number one goalie of the Toronto Maple Leafs was being interviewed, on Hockey Night in Canada recently, and Glenn Healy brought up the inscription on the back of the goalie's mask:
Obstacles are the things you see when you lose sight of the goal.
Notwithstanding the jocular over-simplification or the possibly accidental double-entendre (haha, the "goal" is behind him), it is really true. In other words, not catching a truckload of fish is the thing the Average Steelheader sees when he loses sight of the goal, which is of course, fishing. Granted, the object of fishing is to catch fish, but the object of the angler is to find opportunities to go fishing. It's more than just avowing that fishing is its own reward, though it usually is. It's about learning, always being willing to learn.
And finally, it's about learning the art of sacrificing; one's hours and minutes, one's day, one's season, for the very noble purpose of learning even more about fishing. I can take it a step further and say that it's about accepting that learning wasn't even what you thought your goal was for the day, when you got up in the morning and drove out in the pre-dawn blackness. That is, doubt the validity of your choice, but not the validity of your actions.
I've seen some pretty spectacular things so far. Rivers at opposite ends of the spectrum: one near flooding (in which I still managed to hook a couple of fish) and one that literally had its flow "cut off" in the middle of the day - a sure sign that the steelhead gods were telling me to begone. I've fished with Jean-Pierre and Mike (and hopefully soon with Wallacio) and enjoyed good conversation and companionship as a result. And I've fished in times and places that I hadn't fished before, so that my repertoire has grown.
The best part is that Spring has just begun, with lots of time left for a good numbers day or two. Balanced with the future successes that the lessons of the past few weeks will bring, not to mention respite and a clearer mind (and heart) as a result, I don't feel so badly about having been such a "rube," anymore. Against the vast tome of nature's reality, we are all ignorant. But does that really matter? No.
Let's go fishing!