There are two lies you will hear from anyone who is into the sport of angling. 1) “It was THIS BIG!” and 2) “Catching fish isn’t the point. It’s the experience of fishing that matters.”
The Mocking Bass. For four years this fish watched me cast lures and live bait from the end of the small dilapidated dock in the lagoon behind the cabin, without ever showing interest in what I had to offer. Two weeks ago I dropped a plastic worm on his head. The worm slid off and rested on the bottom. The mocking bass reoriented towards the worm and took a sniff. I jiggled the worm. And, BANG. He took the bait. My drag was set to medium, so WZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ .. he took off across the lagoon. I tightened the drag a little because he was running into brush and he turned direction and jumped. But I kept the rod tip up and used his jump to bring him in. He ran back and forth across the lagoon two more times and then headed out. WZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ against the harder drag with his last bit of strength, and one more jump. Then I brought him in, letting him struggle and tire a little more because they always manage to pull off that one last bit of resistance, the one where you lose most of the big ones. I got on my knees and pulled him out just as he got near the dock… And that fish was THIS BIG!!!!!
It is true that there are many components of the act of fishing that one might do otherwise because they are pleasant things to do. One may socialize, one may entertain the kiddies, one may tool around in a boat, one may visit a local park, one may sit on the shore of a lake or river, one may hang out on the end of a dock taking in some sun or a gentle breeze. If you do any or some combination of these things with a fishing pole in hand does not matter. The fishing may only be the excuse to get outside, get some sun, get some exercise, whatever. Or, one could just be honest with oneself and recognize that the fishing itself does matter after all. And fishing without catching fish …. well, there IS a reason they call it FISHing.
Years ago I would hang out with my friend Robert, and we’d talk about art and politics and enjoy being with each other, but there would be fishing going on at the same time. These days I hang out with my friend Asha and we talk about relationships, running, racism, and all sorts of things that start with the letter “R” and there is also fishing going on at the same time. But the truth is that although the friendship and the sunshine and the breeze are all warm and worthy of effort, we are also paying attention to the fish. Or lack thereof. So Robert and I would prefer the harder to reach but more likely to produce pond, or we would row across the lake to the good spot, or leave an unproductive shore for another with more potential. Asha and I are interested in exploring each other’s past and learning about each other’s interests, but we are also exploring the local lakes and rivers, and learning about what baits are working to actually catch some fish.
Indeed, there is something that I enjoy immensely that utterly goes against the concept that it is the experience, not the fish that I will be happy to tell you about. Here at the cabin, I spend most of the daylight hours in one place or another where I can see either the bay on one side of the property or the small shallow embayment that we call the “Lagoon” on the other side, or the channel that connects them. I am observant and attuned to the signs of nature. I am aware of the direction of the wind, the twist of the current, the shoal of the baitfish, and the position of the shade from shoreline trees. Even in my peripheral vision, I notice the surface spoor and the indicated pattern of movement of predators such as the northern pikes. I am one with the herons, the eagles, and the loons who are also following the fish. Their movements and activities are a book I know how to read. I know when and where the fish will bite before the fish themselves know it. I am the fish. I am Kung Fu Fish.
On the porch leaning against the faux redwood table is a light tackle rig and a medium tackle rig. At the moment, the medium rig has a Mepps Agila #5, and the light tackle is rigged with a plastic worm a little heavy for the line but sometimes I take chances. At some moment during the day conditions will change. I will perceive some piscene activity, a sign of predatory movement, a disturbance among the minnows. Right now a brisk breeze is pressing the natural flotsam against the bay shore so within casting range there are tens of thousands of minnows. Too many minnows. And the water is choppy so a lure has too much competition for attention. The clouds tell me that the breeze will lighten up in the next hour or two, but then it will be too warm. But after another hour or two I expect the stirred up highly oxygenated lagoon to be a place of activity. As conditions change, I may change the lures on the rigs leaning against the table out on the porch. Later on, the bluegills may start feeding off the surface on flying insects. In their state of distraction the smaller ones will be prey for the bass, or perhaps the tiger muskies that occasionally pass through under conditions like this. A well placed medium Mepps Agila or a weedless crank bait will do the trick. I will watch for signs of the fish becoming active, and in their state of hunger and the simple fishy-limbic distraction of pursuit, becoming careless as well.
And then, I will select the appropriate tackle rig and walk down to the lagoon. I will choose the spot from which I will cast. I will see the rise or the ripple. I will cast. If no fish takes the bait on that single cast, then the fish have won and I will retire to the cabin to meditate, over a glass of chilled chocolate tequila, on what I did wrong. Or, it will be the fish, and not me, making the mistake. And I will land the bass or the muskellunge, there will be a brief knowing eye contact between us, and I will release it. And only the fish and I will understand that I am the one-cast kung fu fish master.
Other times, I just cast and cast and cast and nothing happens and if you ask me what I’m doing, I’ll say: “Actually, this is good core body exercise. Actually, I’m mainly practicing accuracy in casting. In fact, actually, I hope no fish bite, it would actually ruin all the fun!”
And you would think, “Man, what a loser!”