Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The Premier Moment
My earliest efforts at keeping a fishing journal basically included the date, where I fished, what I used, and how many fish I caught. I often didn’t use complete sentences. Just notes. Simple and to the point. In the second year I started including weather conditions, water temperature and a few other details. I exercised brevity and saw no need to do otherwise. I did, however, advance to complete sentences and paragraphs.
In the mid 70’s, when I got so I was catching fish on the fly with consistency, I began including a good deal more information and commentary in my journal. It got so easily half of what I was writing was not directly attributable to how many fish I caught that day or what I used.
My journal increasingly had commentary about packing, traveling, taking pictures, variations on the flies I tied, the rods I built, other gear, etc. In the course of writing more and more about my adventures I eventually started posing questions; some of them were profound questions of the universe. At times I answered the questions I posed in the same journal entry and sometimes I just posed the question. Occasionally an answer evolved over a period of many journal entries or even over a period of years.
I wondered age-old questions like what is the meaning of life, what is my purpose here on earth and where will I go after I die… Reviewing notebooks full of decades of my musings does not shed the smallest amount of light on any of these important questions. As important as these profound questions are, alas, I must confess I never really got to any of them.
I care about those questions and know I really ought to spend some time thinking about them but I never answered them because I never had time. I never had time because there were other equally profound questions of the universe to which I gave my most willing and enthusiastic attention. Questions like: if my life depended on catching fish what 6 flies would I want to have, what was the best way to photograph a fish before release, how long should I fish a particular pattern without a take before changing flies, how far will I drive for a “one day” trip, what material is best for gluing to the sole of waders to keep me from slipping on my posterior, how much gear is too darn much, how long after sunset can I still be wading and not drown, could I really fish every day and not work and not get bored… Ah yes, now these were the kind of questions to which I happily devoted many hours of journal time and fishing time.
A question to which I gave considerable thought and one about which I actually wrote often was, “What is the most enjoyable aspect of fishing?” I broke down the whole experience into pieces or steps. I pictured a fishing trip in a way starting in the winter when I was tying flies, building rods and daydreaming. One year I tied close to 1,800 flies. On some of those cold winter evenings I started wondering if I still enjoyed fishing as much as I did fly tying. Perish the thought, but I was enjoying the fly tying so much I did at least ask the question of myself.
In my fly tying room I planned the coming year’s trips. I poured over maps and wrote out lists of places to go. I cleaned and maintained my gear and lusted for new gear. I made and revised lists. I tied flies and I built rods. I tied more flies. I learned and practiced new knots. I read and reread my old journal entries and they would transport me to actually being on the water. The lines between remembering fishing trips and anticipating them would blur. When I was planning and preparing for trips I was in heaven, or maybe I was in La La land, I don’t know which, but either way I often felt that the anticipation was the best part of fishing. Oh, those first weekend trips of spring; I packed all week whether I needed to or not. Sometimes I unpacked a bag, knowing full well everything was there, and then packed it again.
Late Friday afternoon or early Saturday morning I would head to the central or eastern part of the state where the fish were bigger, more plentiful, and hopefully more willing to eagerly snatch up my humble offerings. As tired as I might have been at the end of the week, I always found renewed energy and vigor when it was time to go on a fishing trip.
I traveled alone sometimes; on the first trip of the summer I actually craved the solitude. There was one trip back in the 70’s where I parked my car next to a lake, pitched my tent and proceeded to fish from sunup to sundown for three days. Even though this was not a backpacking trip I never saw another person for those three days and never spoke a word out loud the whole time. When I needed it, the solitude seemed like the best part of fishing.
Much of the time I traveled with friends of mine. The conversation while traveling, the good natured chiding while fishing, reliving the days adventure at dinner (usually eaten after dark) and, on occasion, actually talking about a few of the true profound questions of the universe, all added a special dimension or flavor to the experience. At times the camaraderie became more important than the fishing.
I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures each year. The pictures became an important part of the blur that existed between remembering and anticipating. Sometimes I felt the most enjoyable part of fishing was looking at a particularly satisfying picture that documented memorable catches or special places.
Did I go fishing to fish or to catch fish? In the early years I only went fishing to catch fish; I counted religiously. Certainly there were times when I thought the best part of fishing was the trips when I got over 50 fish in a day. As I brought a few more fish to hand over the years I often wondered if the best parts of fishing weren’t actually catching fish. I dug the gadgets. I loved the smooth rhythm of casting. I loved the challenge of fly fishing. (I still love all these things.) At least in passing I wondered at times if the gear, the gadgets, the casting, and the challenge were the best parts. I wondered whether the best part of fishing might be the solitude, the camaraderie, the pictures and memories, the fly tying, the planning, or the anticipation.
The Premier Moment:
After considerable thought, I wrote in my fishing journal way back in the early 80's that "the take is the premier moment." I compared it to many other parts of the overall fishing experience and decided it was the best. I wrote that anticipation (for all parts of the experience) was second.
I had fly fished for decades before I discovered the World’s Greatest Sportfish. There are so many aspects of fly fishing for Carp that are enjoyable but stalking feeding fish in the shallows is the best. Casting or stripping the fly on to the Carp's "diner plate" and detecting the take visually is so engaging. Planning, memories and anticipation, fly tying, casting, and the overall challenge converge in that split second when a tailing Carp decides ever so casually that my fly looks good enough to eat. The take is the premier moment and that premier moment is only enhanced by a willing Carp.
I submit that in all of life, "the take is the premier moment." In the rest of life I so much DO NOT mean "the take" in terms of tricking someone like we trick fish with our offerings. I mean when your intentions are honorable and a girl who has caught your eye says she'll go out with you. I mean when you apply for a job and you get it. I mean when your young son or daughter beams when you walk in the door and says, "Hi Daddy” or “Hi Mommy". I mean when you deliver a speech and the response of the audience exceeds your expectations. I mean in the classroom when a student's eyes are a little brighter or his/her back is a little straighter because he/she has grown in skills and confidence. I mean when that pretty girl says “yes” when you ask her to marry you. I mean when your teenage son or daughter has an identity of his or her own and you marvel at who she has become. I mean when you plan a project that has never been done and you have to elicit cooperation and support from a wide range of stakeholders and the darn thing works. I mean when you take a chance on yourself, yes yourself, and you are successful. That’s the take. When you risk loving someone, that's the take. When you risk letting someone love you, that's the take. When you risk loving yourself; that's the take, oh baby that's the take. Taking a chance on yourself is like casting a fly to a feeding Carp; sometimes the take can be so subtle. In fishing (particularly Carp fishing), and in all of life, the take is the premier moment.
I wrote this article for the North American Carp Angler magazine some years ago. This article is copyrighted and all rights are reserved.
When I asked Katy to marry me 34 years ago she said, "Yes," without even telling me she needed time to think about it. That's the take. When I kiss her she kisses back. Still. That's the take. When she kisses me I kiss back. That's the take. Oh, baby, that's the take!