By Ron Marr
Inherent to the art of fishing is the potential for humility, futility, and utter defeat. Having the right bait, the perfect spot, exquisite technique, and the finest of fine days is no guarantee of a heavy stringer. This is how it should be. Few lessons in life are more crucial than those that illuminate reality. It’s a hard-learned fact that the best laid plans of mice and fishermen regularly go down in flames.
The trick is to not sweat the details. Enlightened characters are defined not by the single-minded pursuit of set and structured goals—and certainly not by the quest for the material—but by how much they enjoy engaging in any given endeavor. Winning and losing are transient illusions at best, and the only ambition worth having is the ambition to live well and happily.
Of course, that’s easy for me to say since I just experienced the greatest fishing season imaginable. The summer of 2014 was catfish utopia. Much to my delight, the mornings were crisp and chill. The winds were a shadow of their typical gale force velocity. Gentle rains arrived with the consistency of a train schedule. The gods of climate and angling, capricious entities that are seldom on the same page, joined hands and smiled.
For over fifty years, I’ve viewed fishing as largely a hit and miss affair. Not so over these past few months. Most days, I hit my personal limit—a maximum off our whoppers—within a couple
of hours. At least three times, the seven-foot pole was nearly ripped from my hands when a big cat struck within a millisecond of my bait hitting the water. It was all weird and wild and wonderful.
Thus, my small freezer was soon full. I fried fish for myself and my family. I gave fish to neighbors. I began hauling along one of my homemade guitars, as often I’d landed all the whisker-heads I needed by shortly after sunrise. To my back, blazing streaks of deepest orange peeked over the horizon. To my front, layers of ghostly fog hung silent over the still waters. I serenaded my quarry with poorly picked blues tunes, which no doubt gave them headaches and spoiled the prospects of those late-arriving fishermen who believe it necessary to cast with the benefit of light. The early bird gets the worm ... and if he’s smart, he quickly puts it on a hook.
I fully realize that summers, such as the one now gone, are rare as hen’s teeth. Like a perfect arrowhead or the actual sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker, some things are made more resplendent and memorable by their scarcity. Experiencing them firsthand creates recollections that endure, a bright and stunning brocade woven seamlessly into the grand tapestry.
That is not to say that the rest of the tapestry is plain or ugly. Those strands of humility, futility, and utter defeat are only that ... necessary threads, without which the bigger picture would be false and incomplete. People tend to compartmentalize good and bad, but we can’t recognize or appreciate one without the other. If life were nothing but puppies and rainbows, we would never know the pleasure of silver linings. If life were nothing but storms and tribulation, we would have no concept of joy or beauty. It’s like fishing. The worst day I’ve ever had was still pretty good.
Really, any day when you’re healthy and on this side of the grass is pretty good. Be thankful for fishless days. They’re what allow you to treasure the rest.