On Riding Things Out
When things are great, anglers are known to enter a kind of fishing rapture. But once in this state, the minute things slow down they want to race off to the next spot. This is the piscatorial presumption that the fishing is always better on the other side of the lake. It isn't-- and more times than not if you leave fish to find fish you will find nothing. When the going is good, stay with it.
On The Nature Of Success
You fail more than you succeed. One cast out of ten, or twenty, or a hundred may produce a strike at the other end of the line.... And then, when a fish does take the fly, you must set the hook, fight it well, and not let it break your leader with its leaps and runs and dives under a rock or branch. All in all, the odds are against you big time. Still, the pursuit excites.
On Home Turf
Home is where you feel safe when your children go fishing. Home is where you know when it is unsafe. Home is where every one of your friends has a fish tale about a place you know. Home is where no one cuts you slack about your own embroidered fishing yarns.... Home is anywhere, then, where the quality of the experience, if only for a moment, makes you feel "I have always been here."
On Getting Older
The key to enjoyment at fifty-five is the same as the key to enjoyment at fifteen: Do whatever you can do as well as you can, then try to do a little more-- but don't try to rewrite the record books. You probably can't, and it's not important anyway.
On Teaching And Learning
This would not be the frist time in the course of our week that my daughter would outfish me. As she caught big fish and learned to play them, her confidence increased and her casting improved, thanks in no small part to her guide.... I was happy that she had finally moved into the class of real fly fisherpeople.
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Pleasure and Instinct
WHAT THE VIEW FROM BEHIND A FLY ROD CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT TIME, HUMANITY, AND EXISTENCE
I have always thought it very wise on the part of Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and the rest of the founding fathers that they included the phrase "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. They weren't so foolhardy as to promise the fulfillment of happiness, only its pursuit. Nobody can guarantee happiness, anymore than anyone can guarantee the outcome of a baseball game, an election, a dinner date, or a war. All of these things must be played out. So it is with fly fishing. As the English poet Matthew Arnold observed in "Sohrab and Rustum," a tale of combat and struggle that I had to memorize in the tenth grade, "Only the event itself will teach us in its hour."
The fly rod is the tool I use in my pursuit of happiness, and a very particular kind of happiness it is. When I have a fly rod in my hand and water all around me, time stops. Let me try that again: Time doesn't so much stop as it passes in a different way. I enter a different reality, one in which I am fully alive, fully focused, where each second is a ripe fruit bursting with juice. This is true of all things that bring us pleasure, whether it is making love or making bread, hitting a homerun or cheering for one, playing golf or reading a novel, or driving with the top down, Muddy Waters blasting on the radio. Some of these moments you will remember as fully as hours, days, even whole years in "real life."
Then, when you are through with your pleasure--after the last cast, the last putt, the last note of the symphony--you have the feeling of waking up, a sense that the whole experience passed in an instant. Luckily, the next time you go fishing you return to the state of mind you were in when you last picked up a rod. Time passes on two tracks: one for everyday life and one for when you transcend life's constant cares and pressures and find your pleasure.
Each sense of time ignores the other. They are antithetical--one bogged down in the huge hassle involved in making a living, getting the kids to school on time, having your teeth cleaned, taking a dressing down from your boss. And in that other time--pleasure time--it is just you and the world, moving in synch, not always succeeding but always having the possibility of success. It is once-upon-a-time time, not anchored to a particular date but feeling like it is part of that same time when Zeus was hurling thunderbolts on his worshippers, when elves dug burrows for their pots of gold, when King Arthur and his knights sat around the round table feasting on bitter ale and roast haunch of whatever the forest yielded up to the bowman that day.
Not that I compare my time on the water with the exploits of legend and myth, but when I am fly fishing I have the same feeling about time as I do when I hear those ancient stories. They all coexist in an eternal and much more interesting present than the workaday one in which you and I pass most of life.
I have learned all of this through fly fishing: not necessarily because it is the contemplative, soul-enriching experience that many fisherfolk have argued that it is (largely, I think, to excuse their obsessive pursuit of what nonanglers think of as "goofing off"). For the most part, that highfalutin school of writing is flowery fluff, self-justification from an era when pleasure was regarded as suspect so men--it was usually men who got to indulge in pleasures in the old days--went through all kinds of mental gymnastics to show how their pastimes brought them closer to God. I will admit, though, that sometimes when I am fishing I feel moments of transcendence. I remember a day floating over the emerald waters of a coral flat in the Florida Keys and being lost in myself and thinking, "This is probably the way William Blake felt when he was inspired to paint his images of Gods and demons." But more often fishing just brings me pleasure as comfortable and easy as an old flannel shirt. It feels right and always has since the first day I picked up a fly rod.
I am happy when I am fishing, when I get off a good cast, when I have the sense that the fly is sailing to a patch of water that looks--well, the only word I can use to describe it is pregnant. When that happens my happiness turns to pleasure, involving my whole being in something I love and which I could not, at that moment, imagine forsaking for anything else.
It often happens that when I am interviewed about fishing, someone says, "It looks so peaceful and Zen. Is that what you get out of fishing?" I think that the question, which is completely well-meaning, often comes from having seen Robert Redford's movie adaptation of A River Runs through It, with Brad Pitt waving his rod in the air, his line shooting out like a laser, the sun lighting up the golden spray off the line, the lush music underneath--that is Hollywood fly fishing.
Mine is a more simple faith. I do it because it makes me feel whole. I do it, when you get right down to brass tacks, because it is what I do, what I am about. If I don't fish, the rest of life is that much harder to handle. It is recreation, but it is also a re-creation. So my answer to the well- meaning interviewer often is, "I can't really say why I like fly fishing. Ask me instead about other things I like and I will answer: 'They make me feel as good as I do when I have a fly rod in my hand.' My pleasure starts with fly fishing, and I measure everything else by it. It is my first principle."
In that way, fly fishing is for me what golf or sailing or cooking or wine collecting or growing roses or taking a walk with your child is for others. But it is more than that. I bet you knew at some point I would get around to fessing up to the fact that I recognize that people get an equal charge out of other pastimes but that I think mine is a little more special. Like the other things we pursuers of happiness spend our time pursuing, fly fishing is pleasant; it is a skill one can perfect all through life, a basis for camaraderie and friendship, but that doesn't tell the whole tale.
We humans are born with two drives. One is to feed ourselves. The other is to make the next generation, i.e., sex. Fly fishing falls into the first category, the finding food category. Humans evolved as hunters. Anthropologists conjecture that skills of communication, hand-eye coordination, and tool making evolved as we became more efficient hunters. "Hunt" in the sense of seeking out as one does for mushrooms or berries as well as "hunt" in the sense of pursuing a quarry, capturing it, and consuming it. Brutal, but a fundamental aspect of human nature.
The fly fisherman or -woman, then, combines the artistry and refinement of a wonderful game with the primal hunting instinct that quickens every pulse, makes every heart beat faster, focuses every spirit on the moment of action. Even if you don't hunt and never plan to, you have this instinct in you, which--when I see a bonefish cruising a coral flat or a trout making the subtlest of rings as it feeds on mayflies in a placid stream or a pack of tarpon approaching like wolves on the prowl--I am thrilled and intent in a way that absorbs my whole being.
Find food, make babies--isn't that the meaning of life? There may be more to it, according to what god or gods you bow down to, but without those drives there is no life. So fly fishing, that refined and tweedy sport first perfected by port-swilling rich English gents, is one of the very few things we can do that connects us directly to the emotions of our Cro- Magnon ancestors and their Neanderthal forbearers and back and back, before history, to all of the creatures on our family tree until we reach that dusty gorge in Kenya where a little woman that archeologists named Lucy first stood on her hind legs, looked across the savannah, and took the steps that have brought us to the world we have made.
Rene Descartes, that wise French philosopher, once said, "I think, therefore I am." Peter Kaminsky, fly fisherman from Brooklyn, New York, would humbly rephrase that: "I think about fishing, therefore I am human."