Love, Not Lust
by Dave Micus
've come to realize, by the usual criteria, I'll never be an über fly fisherman. I don't catch great quantities of fish, or fish of great size. I don't spend the vast majority of my time fishing, and I don't fit what Thomas McGuane calls the new paradigms; the bum, the addict, the maniac.
There are a number of reasons for my shortcomings as a rip lip fly fisher, some physical some mental. For instance, I don't have great eyesight. This was made abundantly clear when I was fishing with a quintessential bass bum a number of years my senior. He could and did spot the swirl of a striper's tail at 400 yards, while I can barely see bass slashing through bait at that distance and have often paddled the kayak for a quarter mile chasing what I thought to be a school of feeding bass only to find lobster trap buoys bobbing in the swells.
I also suffer from synaptic gaps, an extended period of time between a fish taking the fly and my brain processing that information and sending impulses to my arm to set the hook. I'm not referring here to nanoseconds, but to three or more Mississsippis. Fortunately, I fish for gluttonous striped bass that usually hook themselves, but this handicap is particularly glaring when trout fishing, where the fish takes the fly in its mouth, swishes it around, and spits it out like a wine taster before I can raise the rod. I've read that Ken Kesey and crew experimented with hallucinogenic drugs in an attempt to eliminate that fraction of a second between reality and perception, and while I don't advocate the use of mind-altering substances, except Jose Cuervo, such a break through would help my hook setting.
But then again ingesting hallucinogens would likely exacerbate another problem I have-lack of focus. At any given moment when fishing the fish are the furthest thing from my mind. I instead think, "hey, I never noticed that the sand on this beach seems purple in the false dawn," or, "those cormorants drying their wings look like the gloomy carvings on gothic cathedrals." Sometimes I'll paddle the circumference of Plum Island Sound without throwing a cast, or fish areas I know to be unproductive for the scenery. Mostly I am too busy trying to grasp the miracle of the birth of a new day to bother with feeding fish. This is no way to improve the average number or size of your catch.
And I'm embarrassed to say I'm not a very good student of the sport. I read extensively, but not many how too or informative books, and, if truth be told, I read more books about hunting, though not a hunter, than fishing (the most recent being Stephen Bodio's "Eagle Dreams," a wonderful book about Mongolian nomads who hunt with eagles). I don't subscribe to any fishing magazines, thinking that they, incredibly, miss the point (exception: The Drake), and confirming this observation, I see that one popular fly fishing magazine has added a feature, Look Who Fly Fishes, which shares with us, in People Magazine fashion, the fact that some celebrity waves a fly rod around. I have no need for celebrity fly fishers, concurring with Herbert Hoover's observation that "all men are equal before trout." Or bass, or tarpon, or snook, for that matter.
Probably most telling of my journeyman status is that I don't fish as often as I used to. Sometimes two extra hours of sleep is more appealing than rising at 4:30 am to be on the water at dawn, and, while I still rise early and fish more often than I sleep-in, those numbers are approaching equilibrium. Even worse, I'll be on the water and the thought of a hot cup of coffee, a radiant wood stove, and a good book compels me to pack it in much earlier than I'd planned.
But before you start looking for my equipment on eBay, understand that, paradoxically, I enjoy my time on the water now more than ever. My heart still pounds and my hands still tremble when I luck on to a feeding school of stripers, and I always chuckle at my ineptitude when, in the frenzy, I frantically try to cast a line wrapped around a kayak paddle or conk myself on the head with a Clouser minnow. "The child is father to the man," observed Wordsworth, and I'm tickled to still be that gawky ten year old who felt like Hemingway battling a marlin when a six-inch perch would grab the worm on the end of his line at some nameless two-buck pond in northern Indiana.
"Use the ceremony of our sport and passion to arouse greater reverberations within ourselves," suggests Tom McGuane, and, as one gets older, this occurs naturally while fishing to all but the least contemplative of the fly fishing brethren (the bum, the addict, the maniac). My fishing is no longer an obsession, an addiction, or a mania; it's much more than that. It's love, not lust.
Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he was an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer, instructor and "star" of an episode of the outdoor show, Fly Fishing America. In 2006 he made the move from sea level to the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he has taken up fly rodding for trout, hunting and enjoying life in the "Big Country."
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