Around this time of year, we see and hear words like happiness and joy tossed around and although I recognize the sentiment in which they’re used, I wonder if we understand the difference anymore. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a co-worker a while back while looking at a photo of a fish that I had caught the previous weekend.
A comment was made, more in the form of a question than an assertion, that I “must find happiness in fly fishing.” I began to respond in the affirmative and then paused, revising my response to say that I “receive joy” from the process of fly fishing but that the end result, catch or no catch, really has nothing to do with it. My co-worker seemed perplexed and asked why I would spend so much time doing something if I was not concerned with some form of a” prize” at the end. I dug way back in the memory bank to the psychology and philosophy classes I took in college and the study sessions we had over cheap beer. I explained happiness is corporeal, based on an attachment to an expected reward of doing or receiving something. It usually accompanies a successful completion of whatever is being done. Joy is ethereal, connected more to the spiritual side or reason for doing something. The joy of doing something, if we’re lucky, is always present regardless of the outcome.
I know, a little deep. And while it is New Year’s Eve, no, I have not opened the tequila. Not yet.
I went on to explain the events, the process if you will, behind the fish in the photograph. I had spent an hour fishing one section of water along an edge of an oyster bar that dropped off into a deeper channel. There were fish moving up on to the bar from the channel but were being selective. I had a few follows but none would commit and take the fly. I had considered changing the fly but the one I was using is my go-to pattern and I knew eventually it would get taken. I explained it’s like the twenty-dollar Casio that’s been on my wrist for almost as long as I can remember. It’s beat to hell, isn’t fancy and just keeps working. Even when the battery runs out, it’s still correct twice a day.
I kept casting at those fish, watching them follow the fly, relying on the strong sense of confidence that years of the ebb and flow of trial and error impart. It is still life’s greatest teacher, earned and then learned. Eventually one fish followed the fly and turned off it and paused. I water-hauled the fly and put it back out in front of him off to his left. I knew he was going to take it before he did. Two strips into the retrieve he turned on it and ate it. I felt “happy” as the line went tight, but it lasted only for as long as it took it to release him. I have no immediate recollection of that “happiness” today. The joy from the process of working those fish, staying with that one fly, watching the take and then seeing him swim away afterward…I feel that as I write this today as I do the blood in my veins.
So, in the final hours of 2019, I bid all a Happy New Year and hope that in that happiness, whether you fish or not, we all find joy in 2020.
See you on the other side.
South River, MA
31 December 2019