Thursday, May 25, 2017

Edison, Bukowski and four dollars

A while back I was at the Mobil getting gas with my coffee and ran into a guy I know who had bought one fly from me at a fly show the previous winter. We were about two months into striper season so I asked him how the fishing had been. He told me that he had not caught any striped bass on the fly I sold him and asked if I offered a money-back guarantee. I choked a little on my coffee and inquired where he had been fishing. He told me the location and reiterated that the fly had not caught any fish. Either time he had been out.

“Either time, as in twice?”

“Yeah, both times, nothing…I don’t think it works.”

I suddenly thought of Thomas Edison saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work” when describing his work to improve the filament in the incandescent light bulb.

I reached for my phone to show my customer pictures of a dozen fish recently caught on the same fly he was questioning but chose the high road and bit my tongue. I thanked him for his business and gave him back his four dollars.

Half of it in coins.

Just because.

I thought about that encounter a couple of mornings ago as I sat in traffic on the commute to The Cube. Cruising north at seven miles per hour I watched people in the other cars applying face paint, taking selfies, updating their global status and one dude rolling a number. Traffic came to a halt as a radio commercial touted the “immediate results” of some magic pill. Instant gratification seems to dictate most of what we do. Mass media, marketing and advertising, social media influencers, hashtags – we’re all manipulated by the profit in impatience.

We’re messed up, I get it. At times I’m both a perpetrator and a casualty of the game and to be contrite I’ll be checking Blogger an hour after I post this to see how many views it gets.

There is a phrase we use in fishing about a particular catch being a “fish of a thousand casts.” Much like Edison and the carbonized filament, there are times that the difference between fishing and catching is the result of persistence. Despite all the fancy gear, the electronics technology and real-time information available today, in the end, it comes down to putting in the time, cast after cast, sometimes day after day.

A friend of mine from Nantucket, Chris Lydon, recently sent me an email that illustrates this.

“I have been dying to get a bass on those foam popper flies since last season. I don’t know why, but it’s been a personal mission. I spent a lot of time at the end of last season searching for my final bass with them to no avail. I’ve been tying it on a lot this year so far. I have had countless missed strikes, explosions and tail swirls but yesterday I finally got the deal done. All the heartache was worth it. In my opinion, there is no more exciting way to catch a bass than watching it come up and clobber a popper.”
Photo by Chris Lydon

Charles Bukowski said it best; “Any asshole can chase a skirt, art takes discipline.”

I have no idea in what context Bukowski made his remark. If you've read Bukowski, well, use your imagination. I’d like to think it’s universal and can be applied to just about anything, especially fishing.

Merriam - Webster lists one definition of art as “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” The same could be said of fly fishing.

The season is upon us. Be persistent.

And keep making art.

South River, MA
25 May 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Next Cast

This morning was my first real day of the fishing season. I’ve been going out and prospecting for the last month using most of that time to look at changes in structure from the winter storms and erosion and trying to figure out if or how these things will affect fish movement this season. But today was just about fishing; just me, the river and the spaces between casts.

It was raining hard and windy as hell when I walked out into the marsh. That was just fine with me. It meant I would most likely be alone. More than the hunt for the first striper of the season, this was a grasp at being unseen and taciturn for a few hours. I quietly took my place in the grass as the herons and cormorants jockeyed for new positions around me and a red-tailed hawk patrolled the flooding marsh from above. After a few minutes the disturbance of my arrival was absorbed, the cormorants moved on and calm fell across the salt meadow with the fog and the rain.

I started casting, working the upstream current knowing that nothing was going to happen until the tide change. As the water flooded the sod bank and filled the grass so did my mind with what I have been avoiding. Like the basket of laundry still in the corner, I keep finding distractions and reasons not to fold, organize and put it in its place. I laughed out loud because she would have liked that analogy. And I laughed again in the moment of that thought as the rain fell harder and the wind picked up a little. This is the exact second she would have called to ask me some obscure question while I tried to keep the phone dry and fly line untangled in the wind.

But she didn’t call. So I kept casting. Mom passed away unexpectedly nearly two months ago. I still hadn’t let it out, I hadn’t let myself. I spoke at the funeral and nearly broke down reading memories written by the family. Among the tears and between bouts of strength and weakness I read the words but I didn’t let it out. Back on the pavement, submersed in the noise of the world of everyone else it’s easy to practice avoidance. There in the marsh, washed in the mud and the water of my world there was no place to hide, no reason to avoid what had to happen.

So as the tide slacked, the rain let up and the wind laid down I let it out. A little at a time, building in intensity and volume until I had no control of it and could only let it flow out of me. In the view of the heron and the hawk I let it out. I wondered if my sounds would disturb them and cause them to move. It didn’t. And so I kept casting.

There was a day that mom spent with my daughter and I on the boat. We had beached it on a sand bar and walked back into the marsh to a small creek I knew would be holding a fish or two. I made several casts with mom and Abby looking on and mom asked me what my favorite part of fly fishing was. I answered, “The next cast.”

She, of course, was full of questions about what I meant. I tried to explain to her that with each cast you can learn a little more about the place you’re in, the fish you’re trying to catch and in the end, somewhere between the casts, a little more about yourself. I made a few more casts and after seeing a small wake along the edge of a riffle, adjusted one mid-cast to put the fly just up-current of it. As soon as the fly drifted through the riffle it was taken by a small striper. As I held the fish in my hand to release it she said she had seen my attention shift to that spot in the water and adjust the cast and understood what I meant. Over the years the term “the next cast” came up in many conversations about adjusting to life and moving through it.

So this morning, in the spaces between casts, I cried and I let it out, more and more and then finally less and less with the next.

Mother’s Day is next Saturday.

Call her.

North River, MA
4 May 2017