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The rainbow trout in the Stanislaus Rivers had no idea that Sunday was the first of a new year.

A couple of them knew something was up, because they wanted breakfast and got a prince nymph. A few more were looking for lunch and got a black bird’s nest. Writing it like this almost makes me feel bad, until I remember how I felt sitting on my heels facing the shore, looking down at the confused fish I held half submerged in the cold water.

It was the second one of the day that I took the biggest note of. The first one flipped off the barbless hook because for some reason I thought a net-less release would be best.

Its back was a deep olive, setting off the vibrant red flanks. The slime coat that covered its body and acts as a defense from disease made it slick. It was like a little torpedo painting in a wet protective sleeve.

Below its eye was a single spot that seemed out of place compared to the rest that peppered its back and sides. Individuality.

It takes longer to write it than it did to see it, and within a few moments the rainbow was swimming back to the pool behind the rock, probably to sulk and maybe tell its friends.

I think it’s good to get a little mushy about little things like this, what with 2012 possibly being the end of the world ... or probably not.

I’m going to do this a couple hundred times this year — catch a fish, reel it in by its mouth, look at it, smile, take a picture, then let it go. I never keep the trout I catch and every summer there is a point when I start releasing salmon because I’ve got plenty for the freezer.

So what’s the point? If I’ve caught two-foot trout on light tackle, why should a little ten-inch shaker amuse me in the least? All I know is that it does. It’s not the cruelty, the feeling of absolute power being on the shore with the rod and reel, but something else. Something so completely different than work, something aside from what I do to make a living. It’s what I need to make a life.

There are those trite lines to the effect of, “a bad day fishing is better than a good day of work” and some more deeply contemplative sayings like “many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.”

Maybe that’s why I can catch and release so many fish of so many sizes and stand in the same spot so many hours this upcoming year and not get bored.

It’s about the fish, but not completely.

To contact Jeff Lund, email