I always figured that writing an outdoor column had to be extremely easy. How hard can it be? You go fishing and then lie about it. Isn’t that what all fishermen do anyway? Wrong. A couple nights ago, I kept wracking my brain, trying to get sufficiently inspired to write something worthy of you folks. Nothing seemed to work, not even wearing my fishing hat. Suddenly I had a brilliant idea! Instead of worrying about it, I’d go out in the fresh air and clear the cobwebs out of my mind by doing a little fishing.
I was scurrying around the house getting my stuff ready. Let’s see now: waders, knit cap, jacket, fishing vest, rod, I have a rod rack in my truck that will hold a fully assembled 10-foot rod, and so I figured it would be best to assemble my rod in front of the fireplace instead of out in the darkness.
I drove out to the Stanislaus River and as I turned the truck around the lights played across the beach and the water. Everything looked pretty much as it always does. Then I turned the lights out and the transformation began.
As the river returned to darkness, it took on a new character. Familiar trees, sunken logs, and beaches, changed from finite shapes into ephemeral shadows. A multitude of sounds seemed to come from every direction at once. The splash of a fish up river, the yip, yip of a coyote downriver, an owl hooted from the opposite bank, and you could hear a beaver softly crunching on a branch nearby.
The water felt surprisingly warm against my waders; probably it was not as cold as the night air. Even though I had waded here a hundred times before, I moved cautiously across the sandy bottom. Familiar sandbars, and logjams, and currents, were completely different now. Even the sky took on a different look. Through a windshield, it seemed that the cloud cover was complete, but now, out in the middle of the river the clouds were riddled with star –speckled holes.
Of course I had fished at night before, but usually from a boat, or on a riverbank next to my car. I’ve even made a few casts from the edge of a trout stream after dark. But never before had I actually gotten out into the river itself, and had my senses so completely overwhelmed. With the sight, sound, touch, and even the smell of the night air, the combination of them all was almost intoxicating.
After an ample adjustment to this amazing sensory session, I began to fish. Swish, the back cast, the rod stopped and I could feel a tug as the line straightened out behind me. Another swish, the forward cast, and four feet of line raced through my fingers. Swish, swish, Swish, and each time the line went further and further out. One final drive, and the deer hair bug made a soft “plop” as it hit the water, its brilliant red, yellow and green hues swallowed up in the darkness.
I began to strip the line back in, 6 inches at a time, strip, pause, and then a pause as the current pulled it taut again. Strip, pause, tug. It took me awhile to learn how to judge distance in the darkness. In daylight, I often stand in one spot and simply lengthen or shorten my cast to hit different targets at varying distances. But at night I tend to keep my casts the same length and move myself in and out toward the various trees or rocks. Suddenly I realize, I wasn’t tense any more my neck & shoulders no longer ached, and the knot in my stomach was gone. Angling therapy had come through once again.
The crux of fishing, it seems to me, is not so much the catching of fish, as it is experiencing the possibility of catching a fish. It’s nice to actually hook & land your quarry, but it isn’t essential to enjoying the overall experience. The same theory holds true in hunting, outdoor photography, or mushrooming. The greatest enjoyment comes not from the fish or ducks or mushrooms you bring home, for they’ll be gone in a meal or two. The real worth of participating in outdoor pursuits lies in the enjoyment of the experience itself. The sight of mallards taking flight, the sound of a beaver slapping its tail on the water, the feel of a fish as he puts a bend in your rod, and the smell of bacon cooking on a fire are what enjoying the outdoors is all about.
Have a great holiday & until next week,