A boat, a rod, a beer and thou…

To date, it has been a funny old spring, fishing-wise. Generally, this time of the year, fishing conditions are relatively stable, and water levels are as unlikely to move as is a frenchman living next to a brothel. However, this spring weather patterns have seen more ups and downs than is normal. Late season low level snow melt combined with heavy, much needed rain murked up the river and saw it for a time flowing at summer time levels. All of this has combined to keep the water temperatures below the level required for a consistent caddis hatch. The Mother’s Day hatch, as it is called in these parts, is one of the red letter events on the western fishing calendar, drawing hopeful fishermen from near and far and injecting dollars into the local economy.

Those fishermen turning up with the expectation of balmy spring days and casting dry flies to eager, brainless fish have been offered a reminder that in fishing, as in life, things don’t always go according to plan. Bhuddism teaches us that attachment is the source of unhappiness, and consequently expectation the mother of disappointment. On the other hand, being grateful for what is, is the first step to appreciation of how much you really have.

In his highly readable and perceptive book, Pavlov’s Trout, author, psychologist and fisherman Paul Quinnett posits the theory that when ranking the reasons why men and women go fishing, actually catching a fish figures way down the list. They call steelhead “the fish of a thousand casts” on account of their elusiveness, and Quinnett, a North West steelhead fisherman, sat down one day to do some rough mental calculations. No doubt at the suggestion of his wife, he began to figure out the amount of time, money and resources he spent chasing steelhead relevant to the amount of time he spent with one actually on the line.

It rapidly became obvious to Quinnet that economically speaking at least, for a pastime he would be better off taking up bowling and tossing twenty dollar bills out of his car window as he drove around town. The same could be said for fisherman of any persuasion, be they Bubba with his bass boat, Bahamas bone fishermen, or the humble Arkansas River fly fisherman. If fishing is ever reduced to it’s economic components, it ceases to make sense. If catching a fish is the be all and end all of the endeavor, then ultimately the fisherman will be left empty handed, both literally and spiritually.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am no saint. If I didn’t catch a few every now and then, I would probably give it up pretty quickly, but sometimes, you need to go looking for the real point of the day. If you get too wound up in equating success with numbers, you often fail to realize that that vaguely irritating feeling in your nether regions was actually a good time biting you in the butt. You were just a little too wound up in the process to notice. As a guide, my heart sinks a little when I encounter the competitive fisherman, the fish counter and the “why aren’t they biting?” worrier.

Just being able, physically, geographically and materially, to spend time on the river for pure recreation puts you ahead of the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants. Sure, we all want to catch a bunch of fish, but making that the measure of success or failure is only setting yourself up for disappointment more often than not. Fortunately, on this trip, I was with kindred spirits. Spinning yarns and having a laugh were the order of the day, especially as the fish didn’t keep us, particularly me, very busy. We caught a few fish, and at least on my part, managed to botch a fair few opportunities, while some great drifts went unnoticed and unappreciated by the fish. But how bad could it be? A lovely spring afternoon, a couple of brewskis, friends and a river to float.

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