It felt good to pick up a fly rod for the first time in three months and get a little.
Peacock bass, always good for what ails ya.
Although this probably isn’t.
The ladyfish stupidly hovered in the vicinity, en mass, for an incredible length of time and stupidly chased anything that hit the water. And I stood there, stupidly, and cast to them. It was one of those situations where the hookup was preordained and no patience or skill or even thought was needed to make it so.
This happened during a trip to Florida last December and, knowing it was likely the last time I’d cast in 2013, it proved kind of cathartic.
Tennis elbow, according to the infallible WebMD, afflicts people in their dominant arm when they reach their 40s. That last little fact makes me the most indignant, because even though I’m at the age where any professional athlete not using steroids is retired, I should be able to fish without consequence.
The elbow situation itself is a minor annoyance for the most part, except when trying to cast a fly rod. Or holding the rod while exerting pressure on a hooked fish. So I haven’t been doing it.
This is the longest I’ve gone without casting a fly rod since I first picked one up in 1994 or 95 or whenever. In its absence I’ve been doing some other stuff like:
Watching Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee
Watching Beware Mr. Baker
Playing air hockey.
Not fishing has also made me realize that fly fishing has been my longest continuous indulgence into any one thing. As a kid I read all of Stan Fischler’s columns in Hockey Digest¹ and could name the backup goalie on every NHL team. In my teens I could spend hours stringing traditional pockets into lacrosse sticks and in college I knew by sound the 300 most obscure reggae bands² in the Western hemisphere. I also saw a bunch of jam bands a bunch of times so maybe that counts although those who are obsessed with jam bands are way more into them than someone who would mention it so casually in a one-off reference. (There are encyclopedias.)
Why fishing has had the most staying power, I don’t know. At what point does something we like to do build its own self-sustaining momentum? And at what point does the point of self-reflection about it become beside the point? There are a million other directions to go:
In the end I don’t really need to know why I need to do it³, or if I even need to do it, I just like to do it more than I like to do a lot of other things, and that’s enough. There’s no real reason to explain or justify a fishing injury or what ladyfish are or why someone would stand around for unchecked amounts of time casting to them.
1. This was pre internet so you could only watch a game a week on the USA Network. Hockey Digest was the only other way to stay connected, but–as with anything–the lack of information allowed for more time to ruminate on the information available. For instance, it led to my long held belief that there should be a section called “best players with cool mustaches before mustaches were cool” in the hockey hall of fame. On the first ballot would be Charlie Simmer, Lanny McDonald and Michel Goulet.)
2. This band called Tishan we used to see all the time that was hailed as South Florida’s Premier Reggae Band might be the most obscure, if you’re keeping track. Then again it could be one of the early reggae djs named Tippa Irie.
The working thesis is that both I-75 and I-95 feed into the state, so every person in the midwest and the northeast who’s ranging from slightly off to full-on just heads south until they run out of options. Seth Myers’ new bit taps into the evidence supporting that theory, the insane Florida news cycle.
The good thing about the skit, and the continuous stream of news reports that inspired it, is that now people will believe us–we being the people with Florida roots who share personal anecdotes of encounters in this vein, only to have others think we’re making this shit up. (We are not.)
You don’t even need dig deep to experience it, just drive down any stretch of Federal Highway until you come across a Denny’s. Spend 20 minutes inside after midnight and you’re good to go.
I used to count fish. Most probably do when they start fishing as a way to catalogue it, or for whatever reason. I stopped mostly after reading Longest Silence–if you did you probably know the exact passage about “trout number seven”–and also because it is a nonsensical way to record a fishing experience.
Looking back on my fishing journals, I recorded a day in the year 2000 where I caught 30 just-stocked brook trout on a river where I paid for a beat. Should that carry more weight than the trip that year down the Rio Hatiguanico in Cuba? The one with the ornithologist who served me rum and helped me hook my first tarpon on fly? By numbers it does.
So I started counting days. In 2008 I recorded over 100 excursions with a fly rod and I knew with the birth of my first child that year that the pace would not last unless I moved to Florida and/or won the lottery. In 2013, I recorded 52. Once a week seems more than reasonable for someone in a northern locale with a full-time job and family, and who is not a guide.
Still, counting days is not a perfect math, either. The year in my head doesn’t add up to the numbers on the page–a notion my wife would find insane¹. Maybe it’s because I turned down as many invitations to fish as times I actually spent fishing–I am probably the king of the “Yeah sounds awesome oh wait I can’t” response. Maybe it’s because of the skunk days I withstood trying to force carp to like me. But likely it’s because much of my fishing time came in clusters or consisted of stolen moments².
Either way, in 2013 I got to be on the water in some of my favorite places in the world in both Florida and New York with some of my favorite people and also got to watch my two daughters catch panfish on little pink Ugly Sticks by the dozen. So, yeah, 2013 was good. And as the great Neil Young sings, “numbers add up to nothing.”
Happy New Year.
1. (And most likely is.)
2. (In the Wordsworthian “Spots of Time” vein.)
A north, northeast wind with gusts to 30, even 40 mph can make the east coast of Florida an unpleasant place to be, especially outside the inlets. But there’s a lot of water to cover between the coasts, too, and there’s always a lee somewhere¹.
(1. I like ditches.)
The guide had the boat staked off on a flat on the edge of I-275 and the angler on deck stood poised to cast.
I don’t know if he actually did because I was driving southbound at 70 mph. Whoever they were, that’s the farthest they got into my visual memory–a split second freeze frame through the passenger window.
Still, If I hadn’t seen them…
Traffic paced up to 80 mph and I had somewhere to be and the water disappeared from view but the idea of me being on it didn’t. I had a brief but less menacing wander along the lines of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
The hard part of being a fisherman is the not fishing. Which sounds a little self-inflicted and absurd on the face of it. Sometimes having had the experience is enough of a thing, like watching the great migration in Kenya or checking out the gargoyles of Chartres. Sometimes something you did in the past, like high school football or geometry, stays locked in that place and you don’t mind.
But fishing brings the irrational desire to be doing it when you shouldn’t be, and the dangerous speculation that you’d be happiest doing it at all times.
When I start to think that way I’m drawn back to “Some Remarks,” the opening essay of Thomas McGuane’s The Longest Silence:
“Worst of all are the lamentations of the angler who has given himself entirely to the the sport and feels that sportsmen up for the week or the season only to return to jobs or family don’t understand him.
I’m afraid the best angling is always a respite from burden. Good anglers should lead useful lives, and useful lives are marked by struggle, and difficulty, and even pain.”
Even so, it doesn’t always stick. Especially in Florida.
So against better judgment, I pressed down the gas pedal and guided the rental car into the fast lane, and cycled through a few more scenarios that would put me on the water, and not that fucker on the flats who by now was probably deep into a 40-inch redfish.
“Sure is pretty down here don’t you know.”—I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House
Other things to do include snook, trout and Euchre until last call.
The price of the plane ticket is supposed to be exchanged for silver but for a well-placed low pressure system that’s been given a Christian name.
An osprey swoops down low over the grass flats and spears a mullet and flies it across the vast bay to an island in the distance full of dead trees. Add watching this to the list of other things, as well as Bimini ring toss, eating, acoustic sets, ladyfish, mangrove snapper and rehydration.