Life in the Reel World

Value through the eyes of an angler.

Some people give up on living a normal life because of fishing. Saving for a new vehicle, putting in extra time at the office, planning for retirement, wearing collared shirts––fish don’t respect these accomplishments. In extreme cases, some anglers follow spawns and hatches across the planet, blowing thousands in dish-pit wages or trust-fund dollars for a single season of tight lines. But it’s not just the textbook trout bum who renounces the quotidian for the quixotic. For some of us, fishing is really just a matter of sanity.  

Of course, the sanity of a fisherman often resembles madness to the uninitiated. Spend enough time fishing, and certain things become important to you that would never be important to anyone else: the rechanneling of a tributary, the clarity of the river, the cluster of exoskeletons on a boulder. The world becomes a more nuanced, tactile, and sensory place when you wade into its watery limits. Fishing can turn respectable people into eccentrics who prattle about midges, mayflies, and hair stackers.

When one considers the many varieties of madness with which one might occupy oneself, fishing seems a comparatively humane obsession. Recent global events have taught us that very few of the things we take for granted, whether markets or governments or entertainment, are really concrete or secure. Much of the “real world” we rely upon to give our lives meaning and worth is upheld by a lot that isn’t real at all. This may sound distressing, but it’s the least of one’s concerns when a trout suddenly gulps the fly and its wild torpedo energy shimmies up the line and down the rod. Somehow, that tugging fish at the end of the tippet seems more real than money in the bank, rain in the forecast, or a date next Saturday.

In the end, it may turn out that the only things that really matter are the things that matter to fishermen. Therefore, rather than acquiesce to the insanity, I commend you the fishing pole. Acquaint yourself with its rhythms; examine the undersides of insects; sit beside rivers for vast quantities of time. The uncouth and unenlightened will jeer and scorn. “The children need shoes,” they will say. “The house has been foreclosed,” they shall cry. But you will not hear them, for you shall have a fish on the line.