I used to think there was something meaningful in fishing, that there was more to it than you’d think from watching someone do it. Lots of writers encouraged me in this belief, and in many ways it did seem to be an activity that could somehow get at the crux of life in a lot of ways. One could (and many have) write books on almost every facet of fishing as it relates to some other facet of life. That used to seem like such a revelation; that stillness, for example, as seen in a spring pond could represent or even seem to mirror the stillness found in certain times of life. Metaphors seem to be meaningful by dint of their own nature, and it isn’t in our makeup to ignore them. I certainly didn’t want to.
Years have gone by, and I’ve fished in a lot of places and during a lot of seasons. Meaning in the act itself has somehow seeped out during that time, and in it I now find only pleasure. That breathless search for the next revelation isn’t a part of the experience anymore. The need to wring every last bit of “experience” from the act has faded.
I find that this has increased my enjoyment.
Life is full of things that are freighted with meaning. You go through a divorce, realize that you don’t have it all together, see that the mundane actions of daily life carry with them a potential for consequence and direction that far outweigh what can be found at the end of a bamboo stick, and the ability to do something without it mattering becomes critical.
Flyfishing in the surf here in Southern California allows that. There is no painstaking matching of any sort of hatch; no search for painfully small tippets, and no fouled six-foot casts. For one thing, fishing here is hit or miss at the best of times. You can do a lot of things right (maybe all of them) and spend days without a fish. You can’t go to the surf in the expectation of catching anything. You go in the expectation of trying. That’s important somehow. For another thing, fishing here is not a solitary pursuit. There is no high mountain purity; no electrifying aloneness. Here there are people, everywhere. You watch your backcast every time because you’re more likely to snag a bikini top than a surf perch. You answer questions every time, and you flirt with sunsoaked girls on weekends as you keep one eye on the breaks…
Fishing here is different. You can’t take it too seriously. You wear shorts, and that’s it. Maybe you stick a pair of pliers in your pocket. There is no delicacy in casting, either. Power and distance are what you’re after, and you find it by using heavy, fast sinking leadcore shooting heads on heavy, powerful rods. The rhythm of the cast is different, too. Roll, shoot, haul, and throw. That’s all you get. That’s all you need – the line does the work for you. You feel like Lefty with every cast.
No, you can’t take this too seriously. Even the sheer multitude of species you can catch on a given (good) day somehow makes a joke of the solemnity of the single-minded pursuit of the trout purists. Sharks, rays, perch, croaker, shovelnose; even the names seem slightly childish and whimsical. And it’s hard to export the grace of a trout stream to the beach when you’ve got a thrashing nurse shark attached to the end of your line and you don’t really know how you’re going to release it and so you contemplate it for a while – from a safe distance.
And then there is the restless immensity of the Pacific Ocean, unceasingly active and always changing. Vaguely threatening, too. There is no way to “know” even the tiniest fraction of it, and so you don’t try.
You don’t think much about it. You just cast.