Outwaiting a fish has never been a problem for me. Patience of this variety is not a superhero’s quality, but if it were, I’d be fighting crime rather than writing about fishing. So when I first stumbled upon Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as a university student on a late-night outing to Chapters, I couldn’t understand why he portrayed “waiting for the fish to bite” with all the other negative aspects of waiting, like “waiting for a train to go / or a bus to come.”
Waiting to go fishing, on the other hand, requires an entirely different kind of patience, which admittedly I don’t possess. I realized this when my good friend Chris and I took off in a floatplane one stormy Friday, embarking on a summer weekend trip we’d been planning for months. The pilot wasn’t optimistic about reaching the destination, but he did everything he could to get us to the lake as scheduled by flying low through the valleys under the heavy cloud cover. He navigated us within about 15 minutes of our destination before we ran into a wall of impassible cloud. Shortly after the midair U-turn, the pilot came over the headsets and said, “Sorry guys. We can try again in the morning.”
Because of the excitement created by the lengthy build-up to the trip, the announcement created a more crushing disappointment than any middle-aged man should feel. But that knowledge didn’t stop me from sulking a little before I mentally readjusted by telling myself we were only missing the late evening fishing and the early morning fishing.
The storm did what the forecast predicted and cleared at about the same time we reloaded our gear into the Cessna. And on this flight, because the clouds did not confine the plane to the low valleys, we were able to fly beside a number of peaks before the pilot located the correct valley and eventually the lake that would double as our landing-strip.
As soon as the plane dropped us off, Chris and I hauled our gear to an accommodating looking spot on a small delta. Impatiently, we left the camping gear and started to set up our rods. Since neither of us really knew what to expect from the lake, I brought three rods, all different weights. The largest was a 6-weight, which I assumed to be too much, but it was a “just in case…who knows” kind of grab on the way out of the garage.
Looking out at the water, I took hold of my leader and fumbled through a loop knot to attach my secret searching fly. In a rush I scurried over to the drop-off between the small delta and the water and that’s when I saw a large shadow, which was so large I initially didn’t believe it was a fish.
It couldn’t have been more than seven feet from where I was standing. Though it barely moved, it repositioned enough for me to question whether it sensed me. I foolishly knelt down and began casting, and proceeded to pull the fly past the fish twice before I acknowledged I needed to actually relocate and let it rest.
I walked down the shoreline another 15 feet and backed up five feet before kneeling again. I waited. Then I cast at a 45-degree angle about seven feet in front of the shadow and 20 feet past it. I let the fly sit for five seconds then I started to strip, fast. The clarity of the water allowed me to see the brightly coloured streamer as it streaked along. Just as the fly moved past the shadow, the fish tilted up then lunged to the left, causing my fly to disappear.
I felt the rod strain beneath the cork, far beyond what even a large trout should do to a 6-weight. The fish pulled away from shore and then leapt and cartwheeled three times before my backing exited the last guide. I was so shocked by the fish’s size I forgot to steer it. Not until my backing started peeling from the reel did I angle the rod to the right. The fish immediately responded by swimming quickly toward me. I struggled to keep pace and gave up on the reel and instead controlled the line with my hand until the fish stole it all back and re-peeled line from the reel.
This tug-o-war repeated a few times before I brought a bright, silver 12-pound coho to the net. Its colour indicated it had left the ocean only a day or two prior and found its way up to the lake, awaiting fall rains before continuing up the small inflowing stream. I held up the fish as Chris snapped a photo with his phone. Then I placed the fish back into the lake and watched the broad shoulders disappear to the depths.
Before we heard the muffled sound of the Cessna approaching the valley the next day, we caught a number of coho, cutthroat and even a few juvenile steelhead. But this fish stood out, above the others from the trip and also above the others from the angling year. It was more than the size of the fish. On occasion, I’ve caught small trout that are memorable. And it was even more than the surprise of catching a bright silver salmon while standing on the shore of a freshwater lake. I’ve caught “surprise species” fish before. I suspect it had to do with all of that, plus the buildup to the moment.
We’d had to fight through conflicting schedules just to get the trip on the calendar. Then the storm created a great deal of uncertainty as to whether or not we could actually go on the trip. And after all that, my reckless enthusiasm caused me to spook one of the largest fish I’d ever seen in a lake.
I know I criticized Seuss for his placement of waiting for a fish to bite, and I won’t waver from that position. He does, however, make a number of valid points in the rest of his book, so valid in fact that it makes me wonder why Seuss has never been considered a great amongst modern philosophers. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is more about who a person is when they end up at certain places in life, and less about the places themselves. Seuss essentially says sometimes you’ll get out ahead and sometimes you’ll get left behind. Sometimes you’ll move forward quickly and sometimes you’ll have to wait. Sometimes you’ll be surrounded by people who adore you, and sometimes you’ll feel completely alone.
Like all good philosophy, it can be applied to most areas in life. In fly-fishing terms, sometimes you’ll have the trip of a lifetime and it will go seamlessly, and sometimes you’ll be fully packed and ready to go and you’ll have to delay or cancel. Sometimes you’ll tie unbreakable knots, and sometimes your knots will let go. Sometimes you’ll have to wait for a fish and then you’ll get it, and other times you’ll rest a fish and never see it again.
Regardless of where I end up, be it lake or river, flats or fen, I must always remember to ask myself this question: Can I recognize a situation for what it is and adjust to the reality of the circumstance? If the answer is yes, then I will succeed. In the words of Seuss, “Yes! [I] will, indeed! 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.” Wait…maybe not quite that high for any honest angler.