It Might Be Magic
Virtually every sport fisherman believes in the concept of luck. There are a few who have developed and honed their skills to the point where luck plays a minimal role in their success, but even they can be occasionally thwarted, or aided by a twist of fate. Given this, I am constantly amazed by the paucity of anglers who are willing to take the concept of luck a step further and translate it into mysticism or magic. If luck, an unseen and unknowable force, exists; why then is the personification of that force so anathema to many anglers?
Nick Lyons, in his wonderful compilation "The Quotable Fisherman", cites the late British author and fisherman, Conrad Voss Bark, from his work "A Fly On The Water" as having penned the following wisdom. "Certainly no aspect of fishing is as enjoyable as those which have a good, firmly based and well established myth or two for company". And from the same work, "...fly fishing needs to have a touch of magic about it if we are to enjoy it to the full". Mr. Voss Bark, it would seem, understood the mystic nature of the pursuit of fishes.
Let's examine the concept of luck as it pertains to fly fishing. Is it luck that directs your fly to a likely lie? Some would argue, rightfully, that it is skill and knowledge that do so. But, expand the scenario and think again. You are in a fast moving float boat; along the bank toward which you are casting there are three or four equally attractive lies; you've time to cast to one of them. Is it skill, knowledge, luck, or something else that directs your cast to the one? I would argue that it is skill that enables you to make the cast, not choose which to make. Those who would call it luck (good if you entice a strike, bad if you don't) diminish the role of knowledge in your selection. But how is knowledge gained? If one reads a book that imparts a piece of wisdom, he is being "spoken to" by the author, is he not? And, how did the author come by this jewel of wisdom? Did he read it somewhere else? Did some fisherman teach him how to recognize certain peculiarities in the water that would indicate the presence of a fish? If so, how did that fisherman learn the secret?
The word we often use is lore. Lore, accumulated knowledge, tradition, belief, passed from one generation to the next. So, if one reads a book that imparts a piece of piscatorial wisdom, is he not being "spoken to" by fishermen of yore? At the moment of the cast, when the selection of the one lie has to be made instantaneously, was not some great ancestor of the angle whispering in your ear? Many call it intuition; some a "gut feeling". I ask those who; How did you acquire the intuition, the feeling? How do they differ from the idea of an inaudible voice coaching your actions?
We all learn, early in our fishing careers, that early morning and late evening are often the best times to fish; and so they seem to be. There is something special about getting up in the wee hours, sneaking around so as not top wake the non-fishers in the house and getting on the water in the pre dawn dim, when the mist sleeps on its watery bed, waiting to awaken at your slightest intrusion, then dances and swirls around you as you invade its domain. Equally wonderful is casting through the last hour of visibility when the river, or lake, transitions from its journal to its nocturnal environment.
When bats skim the water and reel about in pursuit of invisible creatures; when raccoons and other animals can be heard and sometimes seen scuttling along the water's edge and the moon crawls its way across the water to the very spot where you sit or stand. What we seldom hear questioned is why this is so. When the question does arise, you'll hear such things as "fish feed better at these times" or, "the coolness brings out the fish". Isn't it possible that what makes these times special is that they are a little bit mysterious or mystical? Perhaps the fish bite better because the fishing gods are out in force during the twilight hours than they are in the middle of the day. Maybe these hours are reserved for the "true anglers". Maybe they are a reward for the receptive. Even if the sceptic may catch more fish at these times, he is deprived of the experience that we believers enjoy.
That is not to say that the fishing gods are not at work during the daylight hours. Who among us hasn't been hypnotized by sunlight scintillating off ripples, by the mottling of a quiet pool as sunlight is filtered through the leaves of surrounding trees in ever the slightest breeze; by the reflection of clouds on blue water, as they scud across the sky? Is it not possible that the semi-trance such things produce is a moment of communication between fisherman present and fishermen past? Have you not sensed when you awake from such a reverie, that your next cast seems almost directed; that a lie you hadn't noticed now calls to you?
When I am having this conversation with naysayer, this is the point when they ask: If there are fishing gods looking out for us, why do we sometimes have bad days? How to explain the capricious nature of the fishing gods? Maybe they have off days too. Maybe you weren't listening; or perhaps they decided you needed a lesson, a comeuppance if you will. I find that when I do things that are contrary to good fishing craft, that's when the fishing gods are most likely to abandon me, and, it is most certainly the uncertainty of fishing that makes it the wonderful thing that it is. We would soon tire of the task if catching were guaranteed.
For those still not convinced, I have a final persuasion to suggest. Camp out! Find some stream or lake where you can escape traffic noise and other manmade distractions. Pitch a tent as near to the water as is practical. Find a sand or gravel bar where you can build a camp fire. Roast a couple of your day's catch on a stick over the fire. Stare into the darkness beyond the firelight. Stare at the stars. Listen to the water whisper as seductively as a Lorelei. Stay there until you can no longer hold your eyes open. If by then you cannot almost see the spirits that reign over piscatorial pursuits; if you cannot sense their presence; consider golf!