“He that hopes to be a good Angler must not only bring an inquiring, searching, observing wit; but he must bring a large measure of hope and patience, and a love and propensity to the Art itself …“ The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton
I call this art of angling a pursuit with reckless optimism—casting a line into the watery dwellings of theoretical fish. There are ways to improve the odds – pick the right pocket or edge, choose the right fly, or make special incantations to the gods of the stream – but really it is optimistic that a fish will bite on any given cast. And like addicts at the slot machine pulling the lever under the taunting spell of the blinking lights, we keep articulating our elbows and wrists in the hope of landing the big one we are sure is shimmering just below the surface.
The longer the fishing day goes, the greater the optimism that the next cast is the one. It grows increasingly harder to walk away from the water, and I start playing little mental games. “Five more casts” becomes my mantra and sliding scale of done. Surely that was a nibble? I better cast another five. I am almost certain that no one has ever caught a fish in that last series of casts after you have acknowledged that the fishing day is really done. It could happen. It just doesn’t. Fishing karma isn’t set to that pattern, well unless you are one of those charmed individuals that just has to look at the water and a fish strikes your hook. You probably are rewarded with fish at least twice in the last five casts. I am not yet one of you.
Unlike the slot machine, I lose nothing with my reckless hope that casting again will improve my catching capacity. I only gain. More time spent in blissful optimism. More breaths in the rarified air above mountain water. More thoughts infused in peace and nature. More opportunity to watch a creature come to the water to join the pursuit of fish. And when the last cast finally comes, self-discipline eventually mandates the last, it still sails out from my rod with possibility. I try just as hard as I did as the fishing day began. Nothing. But I am undeterred from my belief that the next time I fish will be better. And I am grateful for everything else I experienced during my binge of hopefulness.
This feeling is unique to the Art of Angling. My other pursuits do not allow me this much reckless behavior. Climbing, kayaking, skiing all require concentration on balancing my skills with the route ahead, maintaining realistic expectations. Only in fishing dare I dream bigger than reality. Exercising this optimism restores my joyfulness.