Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Keep It Simple - personal essay

I took up fishing late in life, and even then, I came to it through the back door. The patience I gained with age prepared me for it, but I really took it up so I would have a use for my boat.

I know; most people buy a boat because they have a use for it, but there are other reasons to buy a boat. When we were teenagers, my older brother unwittingly stirred my interest in boats when he built a canvas covered canoe in the back hallway outside our bedroom. The canoe only got used once, in Mashell Creek if I remember correctly. Rather than carry it home, we hid it in the brush and that was the last we ever saw of it. But it wasn't the end of my desire to build a boat of my own.

Over the years, my fantasy grew from a simple canoe to a wooden dory. Don't ask why; it was just the aesthetics of it -- the boat of The Old Man and the Sea, the boat that Captain Courageous and Manuel fished from, the boat on the sea of a hundred romantic pictures. Every few years, I would buy a copy of Wooden Boat from the news stand and renew the fantasy; however, because of my total ineptness at wood working, it remained a fantasy. Thumbing through one such issue, I spotted an ad for a kit to build a fifteen foot, wine glass wherry, a light boat designed for ease of rowing, but it was close enough to a dory to satisfy me.

The kit used an innovative (so it seemed to me) method of boat building called stitch and glue. The finished product was comprised of thin marine plywood planks sandwiched between layers of fiberglass. It looked like something even a wood working klutz could do with a little patience.

It turned out that it was something I could do and did do. So, I had my dream boat; it was aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but what use was it? It seems there is really only one thing to do with a row boat -- go fishing. I had given up fishing as a teenager because it bored me. If I did not get any action in the first thirty seconds, I looked for other things to do. But, forty years later, something slow-paced looked good. I bought a simple cane pole, some line, a few hooks, some bait, and went off to the lake.

I soon realized, though thousands of fish have been caught on a cane pole, I needed a rod and reel. And then, I needed a second rod and reel, and a third, and some lures, several different sizes of hooks, different baits, a subscription to two magazines, some videos, a fish finder, a net, a fishing vest, a couple of tackle boxes, several catalogues, and the list goes on. The old saying, "if the wind is from the north, don't go forth; if it is from the east, they bite the least; if out of the west, they bite the best," was no longer good enough. I discovered fishing has become a competitive thing with an ever increasing plethora of scientific research to back it up.

I discovered that in this sub-culture, it's not enough to catch a fish. It has to be the biggest fish, or the most fish. Soon I was investigating thermo clines, hatches, presentations, color, seasons, moon cycles, and migration patterns. Sitting and cogitating with a line and hook dangling in the water was turning into a real project.

To regain perspective, I dusted off my old copy of Thoreau's Walden. "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides on us," he mused, and then advised, "simplicity, simplicity, simplicity." I had come to fishing through the back door, through the aesthetics of a simple boat, and the act of fishing itself should be kept just as simple.

It is enough to be in the middle of Spring River as day breaks, to watch the mist rising off the water, to watch the blue heron and otter ply their skill at fishing, or to watch the raccoon slip along the riverbank in search of food. Sometimes an unexpected treat comes along, like the time a twelve-year-old boy, fishing a few yards upstream with his grandpa, caught his first fish ever, a twelve inch rainbow trout. For a moment, I was in the presence of the greatest fisherman of all times with the greatest catch. No science, no fancy equipment, just a cheap rod and reel, a worm, and a fighting fish.

A few days ago, I took my rod and reel, tackle box, and can of worms off to a nearby pond for a little cat fishing as my boat was in the workshop waiting for a new finish. When I arrived, there was only a middle aged couple doing a little fishing, but since the fish weren't biting, they left after a few minutes. I baited my hook, cast it in, and settle into a long wait. Twenty minutes or so passed, and I hadn't yet had any action. A grandfather, father, and son showed up. The father baited the hook of the boy's little rod and reel and cast it out for him. Within seconds, the five-year-old had a catfish on the line. He began dancing about and cranking on his little reel as hard as he could, landing the first catch of the day.

Soon a family of six showed up! There were both boys and girls, and they ranged in age from maybe five to twelve years of age. The father landed the first fish and a big one at that. The little boy started jumping about with excitement, making sure everyone noted the size of his father's whopper. However, the little eight-year-old girl was the first of the children to bring one in, and soon the boy who had been so excited over his dad's catch had one of his own pulled up on the bank. He was all excited, but having watched his bobber, I knew he could have had one a lot sooner had he stayed with his own fishing instead of everyone else's.

Well, there was no science in all this, nothing beyond a recognition that a wind out of the south was blowing in a new front. There were just some simple rods and reels, the kind that sell for under $10 at the discount store, a few worms, and a lot of happy kids. I pulled up my stringer of four fat catfish, my tackle box, and my rod and reel and started on home full of simple pleasure.

I'll have the new finish on my boat in a few weeks, as soon as the thermometer at night stays above sixty degrees so I can apply the temperature sensitive epoxy based paint. It's a small boat. Once in a while I think about getting a little electric trolling motor for it, but I think about batteries, chargers, electrical cables, and things that quit working. Then I look a the simple, hassle free, maintenance free set of oars and wonder why. And at times I get out the thick catalogue of fishing gear with all its possibilities and reflect on the kids with their little $10 poles and worms and also wonder why. Why insist on complicating life? For the most or the biggest?

I backed into fishing because of a simple little row boat that was pleasing to the eye, though owning it seemed to imply using it. But if using it complicates my life, what have I gained? A man should be wary of things that interfere with his cogitating. A simple pole, a can of worms, a set of oars, and a lake or river early in the morning are all the soul wants. Anything else simply gets in the way.
Copyright 2000

No comments:

Post a Comment