Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller, & more to come

I’m on a high bank a little off the water and can see down into the pool, where lurk two grey shapes, suspended, fanning pectoral fins. One is a little larger than the other, and my emerger pattern is drifting very slowly toward it. The shape begins to glide, equally slowly, toward the fly, and stares for some time, inspecting, seemingly almost sniffing. Then it daintily nibbles the dot of feathers and fur, and turns just a little, and I rear back and drive a steel bolt through its lip.

And I’m bored partly out of my mind.

This little note I’m writing is not intended to disparage the preferences of others; there are many anglers whose pulses would be pounding at such a scene. We see guide service ads and YouTube clips everywhere singing the praises of sight fishing and selling the experience to a sight-fishing-hungry public. And I wish them well. But the idea doesn’t quite appeal to me as much as to many, and I’d like to explore the reasons why. I think it has something to do with the poetic nature of fishing itself.

Watching a fish approach a fly to me feels like watching it nibble a worm. The scene is tranquil–serene. I feel like a cad to be injecting terror into that scene. But it’s more than that…or rather, it’s less.

One of fishing’s great allures, in my soul anyway, is its amazing ingenuity. Here we have a prey that would otherwise be entirely untouchable, except for a little bit of trickery we call a hook. We know they’re there but they won’t let us come within grabbing distance. And we can’t hold a round-up, or lasso them. They’ll disappear in all directions, like swift, ghostly torpedoes, in a 3D world to which we are not adapted. Untouchable…except for the single little act of tricking them into tying themselves to a string the other end of which we’re clutching. Imagine the creativity it took to come up with that idea back in the stone age—to reduce the otherwise infinite flight range of a fish to the length of an ever-shortening piece of string.

But the other of fishing’s great allures, and the most important one to me, is its unequalled mystery. The water’s surface, which usually and benevolently offers enough glare to prevent clear sight through to the fluid world, is the boundary between known and unknown. Below could be absolutely anything! …from barren nothingness to teeming schools of large aggressive fish. We don’t know. And above is only quiet gurgle, and light, and a lone angler harboring only the purest of eternal optimism…because he doesn’t know.

If the water proves to be barren, as long as he doesn’t know it he can still have a great morning. The moment he knows is when disappointment sets in, and not before.

Piercing the boundary between known and unknown with eyesight feels sacrilegious–like stripping away that mysterious quality…to me anyway. It removes an element that would otherwise help make the entire endeavor magical. After all, if what I really want is to catch something big, and if I’m happy to remove that delicious unknown quality from the equation, I can go fish the 15-incher trough at the hatchery when no one is looking. I can dispense with the magical boundary known as water entirely–just drag an ear of corn with a hook in it under the very nose of a cow in the field, and have the rambunctious fight of a lifetime.

No, it’s the water–which simultaneously represents the inaccessibility of the prey and the mystery as to what that prey may be doing…or whether it’s there at all–that makes fishing different from hunting, and what makes it less a game of pure calculated execution and more a game of magic. It’s the sacred seam between worlds that sets up the sense of eternal optimism that draws me back.

Glare vs Sight
Glare vs Sight

Viewing crystal-clear-water videos and photographs is different. I enjoy them–it’s not me fishing. And when I am fishing, watching a dry fly being taken doesn’t dispel mystery because it’s sudden; it’s a surprise. Watching a line or indicator fly twitch doesn’t either. I can do either of them all day…spending most of that day believing it’s going to happen in the very next moment. Most especially for me, feeling a tug or the electric jolt of an unseen savage strike not only preserves the mystery, it amplifies it. I don’t see a greyish little critter nibbling and then twitching on a line; instead my mind imagines an intent predator slashing at my offering like a Great White takes a sea lion.

So when I hear of a chance to hit this pristine stream for swinging wets or that one for sight casting, I’ll take the former any day. I sincerely tip my hat to those who love the latter…because the world is more beautiful for its variance…but I don’t much understand them. I guess I feel I’d lose a little something in the prospect that’s important to me–something at the heart of why I fish at all. Give me clarity but leave me the ripple and the sparkle on the top that keeps what’s beneath a relative unknown, and the mottled stony, mossy bottom that camouflages the rest; leave me my naïve optimism, and my imagination. I believe more when I’m not seeing.

2 Comments

  1. Amen, I’d much rather “hunt” fish deep in the pools or secure in their undercut bank, unseen and comfortable. The long cast that drops a fly just inches from a suspected hide followed by a viscous strike is far more rewarding that trying to fool that visible trout feeding in the Spring Creek. Trying to catch trout that you can see and they can see you is a bit like trying to catch a chicken by hand in a corral. It can be done, but it is tedious.

  2. Agreed. And practical matters such as success rates aside, when I cast a fly onto, or into, that unknown, and commence to listening, and sensing through fingertips, and intently watching the line…and then without warning feel a sudden little bump…it feels like contact with an alien world. It’s like leaning against the stone wall of some ancient cave and suddenly hearing a soft knock from behind the wall.

    Anyway it sure beats chasing chickens.

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