Over the years, I have used a litany of excuses to get some, “me,” time. I’ve done the obvious one of calling in sick for work. I’ve told girlfriends that I have to help a friend so I couldn’t make dinner plans, or have even said a loved one was in the hospital. I’ve used them all so I could grab my fly rod and just go fishing. All so I can have uninterrupted casts out onto blue ribbon trout streams, in the middle of the workweek.
The reason for the excuse this particular day, was because of the weather. The air was warm, the wind was forecasted to becalm, the sun was shining, and the river, of course was devoid of humans. Nothing but the sound of water, without a drift boat in sight. Just the birds dipping and chirping like they always do. Even the drive out to the spot was a surreal experience. Painting the picture of what my local river was like maybe ten or 20 years ago on a weekend. Quietly, my rod was rigged with my favorite terrestrial pattern, with the sound of nothing but the river in the background. Bank after bank, I probed the grasses in search of the large rainbow or brown trout waiting to ambush my grasshopper. But cast after cast, nothing showed interest.
As the day progressed, the sun warmed and the shadows of the towering mountain peaks faded. The grasshoppers began rubbing their legs and clicking their wings as they took flight. Witnessing fish annihilate grasshopper after grasshopper without any interest in the one I seemed to be casting. Again, I continue to cast and one take presents itself, but I failed to set the hook.
The rest of the day, that drumbeat continued while not a single trout came to hand. The depression of breaking down the rod and stowing for the weekend was realized and the drive home was frustrating knowing I had to head right back to work the next day. Head back to work in a bad mood from a fishless day and pretend I was sick or sad or lie about whatever it was I made an excuse about.
“Maybe it was Karma.” I thought to myself as the universe clearly didn’t like that I had made far too many excuses to have a day on the river to myself. Perhaps it was selfish of me to lie to my girlfriends over the years to have some, “river,” time. Perhaps it was awful that I said grandpa was in the hospital, and I needed to be that drastic with my excuse making because my boss is this soul sucking leech that can’t grasp why employees don’t like him. Or just maybe perhaps, it’ simply part of the sport we all love and pursue. To on occasion, not catch any fish.
Trout anglers have it somewhat lucky as out of all the possible game fish an angler can target, trout are arguably the easiest to catch. But I’m sure if I interviewed a bass angler, for example, those fishless days also do exist. Casting and popping that fly next to reeds, logs, or lily pads with nothing to show for it.
Or how about the flats angler in the Seychelles targeting permit or bonefish or GT’s? The same to be said in the Bahamas, or any flats fishery, constantly searching for shadows, fins, or studying tidal changes in hopes of even casting to a fish, let alone getting a strike.
What about the blue water anglers? Imagine cruising the wide-open ocean, chumming the water, ringing that dinner bell, but being reminded with each hour of fishless presentation that the open ocean is actually a vast desert. Thousands of dollars from boat maintenance to gasoline, to a guide or even tackle, all for a day on the ocean without a fish in sight. After all, ask any boat owner about what it stands for. “Bust Out Another Thousand.” All so no fish come on deck. Talk about depression.
Lastly, don’t even get a steelheader started on a fishless day. How many casts, mends, steps, and snaps have been made, all with the perfect swing through the perfect run to have nothing to show for it? It took me five years alone to even get a glimpse of one of these fish. And still never landed it with no photo for proof other than the mental capture before it snapped its head and sent my line in a different direction. Five years for that moment.
But what all of these anglers have in common and all these fish that we chase share, are locations, up there, with the most beautiful on the planet. The snow capped peaks towering above the trout stream with alpine glow painting them orange. The pastel colors of a sunrise on a cloudless day with turquoise water reflecting the calm lagoon of a flat. Frogs groaning and sunlight reflecting the bass pond, and the deep blue rolling of the ocean and gentle lap of water along the bow of the boat.
An angler devotes themselves to the fish. We go extremely out of our own way to purchase the gear, the plane tickets, gas, and even alarm clocks for a chance at catching a fish at our desired location. If that’s not the case, not the main drive, then cut the hook off your fly and tell me otherwise. But without question, the most common reason people fly fish, after catching fish, is for the location that the fish live in. The stunningly beautiful and just as uniquely diverse locations as the fish themselves.
Because of that, because of that realization, I was able to head home after my fishless and excuse driven day, and was able to put my head down on my pillow and be happy. Be happy about the day I spent casting beneath snowcapped mountain peaks, feeling the water rub up against my leg, and admire the birds chirping and the wind causing the trees to sway. Grateful at even the opportunity to set the hook on a fish interested in my presentation, despite my hook set. And after that realization, I was honestly prepared to head back to work, making the countdown until the weekend easier.
I could say the fish aren’t going anywhere, but sadly and miraculously, many are. So that is a conundrum some anglers will have to face. But anyone who said creativity isn’t required to be a fly fisherman clearly hasn’t ever picked up a rod. But that creativity isn’t just in the art of the cast, the beauty of the presentation or in the tie of the fly, but it also comes with how you create time to fish at all.
Another day will come, another run will happen, another tide will change, and another excuse will be made. The sun will rise again, and set, all with the opportunity to head back out and try my luck again. So much effort and emphasis is put towards the moment that the hook is set, the fight and pull of the fish, and the landing via net or wet handed. But there is so much time before any of that process happens that is often over looked in our sport. And that is the emphasis of this story and the reminder I needed when I got home from my fishless day. But until then, I lie in bed and simply remember and remind myself, that the sport is called fishing after all, not catching.
Article written by Sean Jansen @jansen_journals. Sean Jansen is a freelance writer for Flylords Magazine, and spends his time in Bozeman, Montana where he guides tours through Yellowstone National Park.