In the Louisiana marsh, waking up hungover feels a bit ritualistic. I am there to fly fish for big redfish that have moved into shallow water. They are cold blooded creatures so they use the sun to heat up to make the December days more bearable. Relatable. For an angler, this basically means we can start later in the morning when the sun is higher in the air and the temps have made a dramatic jump upward. Somehow this process starts with late nights and Yeti’s full of whiskey. Start drinking at 4pm, make some drunken, vague plan involving maps at 10pm, pass out at 11pm, sleep till 7am. The morning brings an opportunity to nurse hangovers through boudin sausage, scrambled eggs and copious amounts of mediocre coffee. Get to the ramp at 9am, and cover miles and miles of Louisiana backcountry with the intent of getting eyes on fish by 9:45. The 45 mins between the boat ramp and our preferred fishing areas provides the perfect recipe for hangover healing, a constant blast of cold air and the effects of caffeine taking control on the hazed out brain.
As soon as we get to an area I am overwhelmed with the amount of fish we can see, it seems like there is 4–5 big redfish and possibly more slot sized fish on every 100 yards of bank. For non schooling fish, and Florida raised fisherman like myself, this feels like an extraordinary amount of shots at good fish. As the day progresses, no matter how much water you fish, you get the feeling that you’re working in circles. That’s the way of the marsh, its deeply confusing and disorienting if you haven’t spent time there. I am lucky to be with two of my best friends that track every inch of water they fish. They’re both data collectors, you can see their brains processing every bank, corner, and cast, compiling all they learn to solve the puzzle that is Redfishing. I, however, get stuck on my thoughts, wondering why this particular location holds fish in ways that the identical 10 miles before it doesn’t. How much of this identical marsh are we missing? How many trophy fish are hugging banks that we blow by?
The thought consumes me. It’s not the first time. This summer, I was fishing in West Yellowstone, I couldn’t believe the concentration of fish I found in both obvious western runs and non-typical trout holding areas outside of those said runs. As I covered ground, I found myself catching fish outside of bubble lines, outside of pockets, outside of food funnels.
This type of water drives me crazy, I like my patterned and predictable water. I like feeling like I have it figured out. The ego feedback is part of the addictive nature of fishing for me. If I think there is a fish there, I present the fly correctly, I set the hook on a fish, dopamine dumps into my brain. A simple cycle. The more I spend on thinking about this topic, the more logical it seems that all water is like the marsh or the cut banked streams of northwest Wyoming. Certainly, any fishing trip provides plenty of possibilities to walk or boat right by quality fish. What’s the lesson in this? Isn’t there a direct correlation between these unknown trophy fish that we meander by and the winning lottery ticket we never bought or the date we never asked out? I guess, more importantly, is there any positive outcome of the wondering? Or is the positive outcome the uncertainty of it all? What is the hedge of making quality decisions in both fishing and in life?
Let me leave you, with their advice, my two best friends, Mica and Jeremy that graciously took me on this trip. When I asked both of them why aren’t we fishing between the ramp and our starting point, they both gave answers that were profound and oddly simple, answers about fishing, that I think you should apply to your life. Mica said, “Past experience and cleaner water”. Jeremy said, “familiarity and comfortability”
“Past experience”-Making decisions on the information you have developed over your life. A collective process of analyzing things you already know.
“Cleaner water”-An understanding of your environment and odds of success. For us, cleaner water means that fish are easier to see. An obvious thought. However, deciding on cleaner water meant a few things. It meant that those drunken map sessions, were really analyzing wind and the movement of water and silt, it meant analyzing predictive metrics to apply to the next day. It meant if Mica could find protected banks and areas of the marsh where water had been moved to create cleaner conditions, our odds would be that much better.
“Familiarity and comfortability”-Robert Pirsig made the point in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that the defining factors of quality appear to be a marriage between romantic/emotional thinking and classic/rational thinking. Quality decision making is driven both by the comfortability of a thought and the rational break down of that thought. Quality can be both subjective and objective. As can fishing, life, and decision making.
Neither of these two answers negate the presence of fish in areas that we pass. But there is something important about the way the decision is made to pass these areas that contribute to regret or the lack there of. All in all, we will never know the location of the fish we pass, we will never understand the outcome of the lottery ticket we didn’t purchase. But applying our experience, rationale, and instincts in the decisions we make is paramount to living with our choices. Read the map, check the weather, run the boat, and every now and then, blind cast to that spot that definitely doesn’t hold fish. Be well.
Article by Hunter Garth, you can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos from Zach Youngberg.