Bill Hager: ‘Technical Fishing’

Here is a guest post from blog reader, Bill Hager, who is a chaplain at MIT, a freelance writer, and an avid fly fisherman from Boston.

Technically, Thursday was a workday.  Fishing never crossed my mind more than three or four times all morning.

Thursday was one of those days in the office when I had to get in touch with several people before I could begin my next big work project.  I called, texted, emailed, and used mental telepathy, but somehow everyone I needed to get in touch with was conspiring together to ignore me.  It was just one of those days.

By noon, I had nothing else to do, except maybe fill out some long overdue reports and return some bothersome people’s phone calls.  I felt like I owed it to my boss to make better use of my time than doing those kinds of trivial things.  How wasteful it would be to sit around all afternoon and wait by the phone for calls that would never come.  I needed to cultivate the visionary and entrepreneurial genius within me.  I needed to go someplace that would inspire me and elevate me and take me to new places – new places where there was a blue-winged olive hatch.

There’s nothing like breathing in the fresh mountain air beside a stretch of riffles to renew a man’s mind and bring new perspective.  I could only hope my boss appreciated the sacrifice I was making for the good of the company.  Insights began to flood my mind as I stood in the river.  I was mystically gaining an experiential understanding of the mysteries of the universe.

The first insight that came to me was that if I wanted people to return my calls, all I needed to do was go fishing.  No sooner had I snagged my first mountain laurel branch with my backcast than my waders starting vibrating and songs began to emanate from somewhere below my wader belt.  Before digging down into the nether regions of my waders, I had to decide if I really wanted to answer my phone while I was so busy enhancing my professional mindset.

As I did a speedy cost/benefit analysis, my first thought was “What’s the worst thing that could happen today that someone might be calling me about?”  That was easy.  The worst thing would be that my wife hadn’t realized that I was too busy to pick up the kids after school today.  I’d be in trouble with my wife, my kids, and the school.  I knew for a fact that it’d be better for me not to take that call or probably any other, so I let my waders vibrate, cursing those who were evil enough to put mobile cell towers near trout streams.

The second epiphany was somewhat akin to the first: if you want your boss to call you, go fishing during a workday, even if you are fishing with the best of intentions.  Somehow, my boss didn’t understand the nuances of “when fishing is helping me work” vs. “when fishing is getting out of work.”  No matter how well I was to explain why I was on the river and not in the office, he just wouldn’t get it.  I don’t know how he got to be the boss while being so unenlightened as to the motivational needs of his best workers.

There was no point in taking that call either.

More enlightenment ensued.  In contrast to the muddy cognitive processes of my boss, I discovered the brilliance of the common mosquito when I was adding some tippet to my leader.  I had made one pass of the three passes required for a surgeon’s knot.  Every finger on each hand was being used to hold down the loop or the tag end of the leader or the tag end of the tippet.  Once getting that far into a surgeon’s knot, there is no letting loose.

How a mosquito knows the difference between when a fisherman is tying a simple clinch knot that still allows him to swat and when he is tying a surgeon’s knot is one of mysteries that science may never uncover.

About the time I had all ten digits doing unnatural contortions to hold all the parts of that knot, I heard that high-pitched whine which sounded just as ominous to me as the musical score to Jaws.  I knew the mosquito was coming.  She did a double fly-by of my face but felt the wrath of my breath as I defended my front.  Next, she tried the side of my face, and I nearly had a quick victory as I almost pinned her down with my shoulder. Then, she found my ear, and no amount of ear twitching would shake her loose.

Surgeon’s knot, smurgeon’s knot!  I couldn’t just stand there in the river and let a stupid mosquito mistake my ear for a blood bank.  I let go of my knot and took a swipe at my ear, missing the mosquito, but managing to knock my bifocals into the river current.  I guess I taught that mosquito a lesson because I never heard from her again while I was stumbling down the river trying to find my glasses.

My final insight was that a man over 40 can’t tie a surgeon’s knot or even an improved clinch knot without his glasses, and I wouldn’t be fishing anymore that day.  That’s the bad news.  The good news was, without his glasses, a man can’t be held accountable if he doesn’t answer a call – a call that could just as easily be from a telemarketer as from his boss or his wife. Without glasses, I’d be worthless in front of my computer in my office.

Being on the river was just as good as being in the office, technically.


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8 thoughts on “Bill Hager: ‘Technical Fishing’

  1. Ha! Sorry to hear about your glasses, Bill. At least you got a great story out of it, thanks for sharing. Really enjoyed your post.

    I find that the biting bugs always seem to swarm your face more when you’re tying knots. Maybe when I’m waist deep in water I’m just out of the bank-bug’s territory, but I suspect more sinister intentions. Something about my concentrating on slipping a knot around a hook-bend for a dropper rig really riles up all the skeeters and no-see-ums, whats worse is they suddenly get hungry for your eyes or ears!

    -Andrew D

  2. Thanks, Andrew. Technically, that was a true story. Kinda like in the movies where they say at the bottom of the screen, “Based on a true story.” I was using a bit of writer’s license. Actually, it was 3 or 4 outings over the course of a few years put into a single story, none of which happened on a weekday, (just in case my boss is reading this.) The eyeglasses have been replaced several times since then. By the way, insurance for those things apparently doesn’t cover “lost in a river because of a bloodthirsty mosquito.”

  3. Wow an”avid” fly fisherman.. knows all the technical lingo
    I new you when fly fishing was the further east thing from mind!

  4. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you David Bigpond, the man who introduced me to fly fishing 16 years ago.

  5. Good story, Bill. I enjoyed reading it. I hope you get to escape from work again in the near future. I surely did myself yesterday.

    Best, Sam

    1. Sam, Glad to hear you were able to get out on a river. I’m vacationing down south this week, fishing the Cherokee (NC) Indian Reservation trophy section tomorrow. I’m already working on my excuses for not catching anything, just in case those trout are smarter than I am.

  6. Fun read Bill, nicely done. I think I will borrow “I was mystically gaining an experiential understanding of the mysteries of the universe” and use that from now on instead of saying “the trout kept refusing my flies.” 😉

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