Heart Revelations

Many times, fly fishing reveals what my heart is like.  Mostly, it’s not a pretty sight.

When I say my heart, I mean the part of me that’s the real me, what’s at the core of my being from which the joys and sorrows and everything in between emanates.  It’s the true me, without all the cosmetic enhancements with which I try to fool myself, others, and even God.

D2 fishing the Quinapoxet last year with higher flows.

There are many things that reveal different aspects of my heart – bad drivers, good grandkids, medical news, and the success or failure of my football team, to name just a few.

But the things that happen when I’m fishing, particularly when I am fishing with someone else, reveal the thoughts and intentions of my heart clearer than the water of the Swift River reveal the trout beneath.  Perhaps I see things better when I’m fishing because I can take the time to examine the motives, schemes, and vagaries of my heart.  I’m not sure if it’s true for others, but when I begin to believe I’m approaching purity of heart, a day on the river is a good way to disabuse myself of such a silly notion.

Take this past weekend, for example.  Doover2 and I planned to wake up early and get to the Quinapoxet River before other fishermen.  We were going to leave our respective homes in the Boston area around 6 am and meet at the Quinie about 7 am.  After we got on the road, we texted and it turned out I was about 10 minutes ahead of Doover2.

An inner voice inside me goes, “That’s good, you’ll have the chance to fish in the best spot in the river first.”  But then it goes: “But Doover2 needs the confidence-building that fishing that best spot will bring him.  Let’s give D2 the best spot first.”

All is at peace, and I feel like I’m a good guy.

Then another inner voice says, “But remember, you really love that one deep pocket right below the best spot.  That has been a magical place for you.  Admit it, you’d rather fish it more than the place that everyone else considers the primo spot, wouldn’t you?”

Yes, I would.

We were expecting to find some of these like we caught last year at the Quinie. But they were fasting on Saturday.

Doover2 arrives while I am fishing the deep pocket and I encourage him to fish the pool that everyone knows is the best bet to catch fish.  “Are you sure?” he says.  I nod magnanimously and he makes his way past me to the pool.

But after he passes me, he stops at a run just above me and begins fishing it.

I say to myself, “What does he think he’s doing?  I gave him the best spot in the river and now he’s squeezing me by fishing just above me in the spot I was going to fish next.”

Then that other voice in my head starts to remonstrate with the last one, “Well, so what?  You wanted him to get some confidence and catch some fish today, didn’t you?  Would it be so bad if he caught a nice rainbow in that run just above you?”

“Well, no… But he got the best place, and now he is taking that, plus my next spot.”

No one ever referenced me as having “an old soul.”  My inner heart is often that of a child’s.

As it turned out, that section of the Quinapoxet wasn’t giving up any trout to either Doover2 or me on this Saturday morning.  They must have stocked it in a different place, or maybe they didn’t release many trout here because the water level was so low, or it could have been too early for the fish to wake up, or maybe the trout were fasting for the day, or maybe we just don’t know what in the heck we are doing.

We went to another popular spot on the Quinie. We were in luck; it was still a little early and hadn’t been populated with many other anglers yet.  There was one fly fisherman who parked just before we did; he got out of his vehicle already adorned with his gear just like we did, and started walking toward the pool toward which we were walking.  He was about 20 yards in front of us and when it became clear that his final destination was the pool we wanted to fish, we veered off and picked a spot where neither one of us wanted to fish.

Why do I have malevolent thoughts about this man?  Why do I wish that he had never been born?  How did he become the enemy?

My heart, sometimes, is just a pit of vipers.  It wants what it wants when it wants it.  Others, no matter how innocent, who get between my heart and its desire are detritus.  My heart thinks the world should revolve around it and its desires.

Of course, I don’t let other people see my heart very often.  I keep it hidden as best I can because I want others to think I’m pretty good.  As selfish as my heart can sometimes be, there’s a reason that it’s that way.  It’s been well trained.

As it turns out, the fellow who outflanked us was a really nice guy.  I had a little conversation with him and he offered me his spot after he had long-distance-released a nice rainbow.  He was so nice to me that he made me feel bad.  Maybe fly fishing doesn’t reveal his bad side like it does mine. Of course, he did get to the spot first.

By the time Doover2 and I left the Quinapoxet River, together we had had as many bites as Dan Marino has Super Bowl rings.  That would be zero.  I was getting to the point where all I wanted was one good hookup.

A beautiful stretch of the Ware River.

We set our hopes on the Ware River.

I’ve fished the Ware twice before and have only a small fallfish to show for it. This was D00ver2’s first time.  With apologies to the Beatles, you could say that he’s a real No Ware Man.

After stopping to fish two promising places with no luck, our cars got separated as we neared Gilbertsville.  I pulled over near some good-looking pocket water where I had never fished before and decided to give it a try while D2 was circling back to find me.

On the second cast, I instinctively set the hook at the bottom of the drift, and lo and behold, what should appear at the end of my line but a chunky stocked rainbow.  I finally had a bite; wonders never cease. I savored the tug of war as the trout and myself pulled from opposite ends of the fly line. He was powerful, as was the water, and he managed to pull free after a spirited battle.  But man, did I feel better.

As Doover2 was pulling up, he watched me set the hook on a similar rainbow.  This time I got him to the edge of the net before the fish said, “Sayonara, loser.”  All I had wanted was one good hookup, and I had had two.  I should be elated.  But I wasn’t.  I wanted to catch as many trout as I could.  And I wanted them to reach the net.

The feisty stockie that broke the drought.

That’s another thing about my heart.  It is never satisfied.

I lucked out and netted several big stockies, but Doover2 wasn’t getting any action.  I offered to switch locations with him, gave him a couple of the hot flies (soft-hackle Hare’s Ears), and stopped fishing for a while to see if I could detect any flaws in his delivery. My heart was in a good place for a change. I really did want him to tie into some nice trout. My heart’s not all bad all the time. But it sure is fickle.

As we were standing in the middle of the river together talking, I cast over into an area that D2 had just finished fishing.  My indicator hesitated, I set the hook, and something began pulling erratically downriver.  It was a 24” brown stick.  Doover2 reacted, “I’m so glad that wasn’t a fish.  I would have been so jealous.”  It was good for me to hear that I wasn’t the only one whose heart is revealed by the river.

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12 thoughts on “Heart Revelations

  1. Very interesting take. I indeed get jealous when others are catching and I am not, but I also enjoy seeing others catch so long as Im catching too. When the others are in my pod i’m always glad to see one of “us” catch fish and I’ll always defer a spot to someone in my pod. Just two days ago I found myself between two others fishing a pond in RI. I worked very hard to get a single hook up which I lost after a handful of seconds while the two bracketing me hooked a half dozen each. I wasnt mad and had no ill feelings to the men on either side of me, i just realized I still have so much to learn about myself and flyfishing.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bob. I find it worthy of introspection when I see the part of me that wants to be a successful fisherman colliding with the part of me that wants to be a good person. They don’t have to be in opposition with each other, for sure, but it’s noteworthy how often the lower nature surfaces in my heart, if not in my actions. I wrote this to see if it resonated with others or if I’m the only one who does this sort of internal self-examination while fishing.

    1. Just the human condition, seeping into your spiritual waders hoping to drown you. At least you see it…personally, I avoid mirrors whenever possible. Was it Gierach or Gierach talking about someone who laughed a little every time he hooked a fish? Maybe being humiliated by the fish leads to introspection leads to a lighter soul?

  3. I love your honesty Bill. I don’t confess to many of the same feelings you have, but that’s only because I don’t confess them not because they are not there! I have observed that it’s pretty amazing how my feelings and reactions can be so different whether there is one fish to the net yet (or not).

    1. Thanks, Wynn. This article felt almost too self revealing. I know most people read the blog to get tips on where to fish and what to fish with. I know I do. But I have only a little to offer on those accounts. The other writers have amazing knowledge and experience in those areas. I write from the perspective of the average angler and the everyday experiences we have that make fly fishing fun, adventurous, and a microcosm of life itself. It’s been a blast for me and I really enjoy reading the comments that you and others make that enhance the blog.

      1. As a below-average angler who has been picking up fly fishing during the pandemic, I have to admit I’ve been disappointed by the community. With a few notable exceptions (Jamie Carr, the people at Concord Outfitters, a few others), I’ve found most fly fishermen to be taciturn and unfriendly. I get the side-eye as I walk past people, and I only get a wave or hello if I’m the first one to give it (and even then the greeting is not always returned), all of which makes fly fishing feel like too much of a “microcosm of life” in that regard. I don’t know if it’s a race thing, a defensive reaction of one’s spot like you allude to here, or something else that I’m missing. It’s been even worse during this stocking season (my first), with a mad rush to line stocked waters elbow-to-elbow and an almost palpable defensiveness towards anyone walking by or asking what’s working. NH seems friendlier than MA, at least. But if everyone is having so much fun with the sport, why does everyone seem so damn miserable and unwelcoming?

        1. Ed, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s valuable to me to hear it. I’d forgotten about that impression that I also had when I was learning the sport and I felt like other fishermen were cold and standoffish. I don’t think you are wrong about the vibe most fly fishers exude. I’ve experienced it as well and have been guilty of exuding it myself sometimes as I’ve confessed in this blog on occasion.

          But my friend and fly fishing buddy, Doover1, taught me a lot about the best way to deal with it. When someone would get a little too close to the spot we are fishing or when we would come across someone who was fishing where we wanted to fish or just about anybody we bumped into, he’d just walk up to them in a friendly way and start a conversation. Honestly, that was the last thing I wanted to do.

          But it was a game-changer. Almost every time, the guy who I assumed to be unfriendly turned out to be really nice and they often shared information and sometimes a few free flies exchanged hands. I’ve forced myself to begin taking up that practice and it really changes everything. Instead of feeling resentment towards the other anglers, I come away from an exchange with them feeling good about them and feeling good about me. Even in Massachusetts and CT, there has only been one person that I can remember who was truly cold and mean.

          I hope your comment will be a wake-up call and reminder to all those of good heart who read it to be a little friendlier out on the river.

          If you are ever interested, I’d love to go fishing with you sometime. My email address is [email protected]

  4. As I know you know, Jeff, there is a theological term “total depravity” that is applied to mankind. It doesn’t mean that we are all as bad as we could be. But rather everything we do is somehow tainted, marred, blemished, or flawed by our moral brokenness. Even in something as wonderful as fly fishing, this trait of my human nature is evident. That’s why I celebrate Easter.

    1. Ayuh. Total depravity. I’ve heard it said that everyone is a one point of Calvinist. It’s not hard to believe that everything/one is broken, soiled, or tainted in some way. And everyone has a way of estimating their place in the world…mine is behind the wheel.

  5. Nothing brings out the parts I’m most ashamed of as playing basketball and fishing. Getting better at both, but it can still be super tough at times. Feel like I do better when I don’t count fish, or make it a competition even though that is hard at times. Hope you’re well and keep these posts coming.

    1. Mark, glad to hear you are getting better, haha! Seriously, can’t wait to go out with you again. Maybe this summer.

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