Fishing is not about catching fish.
Fishing is much more than counting the number of scaly specimens one can accumulate in a day. It’s about much more than bringing in more than your fishing buddy who may have some odd notion that “bragging rights” actually mean something.
Fishing is about the experience. It’s about the different sounds a river makes, depending on the time of day, the speed of the wind and the particular location. Some areas run smoothly, with little more than an occasional ripple as the stream separates on a water-logged tree limb or a breeze kisses the surface just enough to create a whisper; other places gurgle as the river rushes over rocks and swirls into eddies and empties into pools; downed logs and boulders generate a swoosh as water cascades from one deep pool into another. And on higher ground, water rushing down steep inclines, bashing against stones, picking up speed as it hurtles toward flatter ground creates a roar you can hear a mile away.
Fishing is the smell of a clean river, fresh, cold, pure with a hint of decaying vegetation and the sweetness of honeysuckle in season.
It’s the sound of a squirrel chattering in a hickory tree on the river’s edge; the huffing of a deer drawn to the water’s edge and the scrunch of her hooves as she twirls in the gravel to escape the interloper who’s trespassed on her property. It’s the squawk of a huge gray crane, a large bird that looks like a creation made from parts left over from a flamingo, a goose and an eagle.
It’s the splash of a pair of mergansers, disappearing then popping up about ten yards from where they went under water.
Fishing is the variegated color of springtime wildflowers—pinks, purples, brilliant reds, a few splashes of yellow and the ubiquitous dogwood of the southeast Oklahoma woods. It’s the shadows under the overhanging trees, the blinding sunlight glinting off the water, the blue sky mirrored in calm pools.
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Fishing is the feel of a fly rod, line properly loaded on the back cast and then the shush as the line slides through the guides. It’s the satisfying tight loop of line that delivers a 10-foot leader and a tiny speck of fur and feather three feet in front of where a trout just dimpled the surface.
Fishing is the sight of a 15-inch rainbow trout rising to that fly and compares it to the hundreds of near invisible insects dotting the water. It’s watching the fish twirl away at the last minute, rejecting the lure but offering the thrill of almost fooling it and the determination to try again, maybe with another pattern, maybe with a better cast.
Fishing is aching legs after a long hike from one promising spot to the next. It’s the concerned voice of a stranger calling “are you all right?” when he witnesses you falling on a slick rock and heaving yourself, slowly, back to your feet. “I’m okay. Thank you,” you reply and go on up the trail.
Fishing is sitting out a short hail storm under a cedar tree, mesmerized by the tiny pellets of ice that bounce off stones and roil the water.
Fishing is the sound of rain on a tin roof, a blazing fire in the fireplace, a steak on the grill and coffee boiling in the pot. Fishing is knowing that regardless of what the day brought or didn’t bring, tomorrow I’ll do it again and assume it will be another good day on the river.
Fishing is spending time with a good friend with whom silence or serious conversation are equally acceptable.
Fishing is a journey, not a destination. Fishing is not about catching fish.
At least that’s what I tell myself every time I return from a two-day fishing trip with no more to show for it than a skinned knee and bruised ego.