I’ve long felt that standing in moving water feels purgative. So in troubled times my mind turns ever to fishing, especially for trout, in the clean, cold waters in which they thrive.
But I’ve not done any wading lately, in any sort of water, even though it’s possible under California’s “Shelter In Place” rule. Call it the COVID-19 Funk.
Instead I’ve been reading and watching video. And because the apps that support my habits in this regard know more about my content preferences than I do myself, I receive a continuous stream of suggested click-throughs.
One such suggestion recently took me to the website for one of my favorite outdoor writers: Stephen Sautner. Sautner was a longtime columnist for the New York Times and a lifelong fisherman. His fine collection of fishing stories, Fish On, Fish Off, is mandatory reading for any angler even in happier times.
Some of the passages from that book really resonate with me, and offer a bit of levity when the world seems humorless. A good laugh is good medicine, right?
Here is a snippet from that book—along with a collection of other passages and quotes about fishing that have stuck with me over the years. Feel free to share your own.
And let’s be smart and safe out there.
“There’s an old joke about a salmon angler who dies and finds himself on the most beautiful river he’s ever seen. In his hand is the finest salmon outfit ever made. Standing next to him is a ghillie [British word for guide] who instructs him to cast into the most perfect pool imaginable. So he does and immediately hooks a forty-pound Atlantic salmon that gives him the greatest fight he has ever experienced. He lands the fish and the ghillie instructs him to cast again. He gladly does. Now he hooks a fifty-pounder that gives him an even more spectacular battle.
“When he releases the second fish, the ghillie tells him to cast yet again. The angler is starting to feel a bit fatigued but how can he resist? Now he hooks a sixty-pounder that gives him the most incredible fight yet. By the time he lands the third salmon he is content and exhausted.
“The ghillie tells him to cast another time. The angler declines, saying he’s had enough for now, that he would prefer to just rest and enjoy the moment.
“But the ghillie insists.
“Now the angler becomes annoyed and says he really doesn’t want to fish anymore, and that the ghillie should leave him alone. Then he adds that since he’s in Heaven, he should be able to do what he wants.
“The ghillie cracks a devilish smile and says, ‘Heaven!? Who said this is Heaven? NOW CAST AGAIN!’
“So to my fellow anglers, I say this: keep making those spastic casts into trees. Go ahead and hook your buddy’s armpit, or trip and snap another $600 fly rod. Fall in a few more times. And if you catch something along the way, that’s okay, too.”
~Stephen Sautner, from the introduction to Fish On, Fish Off
“Many men fish all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
~Henry David Thorough
“I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip… and finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant—and not nearly so much fun.”
~Robert Travers, Testament of a Fisherman, Trout Magic
“So I hike and fish because it’s pretty country and the trout are out there, with the red slashes on their jaws and their fine efficient coloring that changes from lake to lake. I look for two things, mostly: trout and solitude, in that order.”
“Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never be fully learned.”
“All Americans believe that they are born fishermen. For a man to admit a distaste for fishing would be like denouncing mother-love or hating moonlight.”
“Scholars have long known that fishing eventually turns men into philosophers. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to buy decent tackle on a philosopher’s salary.”
“Somebody just back of you while you are fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.”
“I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout.”
“The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming; thus it is with time.”
~Leonardo Da Vinci