By Louis Cahill
It’s funny how quickly we become spoiled.
My buddy Dan takes photos a lot of fish. Not hoisted hero shots or epic scenes, just a quick shot of fish in the net or in his hand, held gently in the water. They aren’t trophies exactly, just documents. Records of fish from different streams at different times of year. A sort of long term study of trout. A visual history.
He has photo albums, stacked hip deep, stuffed with prints from the days of film. These days they go into meticulously organized folders on the computer. Some go into an endless screen saver, which I’ve never seen repeat.
It might seem a little odd at first but once you get him talking about fish, you quickly see what’s going on. You’ll get to talking about a certain stream or species and how they might be affected by some event and Dan will pull out an old album and turn to the exact page and show you a fish caught twenty years ago. Then he will scroll through the computer and show you a fish from the same stream, caught in the same month last year.
Maybe I’ve seen too many Sci-Fi flicks but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where fish have become extinct and all that’s left is Dan’s visual archive. We may thank him one day.
There is a period of time, about ten years ago, that Dan and I refer to as, “The good old days.” Dan had bought a piece of land on a trout stream in the mountains and the little creek was loaded with beautiful wild fish. Most of the surrounding land was old farm land, which had been let go and almost no one fished the creek. Dan and another neighbor started throwing a little trout chow in the creek and the next thing you know, it was Jurassic Park.
The farm was sold and it all went to hell, like ‘good old days’ always do but for a while it was a remarkable piece of water. Fishing that little creek made you feel like a rock star. Every time your line came tight, you were tied into a trophy. Dan wore out a couple of cameras down there in the creek.
On one especially epic day, I noticed Dan releasing a toad without shooting a photo.
“What, no photo?” I asked.
“Well, I thought about,” he said, ” and then I thought, it’s just another 20-inch rainbow.”
Dan has lived to regret saying those words. I’ve made certain of it. It’s become a running joke that gets brought up at least once every time we fish. Another angler might get sore but Dan is too good natured for that. He laughs and shakes his head every time.
I’ve known a fair number of guys who have, or have access to, water like that. Some of them have the sense to know what they have and many don’t. It’s a huge argument between anglers, whether or not that kind of fishing is, “real.”
On one end of the spectrum you have the guys who think that they are pure badasses because they’ve caught a hundred fish over twenty inches, or at least twenty fish over twenty inches, five times each. On the other end of the spectrum there are guys calling them pud-whackers for fishing to pellet pigs and saying they don’t know anything about “real fishing” for wild fish. Each group thinks the other are a bunch of A-holes. So who’s right?
From where I stand, neither. It’s true, if that’s the only kind of fishing you’ve done, there’s a whole lot you’re missing, both technical and aesthetic. It is however, a whole lot of fun and there isn’t one of those naysayers who’d turn down a day on that kind of water. Maybe, if you’re comparing yourself to other anglers to see if you’re better than they are, you’re just an A-hole.
I got to do a little of that kind of fishing the other day. It was a blast and by the end of the day I was spending most of my time watching my buddy fish. We each caught over a dozen fish between 22 and 24 inches but I didn’t feel like many of them were special, because in that stream they were average.
Fish size or numbers just can’t quantify the angling experience or the angler.
For me, at this point, it’s about catching a special fish. It could be anything that makes that fish special. It could be an eight inch brookie that’s huge, for his water. It could be a steelhead covered in sea lice a hundred yards from the salt. It could be a bonefish that I had to stalk through mangroves looking for an open shot. It could be any number of things that made the experience of catching that fish special. It’s not just about the size or where it was caught.
One of those pellet pigs we caught the other day was pretty special.
We met a guy who told us he’d seen an eagle grab a big trout out of the creek. Real National Geographic shit. Later that day we caught a fish, (I say we because I honestly don’t remember who caught it,) with fresh marks from an eagle’s talons on its flanks.
What a tough fish. Out there eating a fly with his side laid open like he was in the grocer’s case. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was the fish that guy had seen the eagle grab. Either way, that’s a special fish, pellets or not.
I called Dan spoiled for saying, “just another 20-inch rainbow,” but he was right. It is amazing how quickly our idea of what ‘big’ means changes. It’s so relative that it’s almost meaningless. What matters is how catching that fish makes you feel. Knowing that it was special to you.
I look through Dan’s photo albums and I don’t see endless pages of 20-inch rainbows. I see four-inch brook trout and ten-inch wild browns. I see beautiful mountain streams that took hours to hike into. I see unusual markings and gorgeous colors. Wild tiger trout and, yes, the occasional 20-inch rainbow. I see what makes it special to him.
What really matters, for all of us I think, is not catching a big fish but having the sense to realize that these are “The good old days,” and to have a friend to remind us how spoiled we are.Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!