What The Little Fish Are Saying

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The Best Fish I Caught This Year Photo by Louis Cahill

The Best Fish I Caught This Year Photo by Louis Cahill

This post has a soundtrack. Take a second to start the video below.

Maybe your stature as a fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed. — John Gierach

Like it or not, I am in the big fish business.

I hate admitting it, but that’s how it started. I carried a camera to take photos of fish and the small ones were not the fish who got photographed. Eventually folks started to buy the photos I took and I found there was a simple equation. The bigger the fish, the faster the sale. That’s a pretty hard-nosed view of fly fishing and I’m not especially proud of it.

Call it skill or luck or hard work, a lot of big fish have come my way. I’m grateful for each of them. I hope there will be many more but I no longer measure myself in inches or pounds of fish. Not because I’m above it or used to it or jaded about it. I still like to catch big fish but I’ve come to understand my place in the equation.

Sometimes I choose the fish. I plan, I strategize, I stalk and pursue. Often, by force of will, I bring the fish to me. Sometimes I choose the fish, but every time the fish chooses me. I think about this when I am swinging a fly for steelhead. Like a practitioner of tai chi, I mind my swing. Seeking always the perfect presentation. Mindful and empty, dreaming not of what was or what may be, simply present in what is.

It is in that moment that the fish chooses me. I accept that all I have done is to make myself available to him. It is not done without skill or planning. It is not an accident. It is the culmination of years of effort but I recognize that it is a culmination for him as well. It is not a thing I have done alone. I have not brought the fish to me, something larger has brought us together.

In that convergence there is something that defies explanation. Among the thousands of fish that have passed in and out of my hands, some are special. I can not always say why. Once in a while a fish connects with me in a way that is deeper than either of us can grasp. There is a convergence of place and time, of hand and heart the sum of which is greater than the two of us.

One of these fish is worth a year of my life. That is, at least, about what I spend for them. This year there have been two. Both trout. One was the largest trout I have yet to catch, the other the smallest. Two fish sent to me like a message in a bottle. A note cast to the waves in search of a reader and finding its way to me.

Each fish was special. Each was wild. Each was native. Each a perfect example of its kind. A steelhead from British Colombia and a Southern Appalachian Brook Trout from North Georgia. Each came to me at a special time and in a special place. Each fish chose me.

Maybe an inch and a half in length, this little brook trout is the one I want to show you. Not because he’s big, not because he was a challenge. Not because of what he says about me, but because of what he says to me. Perfect and beautiful, this rare native fish is a reminder to all of us to be thankful for what we have. Thankful for the days we have to spend on the water. Thankful for the beautiful places where we fish. Thankful for the friends we share them with. And thankful for the fish that choose us.

I may never catch a fish this small again. I may never catch another fish at all. I may never again step foot in the stream. Each of our futures is untold. Mine, his and yours. In the moment we spent together this is what was shared. This was the message. This is what the little fish told me.

“Be present, be mindful, be grateful. If we are both lucky, I will see you again.”

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “What The Little Fish Are Saying

  1. A soundtrack for the article? That’s awesome. Great article, my girlfriend is loving all the presence and mindfulness these days. Fly fishing may definitely bring the mindfulness out of anyone. It is significant how much I personally concentrate while fishing. I can feel it. I can literally feel how focused and present I am, it’s a physical sensation. I recently began a statement with “I believe in the interconnectness of all beings…” and I think that’s exactly how a fish chooses you.
    I am glad this was published because I had a decent story to tell that I may still throw up on FB. But yesterday, I watched a grown man, almost 50 years old, catch the river fish of his life. This man literally stopped where I was fishing, laid down for a rest with his terrier and we proceeded to have a “get to know ya” conversation. I felt like I was guiding. After 10 mins or so I decide I will mosey my way up stream to a lonelier hole. On my way out I give my new friend the go ahead on finishing the hole I was fishing through. I walked up the ridge behind us and decided I would like to watch a local person fish for a few minutes. Well, it only took 2 minutes and just 20 feet down from where I was, he hooks into a good one.
    It doesn’t matter how big it was. This fish was meant for him. It did a lot more for him then it would have done for me. I did not feel the slightest hint of envy or resentment because I could have potentially caught this fish if I would have not given up the hole. I would not have caught the fish. My new friend was chosen by this fish. Great article!

  2. As a rookie to all things on the fly, I want to thank you Louis for reminding me what’s important when I get out on the water – that I’m fortunate to even BE on that water. Also that nothing is a given and even on a seemingly perfect day, going “O-fer” doesn’t take anything away from that day. Catching fish only ADDS to that perfection. I recently trekked up to the Nantahala for my first time in a fishing capacity and found myself frustrated with my results, when it hit me – I could be at work right now!! Any opportunity to merge with Nature is an opportunity to be appreciated, and I will remember your words the next time I’m feeling pissy. Cheers, and thanks.

  3. Louis, Your post took me back to earlier this summer and the first rainbow from some property I purchased late in the winter of 2012. It was only 6 inches long but it will forever have a place in my memories. Catching a fish is a pinnacle of so many efforts coming together, flies you’ve tied, rods built, trips planned and so many friends. Thanks! Michigan winter is setting in so stirring the coals of some good memories and warms the soul.

  4. Beautiful sentiment, well said Louis, reminding us that for some fly fishing is far beyond a sport or pastime. The fact that most folks will never understand my appreciation for the tiniest as well as the largest fish I connect with actually makes my passion even more special in my life.

  5. Just thanks. For the mindset, for the Zepplin, for appreciating the small fish along with the big. Say hi to Kent for us! (Paul and I) Maybe we will meet you too one day Louis!

  6. we have small fish contest between our guides and friends every summer. first of all, its fun and challenging! Ever tried catching Sculpin? its good stuff! as always, Steamboat Flyfisher appreciates G&G reminding people that its not about how big the fish is, its about appreciating the experience. Thanks guys and keep up the good work!

  7. Great read again. Thanks, Louis. But with all my love, he’s rather thinking “please god please please let me never ever see that creature again” 🙂
    after all, aren’t the fish a perfect example of hurting our loved ones? we love them we admire them yet we bring them pain. no, not a good example on second thought.

  8. Here’s the yang. I was fishing a local steelhead stream with one of my favorite fishing partners. The guy has patiently taught hundreds of kids how to catch fish with a fly rod (for no money). He is unbelievably calm on the water, generous helping hapless fishermen and patient with canoes captained by drunks. They don’t come any cooler. We were having a good day, not a lot of other anglers on the water, no boat traffic, and the fish were cooperating, we were in the zone. Doug was drifting nymphs through a run, living in the now. You know the look, a slight hunch in the back, each cast 6 inches further then the last, every drift a brush stroke painting the surface of the water, the anchor nymph tick, tick, ticking across the bottom. He was willing the fish to be there. Finally his line hesitates, he lifts the rod, sets the hook, the water explodes, and then it was gone, nothing. His rod comes down and I hear, Whoosh, SLAP – F#(K, Whoosh, SLAP – F#(K, Whoosh, SLAP – F#(K. Then he looks at me with that :”what just happened expression” shrugged, calmly wades down to the next run and starts where he left off, each cast 6 inches further than the last, painting the water.

  9. I love grabbing my 1wt and 2wt rods and heading into the upper headwaters, bush whacking my way through the woods, and climbing up waterfalls. You don’t do it for the big fish. Nope, you’re after these pretty little guys that inhabit the streams that are narrower than your rod is long, but the reward of seeing a 6 inch brookie slam a dry fly like its his last meal is one of the most exciting things in fly fishing.

  10. welcome to the next level. there is much joy to be had catching small brookies in high mtn streams. the tiny fish attacking a proportionally large fly is my reward for hiking and climbing to the isolated world where they live. i’m not going on about tenkara – but that only adds to the experience. i also have prized photos of these beauties….

  11. Thank’s for the post, great thoughts I’ve had many like you talk about both small and big.
    The sound track made me think of the concert I went to in High school at the Seattle center to see the Zep. Great times!

  12. These are great recommendations. I never thought there’s so much written about flyfishing out there. Thanks for sharing this, mate!

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