F ishing can be a high pressure endeavor.
Tournament anglers don’t fish just to have fun. They MUST catch fish—usually the largest of the targeted species—to have a chance of winning, or at least finishing in the money.
Guides and charter captains HAVE to produce fish to keep the paying clients on their boats happy. Television show hosts know their viewers don’t want to watch 22 minutes of a man talking about the exercise “being called ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching’ for a reason.” They want to see him catch fish, sometimes big ones.
Writers are under pressure to catch fish because we otherwise look pretty silly. Husbands are under pressure to catch fish so they can justify to their wives why they fish. Dads are under pressure because…Female anglers are under pressure because…
Well, you get the idea. Whether the reasons are intrinsic or extrinsic, plenty of us put a ton of pressure on ourselves when we go fishing. It’s the sort of pressure that made Santiago row out farther than the other fishermen (imagine the pressure that Hemmingway’s protagonist felt after going 84 days without a fish).
How many of us have gone a full day of hard, unrewarded fishing, swear, “one more cast,” only to finish the retrieve and swear, “okay, THIS is really the last cast!”
Many captains will stay on the water a little longer when the action is slow to try and put fish in the boat. I know television personalities who have gone out on the water when conditions were less than ideal to get the shot and the fish. I’ve lost sleep worrying about catching fish the next morning. Heaven forbid, but sometimes the pressure takes the fun out of fishing.
The truth is, however, it IS called “fishing” and not “catching.” We are not going to catch fish every time we go out on the water. As much as we promise our buddies—and, more, ourselves—that we’re gonna whack ‘em, we don’t.
Sometimes the weather goes bad, or the boat spins a prop, or we have the wrong bait, or the fish just simply don’t bite. Sometimes, there is no joy in Mudville.
I don’t need to state the obvious. This is supposed to be fun. It was fun when each of us first dipped a hook baited with bacon, or salami, or bread and caught our first perch.
Long before the expensive rods and reels, the footlockers full of lures, the big center console boats with the four stroke engines, and the expensive fishing apparel, we fished and we enjoyed ourselves.
Whether we caught trout, bass catfish, or even a hoary carp, we were happy. The catching was important, but not urgent. Hell, we were fishing!
Recently, I had the pleasure of fishing with Clay Norris of Berkley fishing and Captains Paul Braly and Daniel Land in the Upper Laguna Madre. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because, well, you know, I should know what the hell I’m doing, right?
Norris looked like the very picture of ease, even though we were going to be fishing with some new Berkley products. Captains Land and Braly also looked at ease. We were fishing a system they know intimately well—fishing for redfish they knew were there and hungry.
When I saw how relaxed and excited to fish that these gentlemen were, I remembered where I was; and too, relaxed. At that point, when the self-imposed pressure dissolved, I began to have fun.
In the end, we had an absolute blast. We saw a lot of pretty country, cussed some seagulls, and laughed a lot. I learned some fishing techniques that made me a better fisherman. We even caught some nice trout and redfish, too. The fish, though, were secondary to the overall experience of spending a day on the water with great friends and new friends.
Vince Lombardi once admitted his regret for coining the phrase “winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Lost in the quote which is considered the epitome of competition was Lombardi’s belief that there is glory in the effort, that we should also applaud the competitor who walks off the field or the court or out of the ring having given his most earnest effort, even if it was a losing one.
Winning is important, but Lombardi believed that the effort to win, to grow, to persevere, was more important. It’s an important enough belief that it was the central theme of a commencement speech he gave at Notre Dame one year.
The old idiom is that insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. Catching fish is important, otherwise fishing becomes the embodiment of the definition of insanity (some would say it still is).
However, most of the people who fish are past the point where they have to catch fish for sustenance (and then, it is actually more economical to go to HEB and buy some tilapia). The experience is pretty important, too. Especially, if you are sharing it with friends, strangers, or a part of yourself you don’t meet except when you’re on the water.
More important, it is the experience that we want to pass on, not the pressure. Leave the pressure for less entertaining endeavors such as golf.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]