I’ll agree that fishing can be a religious experience. I’ll agree that God can be applied to the acts of solitary fishing but, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no unifying entity that has anthropomorphic features. In my opinion, there’s no great Creator whom we can blame for not catching fish; there’s no Overlord we can thank convincingly when our luck runs high and we’re playing trout upon trout. God may or may not be there with us in the world of nature to accommodate our faith, but Time is always there with us. Time changes the way we look and feel, eventually transporting us beyond ourselves, like it or not. For me, at least, Time is the all-consumer and producer. It gives us life and takes the life away. Time gives birth and death to the seas and mountains; it provides that wave of evolution on which the millions of species (including man) go surfing at various speeds to a rocky shore. That said, what I really want to talk about is fishing in a pond.
My first preference for fly fishing is to hit the cold flowing waters, the tops of streams and river systems. Most of the ponds in my home district are good for teaching kids how to fish, or they’re a decent substitute for a stream, the way a hatchery trout will do if the wild fish isn’t there to lure my dreams and wishes. But after a recent holiday dinner at my sister’s home I sampled the young farmpond where, several years ago, I was lucky to catch a 20-inch bass. This time, casting a Woolly Bugger into the pond, I quickly caught a nice crappie, then another and another. Crappie? I shared my crappie(y) photos and obligatory yucks with John, my brother-in-law, and he too was astounded. The only fish he’d ever planted in the pond were large-mouth bass and bluegills. How the hell did black crappie get in there? Crappie was a fish I probably hadn’t caught since toting a plastic tackle box at the age of 12.
Our unscientific conclusion was that great blue herons or some other fowl had brought the eggs of crappie from a distant pond or lake. Herons have the feet of gods. The work they perform unwittingly gives a push to the wave of evolution. In the brittleness of my shrinking mind, I deduced that God is a great blue heron, a species like many others, that carries no cultural or religious baggage, that carries little more than mud and seeds and eggs. The bird makes no claims for a savior or an afterlife. It’s a bird that could’ve been an inspiration for the late, great eco-rock musician, Captain Beefheart, singing, There ain’t no Santa Claus on the evenin’ stage….
The next morning I decided to fish a deep farmpond on the summit of a neighboring hill, on the big divide between the Susquehanna and the Genesee watersheds. I hadn’t fished there since I took the kids when they were very young. The wind was as horrific there as it was down in the valley. Wind was like the breath of God or, to be more precise, like the breath of gods. Call me a pagan if you want, but I saw this long-standing, man-made eye of water as something more than what it first appeared to be. An inlet feeds the pond and an outlet takes the extra. The pond’s breath was quiet and fresh, providing stability when I ducked down into dead cattails to avoid the rocking gusts that were said to hit 45 mph. A stream flows through the pond as it has flowed for centuries before the pond was built. A new reservoir didn’t change the essence of the flow beneath. The turning weather, though, did have a connection to the fact that the fish weren’t biting. There was one exception, however. A large something struck the fly from the reeds and depth beyond my feet. I didn’t set the hook properly. All I got was a glimpse of a hefty creature. All I felt was a pull, a weight attached to an enormous mouth and a broad side. It was like a god pulling away from me, pulling in the manner of all gods when you think you’ve grasped an understanding. There was a pull and a disappearance, and the wind just rocked away.
I loved so many things about this piece. Thank you, many times over.
And thanks back at ya, Erin. Always great to hear from you!
Captain Beefheart…sometimes I get flashbacks reading you.
Your pictures reminded me I have a secret pond I never went back to fish. Tomorrow sounds like a good a day as any. Once while out fishing a lovely little creek with my daughter, the more religious of the two (not sure how that happened), she was real quiet. As we waded along, catching dink smallies on a beautiful day she says…this is why you never go to church, isn’t it.
Ken, Your anecdote about your daughter’s moment of intuition is so on the money that I almost laughed out loud. Brilliant!