To angle, as I see it, is to fish in an endless act of exploration and discovery.
To angle, in a realm of small streams and rivertops, can mean an exploration of those blue lines on a topo map, those small world places that beckon with their own set of challenges. Those places can make promises: “If you check us out, you’ll learn something and be happy with what you find.”
To angle, in the larger sense, is to gain the “soul of fishing.” If you search for fish, the fish will connect you to the world. For me, that’s what trout fishing means, when fishing has some meaning. When you sense the soul of angling, it explains why fishing, and fly-fishing in particular, has developed a field of literature and a set of traditions that have been evolving and thriving for half a millennium, and show no signs of slowing down.
To angle is to look far and wide for new waterways or old waterways enlivened, from places near our homes to places of a “once in a lifetime” nature. Through angling we experience the seasons and weather patterns; we experience the outdoor life in solitude and with friendly company. We experience the potential of ourselves.
I recall a group of lines from my poem called “Fishing,” in The Wild Trout: “The current spreads a coolness over thighs./ With nerves taut, abandoned to the moment,/ I react to contrary motions– striking/ to the shadow of a passing kingfisher,/ to a leaf-flash, water’s sudden tugging….”
Many who do not fish see this “recreation” as a mindless repetition of casts, as a way of viewing “what’s not there.” In fact, angling is a look at freshness and a set of possibilities, at what could be there, and at hope.
We discover old friends, new birds and flowers; we experiment with artificial lures and learn what will work and what won’t. We discover the pleasures of using certain types of tackle. We learn what is needed and, perhaps more significantly, what we don’t need to use. We angle our way toward simplification and become more efficient at “being one with nature.”
“… Learning to perceive the hidden,/ I cast for clues among the resting fish,/ over stonefly nymph unlodged, perhaps/ to relive that first catch long ago….”
To angle means to find things ranging from the local and familiar to the far and revolutionary. During a summer evening on the river I can step to the water and inspect the bug activity, wondering if an Ant will fool the first nice brown, or if a Sulphur dry or spinner imitation will bring the first strike, or if, at last, a dry Slate Drake will be the ticket to success. I’ll go home at dark, feeling satisfied that whatever worked for me was more than worth the effort of discovery.
To angle might even bring a big change in an outdoor life. Fishermen, trawling off Chesapeake Bay in 1974 pulled up a section of mastodon skull, along with spearheads, that have finally been analyzed and studied this year. The end result [http://www.livescience.com/47290] suggests that the first people living in North America may have come from Europe thousands of years earlier than the Clovis people known to have crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia. It’s just a theory, but the point is… you never know until your line is cast.
To angle is to find those comforts and anxieties that connect us to the passage of time. Angling is a way of testing our notions of the world and of ways to best enjoy our short span of years on Earth. It may all sound complicated now, but actually it’s simple– angling is whatever we think it is, and where the act of fishing takes us.
To paraphrase Thoreau, in Walden, people might angle all their lives without knowing that it’s more than fish they’re looking for. Angling is what we bring to the water in our search for fish. It’s not an escape necessarily, as some non-anglers say. It’s more like an immersion in what is.