Whenever I’m asked which kind of fishing I like best, I’m reminded of the joke about two guys discussing girls: “Which do you like best,” said one, “blondes, brunettes or redheads?” To which the other replied quickly, “Whichever one I’m with.” So there you have it. To me, fishing is fishing. Where I’m fishing, the species I’m fishing for and the tackle required doesn’t matter. But rather than have you think my reel is overrunning, let me clarify that cast.
I’ll begin by saying a sailfish attacking a trolled bait skittering on 14-foot seas off Stuart, Fla., leaves a mental image that time will never tarnish. Likewise, the heart-stopping swirl of a 30-pound salmon taking a fly on Canada’s Restigouche River is enough to make the priest leave the parish. Yet no matter how satisfying and exciting the strike of a fish may be, it can be said that the very essence of fishing is the anticipation of a strike. And, as you well know, it begins long before stepping into a boat or wiggling into waders. In other words, anticipation starts with the planning, figuring, gathering, sifting through, sorting out, packing and repacking that precedes every fishing trip, whether handy to home or way to hell and gone.
Leaving nothing to chance, we check lines, leaders, backings and, if need be, retie nail knots, blood knots and perfection loops — recalling that knots tied quickly come undone quickly. Then comes the fishing, and with it anticipation rises like a full-moon tide. Compelling us to wade quietly and cast methodically, starting at the top of a pool and fishing patiently toward the beckoning “holding water” below. Or to sew on a smelt so that it has a slow-rolling, easy-pickings action when trolled at just the right speed. Not to mention aligning the tandem-hooks of a streamer so that it swims upright instead of listing to port or starboard.
Whether fine-tuning our fishing makes as much difference to the fish as it does to us really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it heightens our anticipation of strikes that can be subtle, like trout sipping mayflies, or explosive, like bluefish or stripers blitzing schools of pogies. And so it goes with the likes of you and me. On the other hand, though, people who don’t fish are puzzled by the unwavering optimism of anglers who continually hie off to fishing grounds and often return saying they never had a tap or tug, let alone a solid strike. Here, then, I’ll make an explanatory cast by amending the line that characterized former President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign to occupy the White House: It’s the anticipation, stupid.