I like to think that I’m mature enough to make decisions for myself. Maybe it is prideful, but between my age, my education, and my intelligence, my actions shouldn’t be so easily swayed.
Then I get a text message with a picture of a fish.
My day takes a little bit of a right turn. Sometimes, it is a pull-the-emergency brake, 180-degree spin towards the closest body of water.
Someone with a different worldview might say that it is my selfish primate brain realizing that someone else is catching food and therefore is depriving me and those who carry my genetics from sustenance. I say that is nonsense. It is silly in principle, but also because I know what truly lies behind my compulsion.
In my head there is a little biological “X many days since a fish has been caught” sign. Whenever I land a trout, my happy little serotonin run up, wipe off the embarrassingly large number, and scrawl a big “0.” Out of joy, synapses fire their little electrical impulses to the point where it might be dangerous to be wet wading. The dopamine is all in on the party, but then they see a rise upstream and get all antsy.
So really, those little pleasure/incentive neurotransmitters are to blame for the obsessive nature of the habit. They are to blame for the greedy “oh, just one more cast” after catching a nice smallmouth… or being distracted by that aforementioned upstream rise… or justifying another ten minutes, you know, since it is so nice out.
But that sign, that constant reminder of fishlessness has a spotlight shined upon it when a friend sends a picture of something that they have caught. As a fly fisherman, such realizations demonstrate that I am out of compliance. Certain steps have to be taken to remediate the issue and ensure that all appropriate certifications are maintained.
Like, literally slamming on the brakes next to a pond and hopping out for a quick fix of panfish. I keep a rigged-up, brake the glass in case of emergency, tenkara rod in the back of the car for such situations.
I know, how “spontaneous” and “unforeseen” are situations that you consciously prepare for? Well, I don’t think that it would be reasonable (or lawful) to create a gig out of car keys and a fence post in my subdivision. It is a matter of practicality and decency.
No one ever said that throwing a rubber-legged nymph on a fixed-line fly rod was technical. But it is serious business. Honestly, what would happen if I fished for ten impulsive minutes at a pond without hooking a single thing? I’d have to stay out longer, my family would get worried, and I’d start wondering if I forgot how to fish. Epinephrine would begin to beat up the other chemicals in my brain, and I’d start thrashing around wildly. They’d find me hours later, knee-deep with khakis wet and muddy, muttering about “just… one… fish…”
It only takes a handful of big bluegill to reset the sign. The serotonin are satisfied, the dopamine are recalibrated, and all is right in the world. I can snap a picture of the fish I caught and remind my friend, social media, and myself that I am a fly fisherman. I do catch fish. Everything’s okay… everything’s okay…