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When It is All Downhill

Maybe I’m alone in living through this phenomenon. Or perhaps like anything else in human experience, it is one of those constants that every angler comes to know numerous times in their life. I’m talking about catching a fish right off the bat, and then getting skunked for the rest of the day.

This all might seem like minutiae that only over-analytical fly fishers bent on discerning deeper meaning would consider. I’ll give you that. But I do think that there is something  to say for the whole emotional roller coaster that such a dilemma puts you on.

“Dilemma? Emotions? I just want to rip lips and post pics,” you say. Fair enough. Think about the anticipation of heading to the water. If you’ve had a lot of success on a pond (say, more sunfish than you can count) there is the expectation of repeating that, at least in part. If you’ve planned a trip to a river that coincides with some monumental and reliable hatch, every Saturday morning fishing show has set up the picture of fish after fish. In fact, you’re planning on uttering the cliché “boy, my arm is getting tired!” from fighting all of those 18-inchers. Even if you are fishing a brand-new body of water, your experience and small war chest of gear will surely put you on a few (dozen) fish.

And then it happens. Like clockwork. Right away, a fish. Maybe not huge, but there it is. After all, who is really trying to catch a big fish right away. You’ve got to ease in to such things. That 12” bass is a harbinger of things to come. Like a basketball player trotting to layups in pregame, fish #1 is there for you to stretch your angling muscles and loosen those piscatorial ligaments.

Nothing happens on the second cast. Or the third. And that preposterous routine continues for about an hour. I mean, why change what you’re doing? You caught a fish on the first cast for crying out loud. Like a pro. Like Bill Dance!

We all know the stages of grief. Not changing flies or presentation is the first: denial. Anger manifests itself by snapping knots and irrationally fuming at other anglers fishing within 100 yards in either direction. Bargaining might be the most unreasonable thing we do while fishing. “Okay, trout. If you rise to my fly, then I won’t even take you out of the water for a picture. ‘Keep them wet,’ right little buddy?” The trout cares less for your pleas than it does for your flies.

Depression and acceptance are already part of the fly fisherman’s experience. I don’t have the industry research to prove it, but the skyrocketing cooler/coozy/can holster market has to be in response to the emotional nature of the men and women who often go out to do something (like trick a carp) and fail miserably. They get sad and know it is part and parcel of the whole deal, and they’ve already planned and packed to self-medicate. That sounds a lot direr than the fun commercials make it out to be…

So you call it. Inevitably with the hopeful wish that the universe will allow for some symmetry and give you a fish on the last cast. Well, that doesn’t happen. In fact, the ‘last cast fish’ is a whole other story. Like some mysterious cryptid, it gets talked about from time to time. No one ever really buys the tale, assuming that the depressed angler has yet to reach the acceptance stage.

Like a raffle ticket that is just off by the last number or the Cleveland Browns winning the first game of the season, some days just start of great only to go downhill. It happens. It’s okay. At the end of the day, you’ve caught a fish. I suppose one could say that it is better to have the smell of fish slime on your hands and lost it than never to have smelled like fish at all. Or something less poetic.

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