The philosophy of fishing

We couldn’t keep our hooks baited.

Bobbers were going down left and right. Our poles were occasionally dragged toward East Lake as we worked to get the fish off the line.

I took a hook to the finger nearly up to the barb trying to dislodge it from a catfish.

I was bleeding, yelling, running around, spilled my drink and about fell into the lake.

I missed a big hit on one pole, tried to re-bait it and missed a hit on my other pole.

Bruce Behymer, my fishing buddy, wasn’t doing much better, apologizing to the fish he was about to do surgery on.

“I need the hemostat,” he said, sounding like Hawkeye Pierce in MASH.

“The thermostat?” I asked?

“The clamp!” he yelled back.

Noting that this wasn’t fishing but madness, Bruce reeled in a pole and tossed it on the bank.

The fish were biting, and I asked him what he was doing.

He explained that he couldn’t fish properly with all the fish interrupting his peace.

He spent the next hour contented with his single pole still catching fish but with less stress.

It got me to contemplating a question I’ve thought of so many times when out fishing: do you catch more fish with two poles or with one? I’ve debated this question with most fishing buddies I have.

It’s a simple question that sheds a lot of light on the world we live in.

Superficially, this is a math question. If one pole can catch one fish, two poles can catch two fish.

This “maximize the poles” sort of ideology is common in our modern lives. We try to put as many poles in the water with work and family and friends, a full calendar and all the other things we think we should be doing.

We, as a culture, value “being busy.” Think of all the times you’re trying to make small talk with someone and they ask you how your life has been going and how many times you’ve answered, “Nothing new. Just been busy.” You feel less bad that you have nothing to talk about because you’re “busy.”

That business, tending all your metaphorical poles in the water, doesn’t leave much time for enjoying yourself, maybe sneaking away from the grindstone for a Saturday fishing trip, for instance.

We think if we really throw ourselves at all of these pursuits, we’ll catch the best parts of life.

It leaves me exhausted when I end up in a social situation or a family situation or a work situation sometimes. I think such an approach makes it harder for me to enjoy any of those things.

With the two poles approach, you have a better chance of getting bites.

However, that’s not the most important part of catching a fish. You have to pay attention to each pole, to hold the line, to feel a tug, or to see the bobber go under. If you’re holding the pole when you get a bite, you stand a far better chance of setting the hook and catching the fish than if the pole is on the ground.

As you busy yourself with one pole, you neglect the other or visa versa. You spend all your time tying lines, baiting hooks and taking fish off hooks and little time actually dedicated to catching a fish.

The alternative to all this is the one pole approach. Pick one pole, focus on the pole, and do the best job minding the pole you can. Pick one thing in life that needs tending, focus on it and make it the best you can.

You might not get as many bites, but you make use of what opportunities do come your way by giving them your full attention. Plus, you don’t get so stressed.

Bruce is a one pole sort of guy. For him, fishing is a philosophical exercise. To fish, one must relax and view fish as gifts of the relaxation process. One cannot truly fish if one expects to catch fish. The expectation adds stress and, in turn, makes fishing feel like work.

I’m generally coming around to his way of thinking. I used to get angry, mad or frustrated at times when I was younger and I took fishing far more seriously. I’d want to catch the most fish. I wanted to catch the biggest fish. I wanted to do all I could to make that happen. I just ended up doing a lot of running around and a bunch of work, and where did it get me? I was busy, I guess, but more stressed than if I would have stayed home.

I eventually, like Bruce, reeled up my pole and instead sat there with him talking, laughing and enjoying a beautiful evening over East Lake.

At the end of the night, Bruce and I kept just as many fish with our one pole approach as we would have with a two pole approach—zero.

We threw back all our fish, about 15 bullheads, one channel cat and two whipers.

But perhaps I’ve finally answered my question.

The number of poles you use and the number of fish you catch is irrelevant. Instead, the question to ask is do all the extra poles make your experience more meaningful? Or do they only make you busy?