The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad.
I'm pulling cactus spines out of my hand, thinking about the near miss I had with dry grass and wading boots and a cliff yesterday - about a hundred reminders of how much worse it could have been had there been nothing for me to grab hold of. I'm thinking about the things that I put myself through in search of fish, and the places I will brave to get my feet in the water. I'm thinking about the missed sets, the lost fish, the time wasted on wind knots and the bruises and scrapes that tally every day I've spent on the river this summer. I have a rock guard tan that puts all the work my red head has ever done at the beach to shame. I pull old leaders and caddis flies out of nearly every load of laundry that I do and lament how rarely I wash my hair these days and how often I go to bed without dinner after late nights fishing. Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me, but mostly I'm proud of the marks my commitment leaves.
I didn't catch anything impressive this weekend. In fact, I lost two fish that will probably haunt me the rest of my life. One I never saw save for a flash of yellow belly the size of a melon and the other broke herself off and looked much like Willy as she breached her way to freedom. I swear I saw a small man standing on a rock jetty below her as she cleared the water, taking my fly and line with her, the three of us in the boat looking on with mouths agape, words absent, too dumbstruck to wave goodbye.
It would be easy for me to view the weekend as a failure. The nature of my perfectionism is such that the 19" brown I caught late saturday felt like a consolation. I've worked so hard this summer to get to a place where I feel proficient at fishing, and I'm only slowly realizing that all of this is progress toward a goal much bigger than any fish I have or will land.
I got on some beautiful water - places that most people will never see - places that most people only dream of going, and I fished them for free - with friends, no $500 guide fees or plane tickets or time off from work. For that I am grateful beyond words.
And I have made progress, but it is feels slow and wrought with missteps and mistakes. I think they call that experience, but sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I wish it were easier.
I'm starting to think about fishing much the same way as I think about yoga - now and when I was first starting. There are things that come easily and there are things that I have to work for. There are things that I learn piecemeal and it takes time to see how they fit together. There are times that I have to go into the dark place to see the light. There are times when my only enemy is expectation.
There were so many days that I went to yoga, in desperate need of a lesson, of an a-ha moment, of something to validate the work that I was doing, and those were the days when the epiphany (if there was one) was small and likely nebulous.
This weekend I went looking for that elusive lunker, pig, toad of a fish, but I couldn't keep it together to land one. That first miss, I did everything wrong. I tried to overpower him, which works on the little 'bows on my home water but not from a boat in the middle of a big river with a 26" brown on the line. The second, I did everything right, but she knew the water better than I did and I just got out fished. External validation doesn't play nice.
The days that I went to class solely for the experience, those were the days that I was open to the breakthroughs. Those were the days that I found myself astounded at how far I'd come, at the big poses I could hold because those were the days that I wasn't looking for anything specific. The days that I go fishing just to enjoy the sun on my face and river pushing at my legs, those are the days when the fish come to me - big ones, small ones, beautiful ones. Those are the days I remember. Those are the days that I love.
Yoga is teaching me a lot about fishing. On the mat and in the water. I have to be willing to do the hard work. I have to be willing to feel the frustration of missing. I have to be willing to get out of my head and let the experience bring me what it will. I have to be willing to stay in it, to grab onto the thing that hurts, to explore the shadows, to confront what comes up for me, so that on the day that the big one decides it's time, I am prepared. I am ready.
And though I am often tired and sore and frustrated, and the holes in my hand sting something fierce even though I'm pretty sure I've gotten all the needles out, I am remembering why I do this. Fishing isn't about the photo op any more than yoga is - but that's a hard thing to remember when you're in the fight with what could be the big one. My ego has undermined me more than once on the mat, and I don't doubt that it will do the same on the river - many times over until I get it through my thick skull that it's not the fish that I'm after.