T. H. White once said, “I can’t believe one would enjoy one’s kills very much without a nice percentage of misses.” I would have to agree with that sentiment. If you’ve ever seen me attempt to duck hunt then you would know how true that is. But all the same I feel like when we hunt and fish, that the misses are important.
There is a certain rite of passage for each sportsman that begins as a child when a parent, grandparent, or friend takes them on a first serious trip. It comes in the form of sweaty hands and eager anticipation. In those early trips there is often very little to show for them. But what really makes a good sportsman is the understanding that those moments are transient and from these trials comes learning.
Arnold Gingrich made a good point in saying, “You can’t learn any stream by heart in less than three seasons.” He is quite right, there are days on new stretches of river or on new lakes that we can have phenomenal days and then the very next day suffer from a complete lack of success. It’s only through these failures that we really learn. I believe that innovation is brought forth through a combination of persistence and necessity. With each new trip out, either fishing or hunting, we learn new things and through this we become better hunters and fishers. Most importantly we learn to deal with our failures and accept that as simply a part of life without resigning ourselves to them.
I know that for a lot of folks the past couple of years or so have been tight. I’m no exception. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the lessons we learn and the solace that we can take from a life in the field can be sustaining in the worst times. It comes from moments where we can commune with nature, God, and spend time with friends and family, away from the hustle and bustle of life. Mark Strand was to say that, “As trauma and change rock your soul, as you struggle to get that job, or get through college, no matter where you are, you can always go fishing for something.”
That is, I suppose, one of the best things that come from hunting and fishing. I really can’t recall very many of the fish I have caught. The things I do remember are the times spent with friends, the places that I fished, and the days of peace. When I was still living in Mobile going to college, I worked at Wintzell’s Oyster House. It was a pretty good job, but like most college jobs it barely paid and between that and class, it was easy to get burned out. On the days that I did have off, I spent them studying and sleeping. Most days when I finally got off from work it was past mid-night. I remember walking out of the restaurant and thinking, to heck with it. I’m going fishing. So I grabbed my fly-rod, loaded my kayak, and drove down to Dauphin Island. I launched over by the airport and went from lighted dock to lighted dock catching speckled trout.
In the years to come, nights like that became my solace. Late at night fishing in the silence and the night, the sight of a dock light with trout busting on glass minnows was always exciting and yet calming. Those were the times that I felt closest to God and happiest with myself. It was an activity that I was able to share with friends of mine that also worked at Wintzell’s. So I think the most important part of this piece is the idea that it’s not the fish caught, deer killed, or ducks missed that’s truly important. It’s the life time of learning, the communion, and the ability to dirty one’s boots and cleanse one’s soul.
I hope everyone that reads this piece will not do just that, but also share the sports we love with others, kids, friends, and even spouses. Times will change, they always do. Who was in the White House, what our bank accounts were, and the cars we drove will have ceased to matter. When it’s all said and done, and we look back at these years, it will be the moments that we shared what we love with those we love that will echo in our memories. Walton said through the voice of Piscator in The Complete Angler, “No life is so happy and so pleasant as a well governed angler. For when the lawyer is swallowed up in business and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, we sit on the cowslip banks, hear the birds sing, and posses ourselves in as much quietness as these silent streams. And if I may be the judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, and innocent recreation than angling.”