My eyes focus on the white indicator. It drifts downstream, slightly slower than the small white foam bubbles that pass the indicator like runners after the starting gun of a race. The slower speed of the indicator likely means that the flies are drifting in unison with the slower moving water deeper in the column. The indicator pauses unnaturally; it doesn’t seem like a hiccup of hitting a rock in the stream bed. I quickly lift the rod to 90 degrees and the split-second of hope almost causes me to close my eyes and make a wish that a fish is on and I haven’t snagged the bottom. Then I feel the pull, the headshake and the force of the fish pushing upstream. My intense stare and concentrated, furrowed brow immediately changes to a huge smile.
I’m learning to change the position of my fly rod relative to the motion of the fish, and I work the fish under side pressure, keeping it in the water and bringing the strong brown trout to my net. Whew! I take a deep breath, and I catch a glimpse of a nearby angler out of the corner of my eye. A gentleman in a well worn tan fishing hat was fishing downstream of me. I turned to see his well behaved yellow lab sitting next to him at the edge of the stream. I caught both of their gazes and I felt my smile warm my face as I gave as friendly a head nod as I could muster. I looked back to the fish squirming in the net and appreciated the moment. It had shaken loose off the barbless hook, so I slid it out of the net, and it disappeared into the camouflage of the stream.
Thinking back to watching the indicator, I smiled about wishing for a fish to be on the line. I have made countless casts of streamers, nymphs and dry flies using a variety of techniques, and each time the curiosity of what will happen and the hope for catching a fish exist. There are no guarantees in life; each moment of life presents endless possibilities. Even when we have a plan or are predicting a result, we have no control or certainty of what outcome awaits us. Exploring my curiosity is part of what drives me to be a scientist and part of why I am drawn to fly fishing.
The great scientist Linus Pauling said, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.” American memory training specialist and magician, Harry Lorayne, supported the power of curiosity with his quote, “Curiosity killed the cat, but where human beings are concerned, the only thing a healthy curiosity can kill is ignorance.” As a hobby, fly fishing provides constant feedback in the exploration of curiosity. Peering into a stream, it’s hard to imagine a world of activity, and life is constantly evolving, with plants, insects, fish, and sediments all moving in the flowing water. Our flies enter that world with the hope of connecting us to the unseen.
Walt Disney stated, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Each stream I visit changes with the flow rate, season, time of day, and what is going on in the watershed. Each day of fishing is a new path with new things to see and new lessons to learn. Struggling to catch fish or understand what fish are feeding on can be frustrating and cause me to question what I’ve thought I’ve learned. But the questioning brings me back and presents a new adventure. The newness of each moment stokes my curiosity and keeps the fire for learning going.
Locking myself into one predicted pattern can result in consistent results for a short period of time, but it typically limits my long-term success. Mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zin describes this well, “In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” Fly fishing expert Tom Rosenbauer consistently states on his podcast that he is constantly learning, even after decades of fly fishing experience. He describes experiments he performs to evaluate different fly tying materials and techniques to satisfy his curiosity. Kelly Galloup and Gary LaFontaine created flies that change the way many people fish. Each of them spent time diving in streams to see the fish’s world from the fish’s viewpoint. Their curiosity drove them to learn more, and all fly anglers have benefited from their work.
Each cast we make has possibilities. Honestly, there have been three or four times when I hooked fish while I’ve stopped paying attention to my line. The possibilities may be one reason I tell myself “Just one more cast” about a dozen times before I leave the stream, to my wife’s chagrin. My curiosity and hope help me to find a mindset that says “this time I’ll land a fish”.
I think embracing curiosity can help each of us get out of patterns that are limiting and help us find ways to have new experiences that exceed our current experiences. Over the last year, our patterns of life have dramatically changed, and we haven’t seen as many people. As more people are vaccinated and herd immunity is gained, our lives will start to resemble pre-COVID times. There are times when I have felt socially awkward in large gatherings. I’m hoping that exploring curiosity can help me not be limited by connecting to people in my life more than I may have pre-COVID.
As each of you explore fly fishing or different hobbies, please see the benefit in curiosity. I am grateful how my time fly fishing connects me in each moment to my curiosity and keeps my mental space fertile for ideas to grow. Trying new things takes courage, but once we have made one attempt at a new thing or tried on a new idea, curiosity can keep us trying when we may not have immediate success and get discouraged. Maintaining our curiosity is a powerful tool. If we keep asking questions, keep seeking understanding, and stay open to different possibilities, our lives have more potential and we’ll likely stick with things that challenge us. We can’t know all the answers in life, and a mind space of “I don’t know” allows us to see things differently.
“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”