I’ve made the cast a thousand times before. Ten to two, accelerate to a stop. Crisp line movement over my head, with a tight loop that propels the flies accurately and without hitting me in the head. The flies are delivered into the water, and I maintain control of the line. This time, I was using an indicator and was able to kick the flies into the same flow line as the indicator. Other times it has been a dry dropper or tightline presentation. I watch the drift through a perfectly fishy seam. The lane where the water turns from a clear greenish tint to a deep green, where surface bubbles line up to form a runway for prime lies. The beautiful green line.
Outlines and shadows of large boulders are the cherry on top. There are trout below the surface, hidden and ready to strike at my offering. I can almost anticipate exactly when the fish will strike. I start the countdown. 3, 2, 1, Bam. Wait. 3, 2, 1. Crap. That was a beautiful drift. But nothing. When I accurately predict a strike, I feel like I’m starting to master this fishing thing. It happens, but not as often as I hope.
I tell myself each drift is a data point. I can isolate one element to change. Put on a heavier fly, increase the depth, move the fly to a different lane, or cast slightly farther upstream. The scientist in my mind loves that challenge. But, there are times when, over and over, the countdown produces a hollow “bam” and nothing else.
Jason Shemchuk often says on his podcast and in his blog that “the fish has a choice.” The same concept applies to each time we take a risk and put ourselves out in life. Every blog I write, every conversation I have, each time I make a suggestion, the person on the other end of that offering has a choice. How will it be received? Will they hear how it was attended? How will it affect them? We won’t know until we extend ourselves, and we may never know if we don’t get a response.
When I get no response from a fish, I treat it as an experiment, a challenge, a data point. But in a conversation or artistic offering, when the response I receive is ambivalence, skepticism, or even worse–silence–it doesn’t feel like data. It feels like a kick to the gut. What did I do wrong? Did what I contribute fall flat? I retreat. I doubt. I erode.
I’ve talked about treating life as an experiment, extending my mindset in fly fishing to other areas of my life. In my mind, there is a detached quality to science. The answer received proves your hypothesis or it doesn’t. With relationships and interactions between people, I don’t feel detached. I can feel loaded up or like I need a positive response to continue. As a middle-aged adult, I still haven’t found a way to keep my feet under me when I feel exposed or I didn’t measure up.
I find comfort in the words of artists like Neil Gaiman who encourage us “to make glorious and fantastic mistakes…and make good art.” Lee Child has said that as an author your job is to offer a story, and it’s not up to the author how the work is received by anyone, that it becomes the reader’s work once it is out in the world. Certainly, feeling the unconditional love of God helps in keeping my feet under me, but all my areas of faith can waiver. Gaining comfort with who I am as a fly fisher, author, and person takes time, faith, and the understanding that it’s not all up to me. I just have to put art out in the world.