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Is Patience Really Required to be a Good Fisherman?

If I had to take a punt on the characteristic most people thought the most important in determining the success of a fisherman I would put a few dollars on 'patience' coming very near the top of the list. Probably just after 'luck' and 'lying' - although not necessarily in that order.

One fine Summer night around Christmas, I returned from the lake after several hours, with just the one fish, to a group enjoying and destroying what remained of my wine supplies.

"Don't know how you do it," was the main theme of these non-fishermen, "I could not spend hours waiting for just one fish. Standing up to your testimonials in cold water just casting and retrieving. You missed a great dinner and a couple of nearly great wines. I simply do not have the patience."

Fools, and thirsty fools as well, I replied to my mind. I missed nothing!

It had been a perfectly magical evening down at the river mouth. I wandered down just about a half-hour from sunset and fished through the sunset, then the after-light, and into the dark.

Sunset Photo at Lake Taupo, New Zealand

The sunset was one of those truly magical Taupo sunsets. First the hills on the other side of the lake darkened as they fell into shadow and then turned purple, then into a solid black silhouette. The few clouds over the hills turned golden red and then reflected this glow onto the perfectly flat water.

Just as the sun set a huge flock of swallows, numbered in many hundreds, whirled and twirled in a fantastic ballet as they gathered over the shore then rolled like a flying carpet out to a little island a kilometre or so off shore.

As the sky darkened the smooth surface of the water began to reveal the fish beneath the surface. A splash over there, a slashing over here, the ring-waves leaving a short-lived reminder of where the action took place. Trout gathered to feed on the smelt in the sun-warmed shallows. There would be a fish or two in or near the 'rip' (The current formed where a river or stream enters and flows out into a lake) tonight.

As the sky darkened and the noise from the village muffled as people moved indoors, more trout made their presence known. Now the noise of their hunting revealed what darkness hid from view. Yes, there would be fish tonight. And there was one, an hour or two into the dark, and that was enough to end the evening.

The bit the fools drinking my wine did not understand, could not understand, was the bit all people who spend time truly enmeshed in the outdoors know and understand. Farmers and hunters know it. Pilots and seamen know it. Fishermen on the river, lake, rocks, beach or boat know it - real fishermen, not the fishermen who drop a line over the side wherever the boat stops.

What they do not understand - those who 'view' a sunset, not 'see' it - is that they are merely tourists in their own world. "Get a photo of that geeeorgeeus sunset," next, been there, done that - learned nothing.

Those who can enmesh themselves in the world around them know that it is not an activity that binds them into this world.

The 'viewers' cannot see that it is not necessary to catch a fish.

Fishermen, true fishermen, just remain on or near the water and watch and listen. Watch, listen, and wait. Don't even wait, that needs patience. Just be there. The world will reveal itself, and all its secrets will be there to be interpreted. So will the secrets of how to find fish to try and catch.

Patience? Nah! Experience gathering? Maybe.

To mess with the words of Aldus Huxley, written back in 1932 - "experience is not a matter of actually catching a fish, or watching sunsets, or seeing swallows winging home, or fish chasing prey. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him."

The time spent fishing, not necessarily the time spent catching fish, is time spent building the knowledge, the experience, to interpret the behaviour of fish. Once experience is gained and that experience turned into knowledge and understanding, then the notion of patience can be retired forever, because patience is now fully replaced by expectation.

Fishermen are not patient - they are expectant.

Armed with experience the fisherman knows that this time and this place is right, this bait is right, and therefore is expecting to catch a fish. You see 'expect' is an interesting word. It means to look forward to the probable occurrence of something or to consider something likely or certain.

Let me try to explain how this works
in an actual fishing scene.

The time and place is selected based on time of year, tides and currents, and past experience. The boat is anchored, the ground-bait trail set up, live baits hung under balloons and the crew - except one - is lolling about chatting, listening to the cricket. The one is watching the water, ground-bait trail, and the balloons. Suddenly the one, the experienced one, stiffens in his seat, stands up and moves towards his rod.

"What's up," ask the novices. They have to ask because they missed the subtleties.

The fish in the ground-bait trail are no longer right up near the boat. They have sunk deeper and now only dart out of the depths to grab bits in the trail. The balloons, which up till this moment were slowly and steadily moving about are starting to jerk about. Something is making the fish nervous, and that something has got to be a fish that is likely to be big.

The experienced one was expecting big fish to turn up. He was not waiting. He was not patient. He filled his time watching and learning even more subtle hints from the water around him.

Therefore, the difference between a fisherman, one who catches fish, and people who fish without regularly catching fish, may be that fishermen have - despite general repute otherwise - very little patience.

In fact, all the best fishermen I know are very impatient - impatient to be on the water fishing. They have done the planning, got the gear ready, and now they are ready to go, and they want to go now. Hold them up with gear loading problems, re-fuelling, and such and watch them get a tad testy.

Some say that patience is a virtue; I guess that means fishermen are virtuous. I guess many of you are really pleased to know this.


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Article written by Tony Bishop


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