I’m going to go out on a limb and make the general assumption that we all like opening presents on Christmas morning. It’s the kid in all of us that enjoys the surprise of discovering what’s inside that gift wrapped box under the tree, or revealing what special little surprises cause our stockings to swell as they hang by the chimney with care. And even if it’s not what we had hoped for or thought it might be, it’s a surprise nonetheless. As kids, I’m sure we all faced a certain disappointment on Christmas morning at least once because what we had asked Santa for had apparently fallen on deaf ears, like the time a young boy asked for a Billy Blastoff and instead received a new pair of Sears dress slacks (hypothetical scenario only). As we get older, we realize that it’s not what’s inside that counts so much as the thought that goes into it – that’s part of being an adult. And it’s that same sort of rational maturity that allows us to actually believe in sayings such as, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts.” Another one comes to mind as well: “There’s more to fishing than just catching fish.”
Fishing is a lot like opening presents because fishing is all about surprises as well. Sure, you might head to a lake known to have just been stocked with trout, but you’re never guaranteed success so catching a fish is a gift. That first cast into a river may or may not result in a hookup (it seldom does in my case), but you keep at it, hoping that the next cast will produce some action. Catching is one thing, but what you catch is another surprise in and of itself. Unless you’re at a fishery that is known to produce one and only one species of fish, what that gift will be simply adds to the surprise factor. You may be fishing for bluegill, but hook up with a fat bass. Rainbow trout might be the intended goal, but you may find an unexpected steelhead on the end of your line (and if you do, good luck with that). Or maybe you’re fishing for cutthroat trout on a mountain stream, but wind up dealing with a bull trout instead (make sure it’s not a Dolly Varden, by the way). There are many possible surprises when you’re fishing, and sometimes that surprise is so glorious that you can’t believe your good fortune. But as it is with material gifts, mature and rational adults are thankful for the gift no matter what it is.
For the most part.
Sometimes, try as we might, that surprise on the end of the line is beyond (or below) our abilities to keep it in proper perspective and appreciate it for what it is: A wild creature perfectly suited for it’s natural environment that, in a moment of poor judgment, actually fell for the imitation food item that we placed in the water for the sole purpose of fooling the fish into accepting our false advertising and engaging us in a bit of sport. It’s called success. A bend in the rod is better than the alternative, right? What could possibly prevent anyone from being pleased with about that?
Well, self-righteousness, for one thing.
It seems that all too often we focus too narrowly on our goal and become blind to the possibility that the fish we catch, while perhaps not what we intended to catch, is worthy of our admiration, respect, and maybe even a hero photo. OK maybe that’s a stretch, but shouldn’t we at least pat ourselves on the back for any successful catch, even if it wasn’t our targeted species? Specifically, you ask, what are we talking about here? Oh, you know – “garbage fish”: Whitefish, suckers, carp, squawfish and the like. If you fish the salt, the list grows to include a whole bunch of maligned by-catch species (dogfish, just to name one).
Who determined that these poor, disrespected species were somehow beneath our approval? Yes, some species are known to feed on juvenile salmonids and others compete for food with the popular fishes on the block, but isn’t that what they’re supposed to do in order to survive? Anglers are like politicians in this regard: Special interests and partisan opinions keep us from being able to objectively see the big picture: Fish are, in the end, fish. The Great Creator of Fish made them all equal, and it was only we high-browed upright walking mammals, with our large brains and opposeable thumbs, who applied a status to the different species (which started by giving them names that sound bad to begin with). Certainly some fish may not make for the best table fare, but if we’re out to practice catch and release, as most fly anglers do, then why not be pleased with an unintended catch? I recall once fishing a section of an Idaho river known as the “Whitefish Hole”. Imagine my surprise (and disappointment) when I actually caught a whitefish there! Looking back, what a snob I was. Sheesh, I’m just sure.
I’ve caught my fair share of whitefish, and a couple squawfish. I’ll readily admit that I’ve been disappointed when I’ve incidentally caught these bottom-shelf species, because I was out to catch a noble gamefish at the time. I thumbed my nose at these disgusting creatures rather than admiring them for what they were: Fish. I even tried, intentionally mind you, to catch some crap- I mean carp, once, but they would have none of it. When those oversized pond guppies wouldn’t show me the love, I judged them immediately for being stupid, worthless, trash fish. As I walked away, I hollared back over my shoulder to the fish, “Yeah, well, I didn’t want to catch you anyway cause you’re…stupid. And ugly!” Reflecting back, as I look forward, I see that this sort of negative attitude puts me into the same camp of doubting Thomases that in other walks of life always see the glass as being half empty: Dwellers of negativity. I strive to be more positive as an angler in the future: To be thankful when I catch something, even if it wasn’t what I was targeting. I mean, with my catch record, who am I to be selective? My new motto is going to be, “There’s more to fishing than just catching what you intended to catch.”
I need the odds in my favor, and if I embrace anything that will hit my fly I’m going to be a lot better off. So no more “garabage fish” for me – from this point forward they will be described as “unexpected treasures”. By embracing this new, positive philosophy I am reducing the amount of inevitable disappointment I’ll encounter as I fish the future.
So, what are you fishing for this Christmas? I hope it’s a good surprise. And if upon initial inspection it appears to be a lump of coal, maybe you can make a diamond out of it.
Merry Fishmuch to you and yourn.
Disclaimer: This is a Gear Review. After promising a blog free of gear reviews, I find myself posting my second in less than a month. But if writing is an art and art imitates life, and life is full of empty promises then why should not my writing be so inclined? One of the great things about fishing is that it so often yields unexpected and delightful surprises. It’s common knowledge to those of the angling ilk that life imitates fishing, and so it was that I stumbled upon this little gem quite incidentally when I stopped by the local Duvall Auto Parts store to pick up a replacement headlamp bulb for my Jeep. Having never before seen this item at a fly shop or in one of the many fly fishing catalogs that arrive in my mailbox throughout the year, one can imagine my surprise and delight to discover it at an automotive store of all places. With the Holiday Retail Season officially underway, I thought some of you might searching for that perfect stocking stuffer either for yourself or the discerning angler in your lives.
I’m a wee bit of a gear whore, and profess to having a weakness for fishing gadgets. But I also like a good deal. The invoice lists the item as “air fresh trout”, and for $4.63 I figured couldn’t go wrong. Brought to you buy the same manufacturer of the world-renowned line of “Little Tree” air fresheners, this one is simply called “Fish™”. That’s right – Fish air fresheners: An oxymoron if there ever was one. As much as I love catching, releasing and sometimes catching and eating fish, the smell is unmistakably…fishy. It doesn’t take an experienced angler to realize that fish are not known for having the most pleasant of odors in the world. In fact, the smell of fish is unpleasant enough to be used when describing house guests that linger past their welcome. Remind yourself of this fact as the relatives from out of town arrive at your house for Christmas this year.
Fish air fresheners, indeed! My first thought was that that the marketing guru behind this product had probably lost his or her job due to this glaring little oversight, but closer inspection of the packaging revealed that “Fish” is apparently not the actual scent, but rather the name given to this particular product line. The actual scent is listed as “Mountain Waterfall”, which conjures up visions of, well, waterfalls in the mountains. Now I always thought that water, which includes waterfalls, doesn’t really have a scent unless brackish or somehow horribly contaminated, neither of which would seem likely given that this a waterfall in mountains. Apparently I was mistaken because this mountain waterfall does have a detectable scent. To describe the aroma, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a beautiful alpine meadow: In the distance a bubbling brook cascades down the side of a mountain, the mist from which combines with the naturally sweet scent of wildflowers and wafts gently toward you on a light breeze. It’s nothing like that.
All kidding aside, I have smelled many air fresheners that are much worse than this. One has to admit that seldom does the air freshener smell worse than the odor that one is attempting to mask, but some air “fresheners” are a bit overbearing. Some are downright nauseating. My daughter has one such device hanging from the rear view mirror of her car that is supposed to resemble “Piña Colada”. It’s a sickeningly sweet smell that reminds me of, well, a piña colada. By comparison the little plastic trout from the waterfall in the mountains is really not unpleasant at all, nor is it so overpowering that you will need to drive around with the car window down for the first 2 weeks of ownership before it can be tolerated.
To save you all the trouble, I did a little research and it appears that this particular piece of fishing gear can be found online by using the keywords, “trout air freshener“. However, the search results are misleading as it is mistakenly listed as a “rainbow trout air freshener”, when clearly it is a brown trout air freshener. This sort of technical oversight might go unnoticed by the general public, but discriminating anglers on the quest for a rainbow trout air freshener would surely take note of the inaccuracy.
After three weeks of field testing, I have some solid data to report: The air freshener is not quite up to the task of competing with the combined odors of wet dog, soggy waders and second hand Mexican food that linger in my Jeep. It was determined that a second Air Fresh Trout would be needed to effectively wage battle, but when I went back to the auto parts store to pick up another one they were out of stock (apparently this is a hot item). I considered ordering one online where the price is cheaper, but shipping charges would negate any cost savings, and besides I like to support the local shop when I can. The clerk promised to call me when more inventory arrives, and when it does I’ll let you know if my car takes on the smell of a mountain waterfall, or continues to smell like a brown trout.
In conclusion, I highly recommend you have a few of these on hand for the Holidays, to give as gifts or to hang in your spare bedroom. Remember: Fishing has established limits – so should the duration of visits from out of town house guests: 2 days, tops.