Over the past couple weeks, I’ve discovered one fundamental truth of the pastime we all love: fishing is hard. Perhaps that’s what makes it such an addictive sport. As school and activities have kicked into full-gear, and the end of Daylight Savings Time has granted far fewer hours of afternoon sunlight, I find it increasingly difficult to spend time on the water.
Last year at this time, my school experienced a COVID outbreak, sending us home for an entire month. During those days of remote learning, when all my teachers wanted my fellow students and me to do was spend time outside, I enjoyed more fishing time than ever during the month of November. Sure, it was still a struggle to find and catch fish as the water temperatures plummeted, but I still found a few willing to bite. Now, I have less time than ever to fish, thus I’m catching fewer fish than I did last year.
Catching fewer fish, I find myself wishing some things were a little different. These “if only’s” pop into my head, causing me to imagine a world in which fishing was simpler, time was easier to come by, and conditions were more idyllic. Hopes like these:
If only … landlocked Atlantic salmon didn’t have serious cases of lockjaw while on their fall spawning run, then I wouldn’t have to literally floss the fish to hook them. Unfortunately, we don’t have any sizeable populations of salmon here in Massachusetts that remain in river systems throughout the summer, or at least the latter part of the spring. Instead of being able to target these fish with standard dries and nymphs as you can in Maine, Bay State anglers are forced to fish deep reservoirs with spinning gear if they want to have any chance of landing one of these beauties during the warmer months. Then again, if salmon were a little more gullible when they flood the rivers during the fall, I suppose there would be far more of them taken by the catch-and-keep crowd, leaving fewer fish in the systems.
If only … stocked rainbows spawned in the spring like the rest of their wild brethren, then I wouldn’t be forced to watch stubborn trout swim in circles as they unsuccessfully pair up (or in many curious cases, get in a group of three). Hatchery-raised trout have their photoperiod manipulated, not only advancing their spawning date, but also causing significant egg defects that essentially make the act of spawning meaningless. Trout stocked in the spring that hold over are most likely to display this infuriating characteristic, which makes them all but impossible to catch. Furthermore, fishing for actively spawning fish is unethical and immoral. I suppose if stocked trout didn’t spawn in the fall, though, we wouldn’t have the numerous waterbodies stocked with these fish every spring and fall.
If only … bass didn’t move to deep offshore structure during the colder months, then I wouldn’t have to spend countless unsuccessful hours looking for deeper water from shore. After the fall transition in early-to-mid autumn, when bass move shallow to fatten up for the winter, the fish once again return to their deep haunts to avoid the icy surface temperatures. When water temps start plummeting into the 40’s, bass become far more difficult to find, especially from the bank. Sure, there are always a few stragglers, and if you’re lucky you could find some deep water adjacent to shore, but more often than not this isn’t the case. I guess if the bass didn’t vacate the shallows in favor of deeper holes, they would eventually be frozen like fish sticks, and nobody wants that.
If only … miniscule size 30 midges didn’t exist, then I wouldn’t have pounding headaches from tying these puny buggers, or from attaching them to my 8x tippet. Another acceptable option would be fish completely ignoring these small bugs in favor of whatever gaudy-looking size 12 fly I’m using. I think every angler who’s ever fished the crystal-clear waters of the Swift has a love-hate relationship with the river. The fish are numerous, spotting them is a walk in the park, and wading is about as easy as it gets. Unfortunately, the trout are known to prefer unimaginably small flies over about every other type, a sad truth for those of us who have about as much finesse as a circus elephant. To the disappointment of us fly fishers, midges and other microscopic aquatic and terrestrial insects form the basis of many food chains, and the world wouldn’t be ecologically diverse place it was without midges.
If only … school didn’t exist, then I would have a limitless amount of time to spend fishing and in the field doing fisheries conservation work. If I had to count on hands and toes the number of times perfect fishing conditions fell during a school day, or an opportunity to go electroshocking or perform similar fieldwork came up during the week, I would have to be a genetic freak. Picture the incredible adventures I could partake in if I didn’t have to sit in front of a teacher five days a week, or have endless amounts homework nagging me every second of my free time. I think the reasons this can’t be possible are pretty obvious; for example, I wouldn’t be writing this post had I not received any formal education.
If only … 30-plus mile-per-hour gusts didn’t come ripping through multiple times a week, then I could fish whenever I wanted, however I wanted. In all honesty, precipitation doesn’t scare me when I’m on the water, nor do temperature extremes. My worst nightmare is the howling wind, whose only purpose seems to be making cold days colder, forcing my kayak off my spots whenever I pick up a paddle, and causing obscene knots in my fly leaders. The wind seems to complicate nearly every aspect of angling and makes an otherwise enjoyable day on the water miserable. Despite what it may seem, wind actually does have a vital purpose in nature, which includes creating important shoreline cover like fallen trees.
If only … we had electronics that could tell us where every fish was in the lake, then skunk days would no longer exist. We seem to have electronics capable of just about everything else, so why haven’t we figured this one out yet! As the water cools and the locations of fish become increasingly obscure, this technology would no doubt come in handy. And when the fishing is good, why not just make it better? Sure, it may take every ounce of fun out of the sport, go against all fair chase principles, and likely deplete all populations of fish, but … you know what, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
And frankly, neither are any of these wishes. Nature works the way it does for a reason; it’s not our job to tinker with it (except in the case of stocked trout photoperiods, apparently). I’ve come to appreciate the way the world is now, and no amount of fish or fishing time can change that.