When hooked, they fight with folkloric cunning—depending on the species, a fish may tail dance or dive deep and do its darndest to shake loose from the line. In spite of all we know and every tool at our disposal, successfully landing a fish is always an art form and a minor miracle.
The allure of fishing is a powerful natural force. It draws us towards distant spots of blue on maps, toward rivers and through the woods. There is scarcely a more harebrained or worthwhile venture than placing oneself in the middle of a river with a hint of skill and a mountain of hope. Fishing is distinctively lacking in guarantees. The surface of the water obscures an entire world beneath it—indeed we know more about the surface of the moon than the depths of our own oceans, and the same could be said of lakes and rivers across the planet.
This mysterious energy tugs at our heartstrings until we find ourselves knee-deep in frigid flowing waters, trying patterns time and again until we can hold a fish in our hands. There is a challenging discernment in their tastes, a leeriness of drifts with too much slack or tension, a refusal of any fly a size too big or small for the hatch du jour. We have no way of knowing what the fish sees, but these adept survivors prove time and again that they can see more of their glorious surroundings than we might suspect. Cast too long a shadow and they scatter, lay a fly down just so and they may strike before it ever kisses the water beneath it.
Chasing fish leads us to the best places—worlds which are not entirely ours, surroundings shaped by the waters that fill them, roads less travelled. The surface of the water creates a unique wall between worlds, and everything beneath it is so full of mystery and promise that we will cast time and again with only an informed faith sustaining us. Whether by word of mouth or elusive glimpse of shimmering silhouettes, we believe that there are fish we cannot quite see, and we yearn to see them. This craving is primal, and it extends so far beyond the search for sustenance that it is essential to survival in the same way as all other arts.