Why do we fish? There's a subject that has generated countless conversations, philosophical treatises, and more than a few books. It is an open ended conversation, one best held while sitting around a remote campfire with a whiskey in one hand and a cigar in the other. For the moment imagine you are far away from all mankind, next to a river, staring into the campfire and talking slowly and quietly with a friend. Imagine that as you read this.
There are, of course, a multitude of reasons. The number of reasons, and their various permutations, are probably close to twelvebluezillion in number. Each fisherman would have various of those reasons, and each fisherman's set of reasons would be unique in their variety. Or nearly unique.
Some of the reasons would be individually focused, such as great memories of a specific fishing mentor. Some of the reasons would be much broader, and shared by many of us. One of those broad reasons, I believe, is a natural instinct to search for the feeling of awe.
Awe. That is an interesting word. One definition is "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration...produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful..." That's a good descriptor of the type of awe that fishermen go in search of.
This awe that we seek, it mostly comes to us in moments of solitude when we're surrounded by nothing but nature. These are moments when we hear only the wind in the trees, birds, squirrels, perhaps water running over rocks. These are moments when we only see natural objects, such as a river and trees, perhaps an occasional deer or squirrel.
This awe that we seek is a feeling of direct connection to the natural world. It is a feeling of being a part of and no longer separate from the world around us.
It can be an intense feeling, one that overwhelms the senses, one that has a deep resonant visceral sense of "thereness", as in being completely aware at the molecular level of our surroundings. A feeling of being completely in tune with nature, a feeling that I can not find adequate words for. Reverence perhaps. It can be so intense that it is often likened to a religious experience.
It can manifest in a milder sense of joy. Or an even milder feeling of well being. It can progress from well being to joy to an epiphany rapidly.
I only find this sense of awe when I am alone, when I am away from all signs of other humanity. When I am vulnerable because of the distance to outside help. Maybe I should say "at risk" instead of vulnerable, vulnerable has some negative connotations that I don't mean here. At risk because people at my age are prone to sudden and severe health issues overcoming them. At risk because a simple but bad fall can be catastrophic these days. I'm healthy enough that this isn't a major concern, but one thinks about it when there is no one around to call to for aid, or to call an ambulance.
When I am purely "on my own" when there is no one who can possibly come to my aid, that's when I can get that sense of awe. I don't get it when I'm with anyone. I think the realization of being alone and at risk intensifies the "thereness" of those moments of awe. I believe this is because the sense of awe is partially a sense of being small and temporary compared to the universe itself, a sense of our own mortality is involved. This sense of awe is in no way a sense of fear, more of a sense of acceptance of the potentialities of fate.
I love to fish with other people, don't get me wrong. Fishing with other people is of equal desirability to fishing alone, but it has different rewards. Not better, not worse rewards, just different.
When I go fishing, alone, I'm on the look-out for a sense of awe. A sense of being extremely tiny and temporary and unimportant in the universe. A sense of wonder that I've been allowed this moment of self awareness, allowed this sense of the magnificence of the universe, this unique privilege to enjoy it for a few moments without distraction or interruption.
I often get the sense of awe when I am holding a fish, marveling at it's symmetry, its coloration, its stunningly efficient design for what it is, for what it does, for its place in the world, for the fact that in the grand scheme of things this fish is as important and/or as humble as I am.
Finding that sense of awe, as I often do, is my real reward for fishing in solitude. Catching fish is right up there in rewards, but it isn't the main reward. Catching really big fish is pretty close to that feeling of awe though, I'll have to admit to those clay feet. Last time I caught a really big fish I heard myself shouting to the fish as I brought it in - shouting "You are a gorgeous thing!". Shouting with deep pleasure in this creature and our brief frantic connection. Shouting even though there was no one within miles of me, or maybe because there was no one within miles of me.
When I come home from a trip that had a moment of awe in it, I find that I am relaxed in a way I can find no substitute for. I am happy in a way that I can not obtain any other way. Searching for this awe feeling is, I believe, a natural instinct. One to be sought. One to be deliberately practiced.