Anticipation noun (an-ti-sə-‘pā-shən) – the act of looking forward; pleasurable expectation; visualization of a future event or state.
“An emotion involving pleasure, excitement, and sometimes anxiety, fueled by expectation”
The seat-belt ding on the plane elicits an almost Pavlovian reaction from me every time I hear it in this particular airport. The mental fire lit over the course of a long, cold winter has become an inferno, and the menialities of trip prep, the handling of the rods and flies like icons and fetishes, have done nothing but fan the flames. Now that all obstacles have been overcome and I am about to hit the ground running, I have to fight down the overwhelming and startlingly involuntary urge to salivate.
Expectation noun (ek-spek-‘tā-shən) – the act or state of looking forward or anticipating; an awaiting.
“A belief that is centered on the future, and which may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. If something happens that is not at all expected it is a surprise.”
On the blurry ride up to the hop-in hole, the built-up stress and anxiety only add to the queasiness of a hung-over mind and body. As I wind the throttle up, I feel the break in the process – the visualization placebo that has been silently looping in my brain, running on last years collective memories and photographs, is about to be replaced by the crunch of gravel, the scream of gulls, and the vicious yank of this years first fish.
Disappointment noun (dis-ə-‘pỏint-mənt) – the act or an instance of failure to fulfill the expectations or wishes of; to defeat the fulfillment of (hopes, plans, etc.); thwart; frustrate.
“The feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest. Similar to regret, it differs in that a person feeling regret focuses primarily on the personal choices that contributed to a poor outcome, while a person feeling disappointment focuses on the outcome itself.”
Why does losing a big fish sting so much? The wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the despair and anguish over these brief connections and sudden departures, all for a fish you were going to release anyway. As the spray and smoke clear I replay the dance in my mind, searching for the fatal flaw in my technique, the disturbance in the force that leads to this dreaded outcome. I know they are just fish, and fish are supposed to be a bonus, but I’ve come too far too many times to keep believing that.
Tranquility noun (tran-‘kwi-lə-tē) – the quality or state of being free from agitation of mind or spirit; free from disturbance or turmoil; unvarying in aspect.
“Serenity of the body, thoughts and consciousness on the path to enlightenment. Interpretation of the word “tranquility” is typically linked to engagement with the natural environment.”
The Game starts to numb a fella after a few days. The initial flurry of excitement after the opening bell has settled down and the transition to deathmarch isn’t quite complete, but it is on the way. The routine is settled into: out of the boat, top of the run, cast, swing, step, repeat. The metronome ticks away in waltz time, 3 steps and a cast written on the sheetmusic of the river and played on the line as it arcs though the water. Every now and then the rhythm is broken by a tug or a small fish, but for the most part the anesthetic fog rolls in and the runs and days start to blur.
When it happens, it happens quickly, and there isn’t time for anticipation or expectations of outcome. The die is cast at the first surge of line off the reel, and there isn’t time for critical application of technique or theory – the hook finds purchase, or it does not. I get lucky, the hook holds and a new dance has begun. Time slows and focus narrows, and all is lost but a thin, crook’d finger pointing a fluorescent line into the flow, indicating the ever-changing location of my dance partner. Several nerve-fraying runs, many unexpected changes of direction later, there is a wash of relief as the fish enters the net.
This, I realized, is why I come up here to be angered and humiliated by fish. The intense feeling you get when holding one of these dinosaurs is worth all the anxiety and disappointment, the soul-searching and self-loathing that accompany a missed opportunity, a blown shot. This is the fuel that lights the fire in winter, the memory that fans the flame all spring, and the blaze that draws me back again, year after year, to have my fishing self-esteem crushed repeatedly just to get the chance to pick one of these creatures up again.
With the release of the fish comes a release of tension, an awkward display of emotion usually reserved for different times, different settings, different people. I sit because I can’t stand, and I stare because there isn’t anything left to focus on. After awhile, I get up and start the cycle all over again.