angling with the heart - when to fish or fish not?

You can approach the river with technique. Or you can approach with an open heart and a conscience. Or both. But to achieve this, a balance must be struck. This can be the work of an angler's lifetime. This my father taught me.

There is plenty of encouragement to adopt approaches tuned to catch the most fish - methods validated by competition anglers, so they must be good, must be the best. And tenkara can certainly lend itself to this mentality if you want it to. But just who is this competition with? Is it with ourselves? Is it with  our friends? Is it with the fish - or nature itself? This worries me. After all, the restless human quest to take ever more from the natural world has not brought us to a happy place. 

I know anglers who strive to emulate competition techniques for catching fish. Fifty fish sessions. As if that is all there is to fishing. I feel sorry for them. And what comes next? Sixty fish days? Seventy, a hundred? Days are measured out only by the fish body-count. Oh yes, of course C&R, but do you think they all go back well? As anglers we hold a responsibility and we have choices. I have also heard of anglers who nip the curve off from their hooks, taking pleasure and satisfaction that a trout has come to their fly, to tug and cling on momentarily before slipping free. 

Perhaps one day I will join them, but for now, in these years, my motivations to fish remain as they did when at the age of four, as an angler I was born. In catching my first fish and holding it lightly in my hand, I had also caught a first glimpse of that otherworld beyond the silvered surface, and my heart was stolen. For me, to fish is to reach out towards the wild beating heart of nature, and perhaps share in the mystery. Tenkara has given me is the purest path to travel on in the search.

When I approach the river it is I hope with an open heart, with ears to hear and eyes to see. Right now, this morning, I hesitate, casting line draped, ready for the cast.  It is beautiful. The pool is beautiful. Hauntingly so. The picture is perfect, so vibrant yet in the same measure so subtle that no photograph could ever tell its story. 

Reduction to two dimensions would speak not of the damp air of spring, of the curious sensation of being warmed by the sun, yet cooled by the river. Only the senses can marvel at the swallows. Perhaps a hundred or more, never colliding, always diving, swooping, soaring, passing low and fast over the river to snatch newly hatched olives that spin like miniature weather vanes on the glassy surface, hostage always to the eddying breeze. The hedgerow is scented in a foam of hawthorn flower and somewhere across the meadow a cuckoo sings its two-note refrain, never varying, never altering, nature's clock - a herald of spring.

Under the alder that clings to the island I can see a dark shape. It's a fish. I wasn't sure at first but as I look, I see the sideways movement of a feeding trout, alert and poised, but keeping out of the main flow, staying safe beneath the alder. A steady trickle of olives, like raindrops in reverse, and the trout, a big fish, moves across, tipping a big spotted snout, sipping breakfast down.               

Casting a fly onto the pool is to shatter its precious image. Catching the trout cannot add to the beauty. Instead I would be named as intruder and no longer a privileged guest. I choose not to fish. Not here. There are other pools, other fish.

Learning how much is enough, in tenkara, in angling, in all of life in fact, is the work of our lifetime. This my father taught me.