A Bad Day on the River
By Eric D. Lehman
On the opening day of fishing
season in 2008, my father and I reached the Mill River in Hamden at 6
am. There were already dozens of fishermen on the banks of the stream by
then, and I groaned. We had already had one mishap: my father’s fly rod
tip had broken, and he was going to have to use a spinning rod. The
water was low, and I cursed myself for not checking it the day before,
and heading to a larger river that might have held fish outside of a few
We hiked the small path that led
along the hillside, to where a huge oak tree hung over the stream. There
were fewer people here, but as we found, the stream was much shallower.
My father adjusted to the spinning rod, and I roll-casted under the
branches. We moved down the river slowly, catching nothing, reaching a
cluster of other fishermen by a log-dam. They were the only ones I saw
catch a fish the entire morning, and they were not leaving their prime
spot. I shrugged and bypassed them to keep fishing further down, to a
place I had caught fish before under the edge of an old causeway.
Father of the author on
Once there, I was hopeful, since
no one else seemed to have fished it. But after two or three minutes I
was joined by three others, and then two frustrated fishermen splashed
down the center of the stream, their will gone. They were talking about
heading to another river about twenty miles away, where the fishing
might be better. I had never heard of it, and we talked briefly, before
one fisherman signaled that he was going. "A bad day on the river is
better than a good one in the office," the other angler said, splashing
out of the stream towards his car, laughing at the cliché. I frowned.
This may be true of those who don’t enjoy their jobs, or find their work
rewarding. But I did, and so the truism did not hold true. Still, it
begged the question, what did make a bad day on the river?
Of course there were injuries: a
fishhook buried in your leg, a bruising slip on the rocks, a knife cut
during a fillet. There could be a flood or your transport could break
down. But I wasn’t thinking of a random disaster, just an ordinary day
out fishing. Obviously, the banks of the Mill River were jammed with
fishermen that April day, and that can ruin even the best experiences.
There is camaraderie to "opening day", of course. But we do not usually
go fishing to enjoy the company of a hundred strangers.
What else? The water could be
too cold. The sun could be too hot. It could rain buckets. But somehow
these things don’t matter. The one thing that leaps to most anglers’
minds when thinking of a bad day on the river is a lack of fish. We tell
ourselves that it doesn’t matter, but all the while we ache for the
struggle and the victory. We compete, we measure, and we count up our
ratios. There are often photographs and trophies to prove our success to
others. The first thing we ask when someone tells us they’ve been
fishing is not "did you have a great day?" No, it is "did you catch
The author on Opening Day
Attitude is the primary factor
that can cause a bad fishing experience. The days I had bad experiences
were all days that I, or indeed my fishing companions, had been too
focused on the catch, rather than the process. A lovely morning casting
into glassy water that dissolved into a hot and frustrated afternoon.
The relaxing evening after work that degenerated into a futile search
amongst the darkening reeds of a bayou. Even when we do catch fish
"under the limit" of length or weight, we often dismiss them in our
And yet I had had plenty of
great days on the rivers without catching a single fish. What had I
done? The answer was quite simple, of course. I had let go. I thought
back to the days I was enthralled by the sound of the water, or the
drama of a family of ducks. Attitude can uplift the heart, or it can
wipe out visions of beauty and make them mud.
So, I can’t really say I had a
bad day. I was in the forest with my father, the first of many such days
this year. We had cast our lines into the stream, and walked it with
purpose and poise. Woodpeckers clattered on dead trees in the low swampy
areas nearby. Geese soared overhead, returning north after the winter.
The shadow of Mount Carmel slid over the stream. It was a good day on
the river, and maybe that should be a new maxim: any day on the river
could be a good day, if only we let go.
D. Lehman © 2008