Swedish version


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 deep pools.

  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 Opening Day

  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 anything?"

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 mental calculations.

  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.

By Eric D. Lehman © 2008





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