fishing in the pacific northwest: a note

The two of you stood there gaping for a second and then the bobcat just vanished without the slightest effort as if it has indeed evanesced, departed the this wet and mountainous rock, slipped into another dimension…”


by brian doyle


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, goes the proverb attributed most hilariously to Maimonides, who wouldn’t know a fishing pole if he woke up and found it murmuring alluringly in the bed with him, but teach a man to fish and you have bent his mind permanently toward hatching schedules, and caddis-fly casings, and the meticulous use of the pinion feathers of young hawks for complicated trout lures, and the epic grumpiness of mature salmon on their way upriver in pursuit of romantic entanglements in streambeds, and what the word redd means, and how to keep a sharp eye on osprey for which fish they are hauling out of the river and where they are hauling them from, and the intricate geometric wizardry of casting arcana, and exactly how long you should cache your bottles of ale in the creek for maximum chill, and how to identify poison oak, and where to find huckleberries near creeks and streams and rivers, and what color thread is best for which pool in which river, and when smelt run, and how to net them, and how to hate and detest and excoriate terns and cormorants for their incursions on the salmon population, and how to whip flat rocks on a line across a large river so as to clip a sea lion right behind the ear so as to drive him or her back down the river to the mouth of the river where he or she should properly be camping out and not this far upriver where you are fishing, and how to be startled when what you thought was a lean stick in the mud across the misty river suddenly takes wing and floats off upriver like a huge blue pterodactyl, and how to grin when a quartet of mergansers whips downriver like tiny intent feathered fighter jets, and how to notice the river accepting a mink without a splash, and how to distinguish otter tracks from raccoon tracks from muskrat tracks, and where deer and cougar and bear come down to drink and why that spot above all others is their favorite, and how not to jerk your rod when you feel an inquiry but wait patiently until the question goes to bold italic at which point contact is established and a relationship begun, and how to cradle the stunning creature gently while you disestablish contact, and how to savor the instant or two during which the creature holds, recovering his or her equilibrium, and then vanishes, with exactly the incredible effortless speed with which the bobcat vanished that time when you turned the corner of the trail and the bobcat turned the corner from the other side of the hill and the two of you stood there gaping for a second and then the bobcat just vanished without the slightest effort as if it has indeed evanesced, departed the this wet and mountainous rock, slipped into another dimension, and perhaps reappearing amazingly in a grocery-store parking lot, if his or her gyroscope was slightly out of kilter that afternoon, much to the surprise of a small child with a balloon and a cinnamon-bun, who had reached down to pick up a gleaming nickel, but instead found herself staring into the endless amber mustard saffron golden bronze eyes of a bobcat, who stared back; and perhaps, maybe, it could be, it most certainly might be, that this mutual glance, this instant of utter absorption, set that child off on a life of attentiveness to the seething vegetative and mammalian and piscine and insectivorous and avian world around her, in ways that she might not otherwise have been stimulated to be; so it is, in the end, a very good thing, to teach a man, or a woman, or a child of any gender, to fish, as there is much more to be learned by fishing than how to catch fish; indeed how to catch fish is perhaps the least interesting thing about fishing, and there must be many people who go fishing not for fish but for something else altogether, so that when you ask them if they had a successful day fishing, and they say yes, but they have no fish, you know exactly what they mean, because you feel that way also.

Originally published:
Issue Seventy-One
January 2016


(illustration: dee sunshine)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.



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