Intro music courtesy Dan Spencer

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Here and Now

The magic of fishing comes from being so engrossed in something that your mind thinks only of the here and now. After several months of being stalked by a virus that you can’t see or hear or smell, it was nice to be back fishing — and feeling like the hunter once again.

You forget the magic that comes from being so engrossed in something that your mind thinks only of the here and now — in this case, a bunch of fish way up on the mud flats, breaking water with their tails and backs.

Spring had been late, and the water was colder than normal. And you knew that if you were to find fish, they would likely be in the shallows, where the sun had warmed the dark mud and skinny water. I nudged the kayak a stroke closer and let the wind and current pull me off the spot as I cast. Bang. I fought and released a nice striper. Release, return and repeat.

None of us is free from the clinches of time, but for a couple of hours that morning, I felt as unfettered as the terns working the falling tide. My cellphone was turned off. No one was expecting me. I was self-contained. Quiet. And having found fish, I was intensely focused on the moment.

“You must live in the present … find your eternity in each moment,” Henry David Thoreau advised. All we have are these moments. For now, that’s all I need.

After several months of being stalked by a virus — a predator that you can’t see or hear or smell — it was nice to again feel like the hunter. Even if it was just the illusion of being in control. We live in a predictably unpredictable world. Spend time on the water chasing fish, and you learn that early. Nature is flexible, shifting, inexact.

The fish arrive a week or two early or late, depending. Same goes for the birds, forage fish, insects, the leafing trees, flowering plants, and on and on. The osprey that nest on tiny No Name Island were late this year by two weeks. I’d given up on their return and then heard the welcome cheep cheep cheep one morning as I drifted past, firing casts at submerged boulders.

Sometimes you can set your clock by the fish and birds — other years, not so much.

I was thumbing through an old fishing journal from a long-ago spring when I found where I’d written of getting chased off the water twice in nine days. Each time, the pursuer was an intense thunderstorm; both knocked out power for thousands of people. On the last occasion, my oldest daughter, her boyfriend and I had hiked out in a little gap between fronts to a spot that had been loaded with fish two nights earlier. I had foolishly hoped the forecast, which called for the storms to pass by 8 p.m., would hold up — I wanted the 17-year-olds to experience a good night of fishing.

Even before the storms rolled over us, the air was charged with electricity. On the walk out, I passed my daughter a gull feather I’d picked up off the sand and felt a static shock between our fingers as they lightly touched. I should have known better, but fish will do that to you. And now we lay in a low cut between the dunes, the rods flat, as thunderstorms sniffed us out like a pack of dogs.

There was too much lightning to think of fishing. We lay there and took the pummeling from the rain and marveled at the noisy pyrotechnics, the gusty downdrafts and the crazy spider-web lightning. It was a show that I didn’t need a log to remember; the strikes were cloud to cloud, cloud to water, cloud to ground. The stray electricity wandering about made you feel part of nature’s electrical grid.

If creation is a pink dawn, then surely this blitzkrieg of lightning, rain and mutant thunder cells was a glimpse of the end. We waited for a break and hightailed it off the beach. I knew I’d foolishly made ourselves a target that night and felt fortunate when we finally moved out of the crosshairs.

Another morning on the grounds, and a silly earworm was playing on a short loop in my head. To lose it, I started humming the old classic Wil­lin’ by Little Feat. I made my way to the last cove on the river before it opens to a bay and the broad, briny beyond. This spot had been good this year.

The wind was out of the west, and the young tide was flooding; the fish can be spooky here, and I was determined to fish the shallow cove correctly, casting my way in by degrees.

The first fish came quickly. Then another. And like that, Lowell George went back to sleeping the big sleep. That story I had been writing in my head would have to wait until another day. All extraneous thoughts vanished. The song of the drag carried me into the sun-drenched here and now.

I thought of something an old friend told me one year after we got off the water. “It’s amazing what a few floppy fish will do for your spirits,” said the late Capt. Al Anderson. “Everything is suddenly right with the world.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Anglers Journal magazine.

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