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Hook, Talk and Release

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A mutually rewarding interaction with fish

Fishing for me is mostly about being on the water; not just any water but a moving, living stream. The essence of a river is encompassed within its ecological integrity. Outwardly it is simply flowing liquid confined along an earthen course made of dirt, rocks and riparian vegetation, but inwardly it’s a living, dynamic organism, composed by rhythmic contractions, sounds and the movement of the flow. Filled with a variety of life expressions, unique in their wonder, perhaps none more important than the resident aquatic insects, fulfilling a programmed destiny, their emergence stimulating basic instinct within fish and birds to consume, with longevity in mind.

    Humans in general seldom bother to investigate or understand the nature of a stream or the world of a trout. Even so, fishing allows us to entwine with this energy when the "hatch is on." All that is needed is a focus of attention.

    In days past, I have haunted a particular western Montana river enough to know it's character and secrets. Even so, predicting a day's unfolding wasn't improved, even with weekly visits. My best made plans were often destroyed by unforeseen weather, water temperature or lack of insects. I've learned over time to approach a river, or a day for that matter, without expectations, taking what appeared next in order to enjoy all aspects of a river.

    Over time familiarity created an undue friendship between a particular male brown trout of nineteen inches and myself, meeting on a semi-regular basis. At first, each time he took my fly I could hear him say "Oh no, not again!" But soon that turned to "Here's Ken again, I better go on over and say hello." So pleased was he to see me, he'd swim easily over to the shore to be released, lying calmly beside my leg as I kneeled above, eyeballing me while I eyeballed him.

    The last time I saw that brown he finned easily in three inches of water, calmly observing the world with small shifts of his eye globes, looking up, looking forward and back. My shadow covered his body, and as we talked there was no nervousness, no need to zoom away; just the mutual presence of two perceptual bodies, each involved in life in a different way, yet sustained by the same process.

    Perhaps a connection is there or maybe it's my imagination—it really doesn't matter. Life is to experience a moment in the physical, to learn, to grow and to appreciate existence as the only sure thing we have. Everything else is an illusion which can disappear at any time.

    That brown trout and I had a relationship which at first was adversarial, turning to mutual respect of one another. Well, I'm sure of my respect for him and assume an appreciation for the release, at least, even if the hook was somewhat irritating. But whatever the connection between man and fish, the need for a respect of life is essential.

    Even though it may seem somewhat weird to hook and yank a trout from its peaceful existence, it becomes a connection with another species, an intercourse suffused with learning. Intelligence resides at different levels; that of the fish no less important to the universal consciousness than that of man. Different to be sure, a different perception of its surroundings, of what comfort is and of what's most important - an awareness to a pulse of life different in perspective.

    What is the look, sound, touch and feel of the world to the fish? Can it even be defined by the limitations of man, by terminology created by man to describe his own reality? A difference in reality we're not privileged to understand, a perception beyond our comprehension, unknown and unrealizable. Why do humans think our awareness is the only reality?

    So to contemplate a mutually rewarding interaction with fish cannot be discounted unless viewed from one side only. I for one choose to view the intelligence of fish as being much, much more than simply biology. Awareness for a fish being somewhat different from our awareness of the fish, who is to say what a fish thinks, feels or perceives?

    Perhaps these two worlds come together at a line defined by the surface tension of water. An interaction somewhat dictated by man, as all interactions with man are, but at some point we must realize there is much more here than simply fishing. To appreciate the difference is to learn and learning is key to understanding, knowledge passing in both directions. The fisherman takes something from each encounter, hopefully enhancing his own life. Fish must learn also. How else could they get so big? How else could they “take me to the cleaners?”

    Dr. Ken Cameron is a local optician with an eye for fish.


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Ken Cameron Ken Cameron is an optometrist with a passion for fly-fishing.

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