I've never been plagued by a lack of a sense
of personal responsibility. In fact, those
who know me might tell you that they have seen
firsthand how one can be overly-consumed by a
sense of responsibility to one's own detriment.
At the very least they would tell you I can be
a pain in the posterior at times. A career
counselor once told me I should have been born
during the Great Crusades. And I have certainly
jousted with my fair share of windmills thinking
they were dragons at the time.
As fly-fishermen, we load our toolboxes...fly boxes
and vests...with everything we can carry for every
possible variation we believe we may encounter on
a day of fishing. Many of us carry flies in various
assortments that we cannot even remember the last
time we actually used. But we take comfort in
knowing we have them...just in case. I've been
known to carry two rods as I wade along a
stream - usually a short 4-weight and a nine
foot 6-weight. You just never know, do you?
I pride myself on being prepared. I even lock
my car doors inside my own garage.
So it is with some pang of guilt and shame that I
put pen to paper to tell the tale of one day last
week on the very same stream I had fished the day
before - the very same stream which, not twenty-four
hours prior, had yielded to me my personal best Brown
trout, a twenty-three-and-a-half inch bruiser of which
I've written before. I'm not going to bore you with
the details, but let's suffice it to say that, as I
walked out of the stream and headed toward the car,
I passed two gentlemen who were on their way in at
dusk. Predictably, they asked me if I'd had any luck.
Luck - now there's a loaded word if there ever was
one! My "Hardshell Baptist" parents didn't raise me
to believe in luck. Everything boiled down to
decisions and consequences. And the pair of
anglers chuckled at my reply.
"I threw everything at them but my fly rod," I
explained. The rest of the story was instinctively
understood. Yes, I had been skunked.
I really did try every single fly variation in
both of my fly boxes. I cast at least seven
different nymphs, four different emergers, and
three different dry flies in the attempt to
catch even one trout. And nothing had even
yielded a strike. Several fish rose to inspect
my dry fly offerings, but none was convinced
enough to sip one in. The fish were even feeding
well. I just didn't have in my possession a
reasonable facsimile of the fare on which they
were selectively dining.
When I was a younger man, I would have been
furious with myself. I would have been thoroughly
convinced that every other angler whom I had seen
that afternoon had observed my failure to connect.
I would have gone on a campaign to rework my fly
boxes to prevent such a thing from ever happening
again! And I would have told no one that I had
not even gotten a bite. No - I'm serious. I've
also gotten older, and…I hope...a bit wiser.
Everyone gets skunked sometimes. There is simply
no way to be completely prepared for every possibility
life can throw at us...even on a trout stream. In
fact, this unpredictable, complex menagerie of
myriad possibilities and combinations of possibilities
is, for me, the allure of fly-fishing. This is the
wellspring from which pours the challenge that draws
me inexorably toward the source like a moth to the
flame. Master this challenge, and the magic disappears.
Thus was the nature of my thoughts on the drive home.
Fly-fishing, for me, is not all about success or
failure. To some substantial extent, it is about
enjoying the process itself. Yet, who would argue
that they would rather not catch fish? That is the
greatest "fish story" of all. But what is success
without failure? Would my previous day's victory
with that big Brown have been as sweet if I had
never tasted the bitterness of failure? Can one
truly enjoy a sunny day if he has never endured
several straight days of cold, gray rain? If
every other day were Christmas, would children
lose any sleep on Christmas Eve? It is OK to fail.
In fact, it is essential that we do so from time
to time. It is also OK to admit it.
Those two fellows I passed on my way to the car
got a hearty chuckle from my admission of incompetence.
Hearing their laughter even made me feel better than I
had the moment before. And certainly as the sun does
rise in the morning, I will enjoy the next fish I
catch that much more for the experience of catching
none that afternoon last week. For me, I have learned
that humility includes the ability to accept one's
own shortcomings in the same manner one realizes one's
own strengths. And in this knowledge I find peace with
myself. And I look forward to my next day on the trout
stream. ~ Ken
Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University
in 1988, and spent the next several years serving
in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst
and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran
of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the
nation's service in 1993.
Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian,
having penned articles and stories that have appeared
in several national hunting publications like North
American Hunter magazine, on GunMuse.com, in regional
and local newspapers, and historical and literary
journals. He also provides hunting and dog training
seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods
retailers nationwide and works with other outdoors
businesses and conservation organizations in the
fields of public relations, promotional marketing,
fund-raising, and advertising. He also is a partner
in Silver Mallard Properties, LLC. He currently
resides with his wife, Wilma, their Weimaraner,
Smoky Joe, and their Labrador Retriever, Jake, in
Branson, Missouri, where he founded the
Branson/Tri-Lakes Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in 1998.