Ive never met an idiot o.., p.4

I've Never Met an Idiot on the River, page 4


I've Never Met an Idiot on the River

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  But if the energy that comes off of you doesn’t invite the fish, or the human being, or the job into your life . . .

  you pretty much end up empty-handed.

  You know, “If you will it, it is not a dream.”

  That is a phrase that was first said by Theodor Herzl more than a century ago. And I have made it the cornerstone of my life.

  So, patience.

  Patience. If you want something badly enough, you just have to stick to it.

  Tenacity is a cornerstone.

  Also gratitude for what you have, and for what’s coming.

  And patience.

  That is really everything.

  There are times when you want to sit down.

  You want to give up.

  You can’t allow that to happen.

  If you really want it, you have to will it into being.

  My wonderful lawyer, Skip Brittenham, once told me that if you sit at the table long enough, or in the boat long enough, the fish come to you.

  The chips come to you.

  Oh my God, he must be like five or six pounds!

  A beautiful Brown.

  That might be the largest Brown I ever caught in my LIFE.

  No, it is. Definitely.

  Oh . . . my . . . Lord.

  I experienced pure joy on that morning, on the twenty-first of August, 2010, when I landed the biggest fish of my life. The fact that this occurred on a tributary of the Snake River named Henry’s Fork seems appropriate, don’t you think?

  We were fishing a stretch between Warm River and Ashton, Idaho. I’d been blind casting with good results, but I’d been playing around with four- to nine-inch trout all morning, so I was feeling overdue for a bigger catch. I told my guide, Rowan, “I’m catching all the children. When will I catch a grown-up?”

  Those words were hardly out of my mouth when an “Oh my God!” fish took my fly and pulled so hard I felt like I’d hooked an aircraft carrier. Rowan became very excited, which is something Rowan doesn’t often do. My stalwart guide clambered out of our boat into Henry’s Fork and then scrambled after Henry’s fish, which was running off with Henry’s line. (I can be very proprietary.)

  Rowan shouted back at me over the river’s roar, “You’re playing this fish well.”

  I wasn’t so sure. I feared the fish was playing me. This trout was a track star! I let the big guy run. Then, when he stopped to rest, I reeled in whatever line I could before he sprinted off in a furious rush. Seriously, when this monster trout made a run, he generated electricity. I could feel a zap up my hands and arms.

  My boat was being tugged by this whopper, who was zigging and zagging so hard that it took all my strength to bring him to my left and then to my right. Suddenly, my fish friend found deep water. He dove like a nuclear submarine just below me and I swear I heard diving bells. I hovered above, keeping my rod high, bringing in line as fast as I could, and after what seemed like fifteen minutes, the trout came rocketing up and leapt into the air.

  Finally I saw my fish, a whale of a trout, a Brown Trout to be exact, a heart-stopper—my favorite kind! Before we’d even seen this fish, we knew it was a Brown by its strength. My guide yelled, “Stay calm, Henry!”

  Easy for him to say.

  “Now this is a fish! This is a great fish!” said Rowan. (He never does that!)

  My guide took his net in hand and slipped it under the behemoth fish in a flash as it surfaced near the boat. But Mr. Trout, a mighty muscle with fins, was not about to surrender so easily. He leapt up, slapped the net away with a sweep of his tail fin, and darted away from two shocked and awed fishermen. My guide and my fish repeated this dance several times. And each time they did, I wanted to panic. I kept saying to myself,

  “Please, please don’t lose this guy.”

  “Let him run! Let him run!” said my guide.

  Instinctively, I let him run.

  The King Fish was gone in a flash, taking ten miles of my line with him. I think he actually went up to Yellowstone Park and circled Old Faithful twice.

  Eventually he tired. I wound the reel with a fury, winding and winding. Finally my big Brown was back within reach. Rowan slipped the net under him again, but there was just one problem. It turns out the Trout King was too big for the net! My guide did his best to get a hold of the monster, but it was hard going. Poor Rowan could hardly keep his balance on the slippery, rocky riverbed. He was trying to hold the boat in place with his elbow even as that huge fish was flapping in and out of his net. Then, the defiant trout took it a step further and spit my fly out of his mouth. My heart dropped into my waders. I thought we were about to lose him. But trusty, agile Rowan managed to wrap half of the flapping fish with the net. One tiny slip, one millisecond more, and the trout of my dreams might have been back in the river and out of reach.

  Instead he was secured, which allowed us to finally meet face-to- fish. Rowan handed the huge Brown to me with his arms held wide. I reached out and took him under the gills and tail, stretching and struggling to keep my balance, because this was one strapping fish.

  Twenty-four inches long and more than six pounds!

  “He’s beautiful!” I said.

  Just then, Stacey called out to me. She and her guide, Scott, had come down the river to meet us for lunch. They’d found us just in time to see me land the King.

  She gave me a thumbs-up and yelled, “Good job, honey. You did great!”

  This trout was an unbelievable catch, and to have Stacey there to witness me bringing him in was even more wonderful. But I had no idea they were watching, of course. I’d become entranced with playing this fish. I was lost in time and place, totally absorbed in the moment, using my brain, my body, and every ounce of my creativity to bring the big trout in.

  To me, such moments are the definition of pure happiness. Life’s best moments happen when you are totally engaged in an activity that challenges every part of your being.

  Mind? Check!

  Body? Check!

  Spirit? Check!

  You’re all in. I’ve experienced this with acting, too. When you’re working on the most intense and emotional scenes, you can do take after take after take, over and over again, and you never grow weary. A fire could break out on the set, but you are so engaged and in the flow that you stay in character. You are so focused that when you finally finish the scene, you have no idea that it is four in the morning and the rest of the world has gone to bed.

  When you are in the flow like that, you are no longer trying, you are being. That’s a good thing if you have a huge fish on the line, because there isn’t time to ponder the wonder of it all. You are excited, but at the same time you must keep your wits about you. There are so many elements to the game. You must keep tension on the line, hold the rod high, and pull in slack, without ever forcing but instead allowing the fish to make a run and then taking in line as he turns and comes back at you as fast as he can.

  You have to remember it isn’t about overpowering the fish; it’s about letting him wear himself out, keeping him on the line until you can net him and finally take a photo. I’ve tried other types of fishing, but none of them have the poetry of fly casting for trout. The light tackle connects you to the power of the fish and the rushing water of the river. I love a strong and tenacious fish. Not just because it’s a challenge, but because I identify with its struggle against the current and the pull of the line, because my early life was such a struggle. I had to be tenacious. I had to fight for every good grade and I was always grateful for each opportunity. Tenacity and gratitude became my twin tenets for success. Tenacity takes you step by step to your dream, and gratitude never lets you become bitter along the way. A little patience sprinkled in allows you to stay in control and in the fight.

  If a trout makes a run, you either give him line, or the fish will break it. You have to be just as smart and tough as the trout. Yet you can’t “horse” the fish. You don’t force the issue. It’s like a valued relationship. You don’t forc
e the moments; you let them come. Actors have to take the same approach. You don’t overpower the character or the script; you play it naturally and let the story unfold scene by scene.

  When Rowan finally handed this trout to me, I had no language to describe my exhilaration and disbelief that I’d caught this beautiful creature. I really, really enjoyed that moment, and I felt exactly the same pleasure when I put that fish back into the river. Without hesitation, his Majesty the King Fish gave a flick of his fins and off he went.

  There was a brief interlude during which I photographed my catch for posterity. I could hardly get all of him into the frame. As I took the shot I was stammering, “Oh my! Oh my!” over and over again. I was in shock, really. I’d heard so many stories and seen so many videos with this sort of trophy trout as the prize catch, and now I was living my own very happy ending, at the very end of my rod and line. For me, fly-fishing isn’t about capturing or conquering or owning the fish. It’s about sharing a moment in time with a wild creature, feeling its power and merging with its life force for just a brief period. I release my fish so that others might have the pleasure of engaging with them. And I always express gratitude for the moments we had together. I never eat them because they are too majestic and beautiful. (I would never eat a labradoodle, either, by the way.) I want all of my trout to live on so we can play again one day.

  When I let my trophy trout go, there was no feeling of regret. The circle was complete. He swam away strong and healthy and prepared to fight another day. And I went back to fishing. I hope to see him on the river again soon.

  Chapter 5

  Going with the Flow

  My son Max was about nine years old when we took him on his first fishing trip on the Madison River in Montana. I’d hoped that Max would share my enthusiasm for fly-fishing, but as soon as he took a seat in the front of the boat, he pulled out his Walkman, plugged into it, and put his feet up on the bow.

  I didn’t say anything to Max, and I tried not to be disappointed that he wasn’t interested in fishing. It’s always been important to me to be more understanding of my children than my parents were of me. So I told myself to be patient and to let my son enjoy the trip his way. Perhaps he will want to fish later. Maybe he will actually pick up a rod and, by some miracle, cast a line.

  As we floated down the river, I was glad to see Max take out his earplugs and turn to our guide, Jim, a very helpful and professional fellow, who always has the right tool or piece of gear when you need it. I was hoping Max would ask Jim for a fishing tip, a lesson on how to use the rod and reel.

  Instead he said, “I’m hungry.”

  Jim, being Jim, quickly produced a bite-sized Milky Way bar and handed it to Max. I had neglected to warn our guide that my son was hypersensitive to sugar. Giving Max even a tiny candy bar was like putting high-octane racing fuel in a go-kart.

  Eight minutes later, my son was standing up in the front of our fishing boat, belting out the entire score of Les Miserables, his favorite musical.

  I’m fairly certain Jim had never seen or heard anything quite like this, nor had the cows and moose along the river. All creatures big and small were quite stunned. I swear I saw a bear’s jaw drop in shock and a fish fall out! Jim was so unnerved, his eyes resembled those gag glasses with the eyeballs dangling on Slinkys—they were practically shooting in and out of his head. He could not believe what Max was doing to the serenity of his river valley.

  Jim gave me a pleading look, hoping I might pull the curtain down on Max’s riverboat show.

  All I could do was shrug, as if to say, “Sorry, nothing we can do until Max burns through the Milky Way galaxy.”

  Resignation passed over our guide’s face. He stopped rowing, turned to me, and said, “At least he has a good voice, doesn’t he?”

  By then the boy, fueled by bits of gooey caramel, chocolate, and nougats, had moved on to selections from Phantom of the Opera.

  A wave of crankiness rose up in me, but I chose to let it wash away. Jim would have a funny story to tell at the next river guide convention, I told myself. And Max was enjoying himself immensely. Besides, the trout did not seem to mind.

  At least Max came along for the ride, I thought as I returned to blithely fishing in the back of the boat.

  There were few others on the river, but the lack of an audience didn’t bother Max. My son the Phantom crooned away in the bow of our boat. Whenever someone did paddle past, I wished them “tight lines” and assured them that Max was available for hire if they wanted a singing gondolier in their boats, too.

  Accepting Max’s deviation from my script for the day was a big step for me. But I had learned my lesson on a prior trip to the river with my daughter, Zoe. His performance of Les Mis on the Madison occurred after the wader-throwing incident Stacey mentioned in her Introduction.

  I am a patient person about 93 percent of the time, but that was one of those times when I was overwhelmed with impatience. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure why. I’d given up my morning fishing to ride horses with Stacey, Zoe, and Max. In return, our daughter had agreed to fish with me during the afternoon, but only as long as we kept it to half a day.

  Now I have to tell you something about Zoe. You see, she dawdles. She is the best—a great dawdler at the highest level, an achievement that is attainable only by fifteen-year-old girls.

  “C’mon, Zoe, we need to get on the boat,” I said when we were done horseback riding. “We have only limited daylight to work with.” Already she was dawdling, and while I was impressed by her dawdling prowess, I wanted to make it to the river. The fish were feeding!

  More dawdling ensued. And then, to my shock, and the shock of my entire family (and most of our ancestors), the wader boot in my hand went flying across the room—not at Zoe (I had the presence of mind not to be THAT big a jerk), but still, across the room, landing against the wall, just under the window.

  Zoe was horrified, then hurt, and finally, defiant. As the final phase set in, her body language gave the perfect interpretation of what is meant by the phrase “digging in your heels,” defining it for all time.

  “I’m not going fishing with you—EVER!” she shouted.

  I panicked. Oh, oh, now what? Do I wait for her? Do I leave her? I wanted to go fishing in the worst way and the best way, too. But I was stuck. All year I wait for those seven days on the river! And I was so close . . . except something had happened. I still wasn’t sure what, or what I needed to do to make it better. (Insert heavy paternal sigh here.)

  My impatience and anger quickly peaked and then gave way to remorse and guilt. An intense father-daughter discussion ensued. I won’t go into the embarrassing details, but suffice it to say, the father lost ground and then found himself deep in a hole.

  Meanwhile, the river was flowing, the trout were feeding, and the sun was moving rapidly across the afternoon sky.

  I begged Zoe for forgiveness. I pleaded temporary insanity. But I’d cooked my own goose with one toss of the boot. After a final sweeping apology, I turned and headed for the river.

  My daughter’s parting words were “You’re leaving me here alone. Everyone else has plans and I have NOTHING to do!”

  As I write this in the fall of 2010, I want you to know that every once in a while I still, out of the blue, apologize to my beloved schoolteacher daughter for being such a curmudgeon on that day in Montana fourteen years ago.

  I was being completely impatient in a place that demands patience, with a person whom I love very much. Worse yet, I’d grown up with parents who were perpetually impatient with me, and I’d vowed to be a different kind of parent, one who would always be patient with my own children. I thought I’d broken the pattern, but in fact I’d managed to come full circle.

  I’d let my emotions dictate my actions, and the result wasn’t pretty. I’d become frustrated because I was trying to control my daughter, and she was resisting my efforts. The lesson I drew from that meltdown was to control those things that I can control and
to let go of whatever is beyond my influence.

  The ironic thing is, this little lesson improved not just my relationships but my fishing, too. The value of patience has been brought home to me many times while on the river, where bad weather, tangled lines, or trout that refuse to come out and play can easily lead to frustration. It’s the same patience you need as an actor on the set waiting for things to get going. You’re in the zone and a light blows, or you are waiting for another actor who hasn’t come out of the trailer yet. It doesn’t matter where you are; patience is required in life.

  I have to remind myself of this constantly, even when I get to the river. I take so much pleasure in my time there, I’ve found myself resenting the fact that I have to put together my seven-piece rod, piece by piece by piece, before I can fly-fish. I resent the time lost assembling the rod, then putting my line through the eyeholes, loading the boat, mounting the oars, and parking the truck. There are so many time-consuming little details that must be tended to that it seems to take hours and hours before I can actually do what I came to do: relax on the river. In my early days of fly-fishing, I’d have to talk myself down from all the anxiety that would build up while I was preparing to cast a fly into the water.

  The Das Boot incident with Zoe opened my eyes to all of this, and to my impatience in general. Up until then, I’d thought of myself as a very patient man. I’d clearly thought wrong. I had to reprogram myself by practicing the Zen of going through each detail, getting it done in its own time. I had to remind myself of my priorities. Zoe Time was more important than trout time.

  The neat thing I discovered is that we have a choice. We can choose to be cranky. Or we can choose to let go of our right to be frustrated and ticked off. We can focus on the good instead. What I learned with Zoe, I practiced later with Max.

  Initially I was frustrated because my son showed little interest in fishing, and I was embarrassed by his behavior in front of our guide. But then I checked myself. Why be ticked off? I thought. Max is just responding to the sugar rush. Jim will get over it. The fish are not frightened and, lo and behold, the Earth is still revolving around the sun, and Jupiter is aligned with Mars.

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