KW Morrow, White River

May 3rd, 2004

Another Life Lesson from a Trout Stream
By KW Morrow (silvermallard)

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

About 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.


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