It snowed during March in New York City, in what I hope will
be the end of our short by cold winter. No matter how brisk
the weather remains for the next few weeks, I know that April,
and the start of my fly fishing season, is but a few precious
days away. I am already getting prepared. I pulled out my
vest and waders from the closet, packed away since the fall,
and smelled the scent of the stream once again. I took inventory
of my gear, and spent a few moments day-dreaming of the hundreds
of dollars I want to spend on fly fishing stuff that I cannot
afford. And most importantly, I spent some time thinking about
where I want to go for my first fly fishing trip of 2008.
When April comes around, I will probably first fish on the
Connectquot River on Long Island because I always seem to do
well there. The stream is fully stocked and the fish rise to
the surface readily. Often I will catch a dozen trout in three
hours, releasing all but perhaps a few rainbows or browns that
make a fine dinner.
After six months of winter, I want my first trip to be a success.
Perhaps that is why I will head to the river that is so fully
stocked, because I know that if I get "skunked" on my first
fly fishing trip of the year, not catching a single trout,
I might be disappointed.
In thinking about my desire to do well on the stream, I asked
myself: What makes a fly fishing trip a success? When do we
come out of the river, pack the waders in the car and say to
ourselves: "That was amazing?" For some, catching fish is the
only measure of success of a fly fishing trip. Maybe that is
why Orvis sells scales and rulers to calculate the length and
weight of the trout we land.
If the measure of your fish is the only measure of your success,
then what happens if you do not get a bite? Did you waste your
time on the river if you did not land a single trout? When I
first taught myself to fly fish in the trout parks of Missouri,
I would go hours, and days without catching a trout. It was
frustrating. Yet even on the hardest day, when there were no
fish to be seen, I still relished the time spent in the stream.
Fly fishing is not only about catching fish. The time we spend
on the river is about feeling connected to nature, of searching
within ourselves in the solitude of the stream, of escaping from
the relentless pace of our 21st Century lives. And at its
highest moments, fly fishing can brings us closer to the divine,
as we sense the awe and beauty of our world and wonder how such
an amazing place came to be.
Defining success in fly fishing by the number of fish you catch
is kind of like defining success in life by how much money you
have, or by the number of cars you own or by the size of your
home. I am not at all opposed to material success. It is good
to work hard and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But if our
lives are only the sum total of our bank accounts, have we
truly accomplished all we can in this world?
Judaism teaches that the measure of a successful life includes
the ways we repair our broken world, the love we share with
family and friends, and our striving to become better people.
Even in the realm of the material, success does not only come
from what we acquire, but also what we give away to others.
Giving tzedakah, charity, is an obligation for every Jew, no
matter how rich or poor. The most destitute must give something,
even a penny, because the act of charity makes one a better person.
What then is the measure of success in fly fishing, and in all
of life? I would tell you that doing well goes beyond the fish
we catch or the sum of our material possessions. Success comes
from all that we have seen and done that is beautiful and
elevating and makes this world just a little bit better.
When April finally does arrive, I will probably still go to
that well-stocked stream for my first fly fishing trip, because
I do want to catch some trout. But I will also do my best to
take a moment to breathe, to look around, and to appreciate
those precious moments of connection and solitude on the stream. ~ Eric
About the Author:
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer is the author of the blog, The Fly Fishing
Rabbi, www.theflyfishingrabbi.blogspot.com It contains musings
about trout, God and all things Jewish, updated weekly. When not
on the cold water streams searching for trout, Rabbi Eisenkramer
is the associate Rabbi at North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, New
York. He lives with his wife in Queens.