February 11th, 2008

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Measuring Success in Fly Fishing and in Life
By: Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, The Fly Fishing Rabbi

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.

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