Youth is contagious. Although there is nothing like the real thing. There’s something about that drive that we have when we’re young, that intense fire, the orange glow, you don’t even know you have it when you’re living it, but when you can watch it in someone else, it’s a marvel. I have been fishing with a guy I made friends with while working at The Saltwater Edge before I came back to The Fisherman earlier this year. He graduated from high school in June, so he’s practically a child.
Typically, I am very set in my ways, unwilling to waver from my usual routines of fishing, but for some reason I just go wherever he wants to go. I can’t say, for sure, why this is. The first reason that comes to my mind is that I want to feel that surfcasting curiosity again. I want to go places I have forgotten about or places I’ve never been. I want to be challenged, I want to have to read the water, to move around and make guesses. I want to be wrong sometimes. I want to fish without the expectation of a tide window, decoded over the last 10 years.
This has become tougher as I’ve gotten older; losing sleep is harder to recover from, my night vision is not what it once was, it takes me longer to heal. But then I think back to when I was in my early 20s, my fishing partner at that time was about the age I am now and I realize now that I was leading him around all over the place. I was his synthetic supplement of motivation, I was the reason that he pushed himself to suffer the next day. Without me, he might have spent most of his nights thinking about fishing and growing increasingly impatient with himself for not pushing himself to go.
Last night we fished a really tough spot, just to get there you have to swim, climb huge rocks, deep wade, bushwhack… and not use your light at all. I was straining my eyes the whole time just trying to be sure of my next step. We arrived at the edge of the seething ocean, its attitude was irritated, daring us to step closer. The edge is deep, so the waves only stand proud in the last 20 feet. You don’t have much time to hunker when a big one hulks up in front of you. I’m not too tough to admit that I was a little worried about the waves. That’s the good part about leaving the ignorance of youth behind; you become innately aware of your limits and you can feel when you cross into that grey area between safety and danger. That’s where I was last night.
The hard pill to swallow is that the grey area gets smaller with age – I’m not totally sure if that’s because I have grown to understand the dangers on a higher level or if it’s just that my confidence in my ability to get out of trouble, should it arise, has diminished. But, in the end, I was able to use my 25-plus years of experience to identify a safe casting perch, fish effectively and land all my hookups without putting myself in harm’s way.
The fishing wasn’t great, so I started moving around while my protégé stuck it out hard on the edge. A little later I saw his silhouette emerge from the water’s edge, I flashed my light and he made his way over. I told him I had pulled one more fish from the nearby rocky bowl. He looked at the water and said, “Tell me what you see there. Like, why did you think there would be a fish there?”
I explained that, as I stood there watching the heave, I saw that the waves were dumping massive amounts of water over an outer arm of ledge. The water building up in the back the of the bowl had to go somewhere and there, in the fading light of the half moon, I could see a persistent current rushing out against the onslaught of the waves. To me it seemed like a perfect scenario, the waves kicking bait up in the bowl, the bait being carried to the sea where a striper might hold, waiting for a chance to strike.
Youth isn’t contagious. But the curiosity and the drive to learn is. In that moment when he asked me why I fished that spot and I heard myself answer, I saw what each of us was bringing to the table. I am happy to trade my experience for the drive to push myself, to feel a new curiosity and for a few good laughs.