Death by 1000 cuts

Death by 1000 cuts

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The enjoyment for “cracking the code”, solving a puzzle, and deliberately seeking a challenge are inherent character traits of almost all of the fly anglers I personally know, and apparently, a lot of others that I have “met” only through electronic communications. There are obviously a lot of easier ways to catch a fish! Why, even the act of casting a fly rod is a continual challenge - one that in all probability will confound me for the rest of my days.

Considering the list of the associated challenges, like accumulating the necessary gear, tying flies, mastering esoteric knots, and fighting fish on deliberately manual tackle, the game of tricking a fish into eating a synthetic substitute may actually be one of the easier tasks. One must simply understand their habits and preferences then recognize and mimic their prey, but of course that is much easier said than done. Before getting one to eat though, the angler must first find the fish. Personally, I think the latter might be getting tougher. Which is troubling considering all the advancements to modern electronic equipment, the systematic scientific study of the species, and the easily available shared information, it would seem that finding them should be easier now than ever. That of course presumes the populations are somewhat stable.

Somewhere I read about a hierarchy of achievements. First the angler simply strives to catch a fish; then they want to catch a lot of fish; after that, they have a quest for a large fish; and finally, there is the goal of catching a lot of large fish. Along the way, as each level is mastered there is a true sense of accomplishment. When that particular level can be repeated one moves up a notch and starts anew. Some folks actually tame the entire staircase, but then what? After each notch in the belt repeating the achievement loses some of the luster.


With 60 now receding in my rearview mirror, being a lifelong avid angler and having fished since exiting the womb in the same general location for the same species of fish, I have managed to reach that semisweet point of diminishing enjoyment with a few local species. Of course, one will occasionally return to the scene of the crime just to prove to oneself that age has not taken too much of a toll.


Cracking the code does not happen overnight, and it is not just hours on the water either, it takes years to really get a glimpse of annual variations. Eventually one begins to accumulate sort of a scrapbook of techniques and recognition of seasonal patterns. Some folks keep in-depth notes while others simply develop a feel. Putting it all together and repeating the conquest each year replaces that elation of achievement with a feeling of comfort. It's like meeting up with an old friend: time may have passed but all is still good. “It was nice seeing you again, let's do this again next year”!


It is a sad fact that the longer one lives the more folks they will watch being lowered into the ground. Without getting into metaphysics it would appear that people are one and done, at least as far as those remaining above ground are concerned. With old friends that have fins, however, we don’t really expect to meet the same individual every year. It could happen, but just meeting up with their relatives is all that is required to rekindle the relationship.


A fishing buddy who is about 10 years my senior has repeatedly stated, “We have seen the best of it”. This comes up when we reminisce about how good the fishing used to be. In one way it is a relief that others, who had the majority of the pieces of the puzzle in place, are also baffled to find that the picture on the pieces seems to be changing. It tells me that I am not alone. I had thought that maybe it was me not being quite as proficient that I once was. But on the other hand, it really is depressing to realize that I may be seeing a beloved species population repeatedly declining.


The fish I have come to know and appreciate, and the unique environment where I meet them, the Everglades, have suffered one injury after another for decades: freezes, droughts, algae blooms, hypersalinity events, overfishing, mismanagement, political connivery, and ignorance in its ultimate meaning… being ignored.


I am definitely not alone in this assessment. So many others have recognized this situation that groups like “The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust” aka “BTT” have formed to scientifically study the situation and maybe identify some reasons or cures before it is too late. A lot of folks in South Florida rely on tourism from angling and the environment for their livelihoods. And for a lot of folks, like me, it is what gives meaning to their lives.


For years I kept notes and searched for patterns associated with the months on a calendar. When I realized that was no longer valid I broadened my view and considered seasons instead. For a number of years now I can only simply look at weather conditions, as now, even seasons are no longer reliable.


For those of you trying to crack the code: enjoy the ride. The journey is truly more fun than the destination. I hope you have a consistent background image on the puzzle to work on. That has definitely not been the case here in South Florida.


Next week, when you will read this, I will be out in the ‘glades looking for some old friends. Wish us luck!