I HAVE noticed that I often see aquariums full of fish in doctors’ offices. I have also seen them in dentists’ waiting rooms and only recently made a connection. The motion of a fish moving through water is quite tranquil and has a calming effect on those who witness it.
Perhaps these aquariums serve just such a role for someone preparing for a root canal or other unpleasant procedure. A slowly moving fish can glide effortlessly through an aquatic medium and in doing so and without intent, make a human being feel better. I find that amazing. I have watched a million fish swim, dive, rise, and merely maintain buoyancy. I can confidently state that the relationship between man and fish that I just described is proven fact.
When I release a fish that I just caught, I do so with as much enthusiasm as that which went in to hooking it. Pausing only occasionally for a picture, I cradle a fish in my hand, slowly lower it into the water, and let them swim away only when they are well rested and ready.
The fish often take their time and, once free of my grasp, mingle nearby allowing me to watch. They seem to gather their wits, perhaps asking themselves what the heck just happened, then shake their head in a proverbial sense, and return to their preferred habitat. I imagine it as a pleasant experience for both parties.
Last week, my, man-fish-tranquility-relationship was further solidified during a lunch break. I had been fishing a favorite trout stream in Coos County and took a break when, after a long hike, I got within sight of my truck. I had walked far upstream, casting dry flies into the frequent step-pools created by fallen trees. Every pool held a brook trout and I was able to hook and land a third of those that rose to my fly.
Back at the truck, I grabbed a ham sandwich that had been in my cooler since the previous work day. The bread was a little moist and the ham had taken on the color of old paper. I sat on a wooden bridge that spanned the brook and rather unenthusiastically ate the sandwich. Below the bridge was a deep pool that I had not yet fished. Created by the scouring of water rushing through a culvert, the pool was deep and dark. I was sure that fish were swimming around that pool and wondered how to connect with them. My fly rod was resting on the hood of my truck, but I knew that I longed for something different.
I ripped a small piece of ham from the exposed corner of my sandwich and rubbed it between thumb and forefinger which created a very small ham-worm. I dropped this curious creation from the bridge where it landed in the slow-moving side of the brook. This location was unobstructed by turbulence and offered a perfect view of what was to become an epiphany.
Instantly, a brook trout rose from the pool and consumed the ham. I was not really surprised, but laughed out loud like a child. I stopped just short of clapping. Not necessarily because the ham sandwich was so gross, but inspired by my new contact with fish, I continued feeding fish until I ran through that sandwich.
On that day, while actively fishing, I hooked and landed seven trout with rod and reel. Sitting in the dusty gravel on that bridge, I felt a deeper appreciation watching three fish swim and eat — occasionally fighting each other for bits of my day-old sandwich. I’m not sure which part of my adventure was the most satisfying but, in 50 years I will not remember those trout that rose to my fly. I will never forget those fish that I fed from the bridge.