The trout ripped line from my probably too-loose drag, as I battled it ever closer to my net. Ordinarily, nothing short of a sunbathing supermodel calling my name could distract me from this, the zenith of my craft, but a line from the audiobook I was listening to left me reeling when I should’ve been reeling.
Fishing alone just minutes from my house, I was listening to a book called “The Last Tribe” in which a flu-like pandemic ends life as we know it. The line? “This pandemic, it’s brought a new kind of order to my mind; it has simplified everything.”
The 24-inch rainbow trout I’d landed earlier in the day didn’t hit as hard as that quote, which echoed in my earbud as I stood there, speechless. You’d think fishing by myself would make me speechless by default, but I spend plenty of time talking to myself (often inexplicably in accents) as I meander along the lakeshore or riverbank, putting in miles or minutes between fish depending on the day.
The quote had thrown off my groove, and I let my guard down just long enough to see this fish, a chromed 21- or 22-inch native rainbow, tailwalk, throw the swimbait and leave me to my thoughts.
At a time where everyone is concerned about what they might catch, I’m concerned about what I might not catch. Already, I’ve had to cancel trips to Nashville, San Antonio, Portland and Monterey this spring, trips I’d been looking forward to for months. Most were for work, but I always manage to squeeze in some fishing when I travel — even if it means showing up to my meeting or conference a little haggard the next morning or skipping a meal to sneak out to the river by the hotel in a tie and shirtsleeves.
As I cope with the loss of these would-be adventures, I find myself settling into a new normal in which I’m more cognizant of my recreation dollars than ever before. COVID-19 has spared few people financially, and I’m no exception. Don’t pity me, though, because the trade worked out in my favor. I work less than a quarter of my former 60 hours per week while still making about half the money. That means I find myself with 45 more hours to fish and unleash my inner windbag on you every single week.
Wealth and opulence have never been my desire nor my reality, but neither have I ever been content with sameness. This “coach wanderlust” has allowed me to chase fish all over the world at only moderate cost, and that mostly to my personal life.
In the face of COVID-19, I wallowed in my own misery and lived in that self-defeating, pitiful headspace for a few days. The world didn’t change overnight to accommodate my complaints, and since I couldn’t find its manager to harangue until I got my way, I adapted.
Being staked down in the front yard and forced to stay within the bounds of my tether is new for me. Not since high school have I felt so limited, but just as the chained dog learns to play and live within its limits, I’m learning to be content with what is within my reach, trying new stretches of lakeshore every day and exploring the river I don’t normally fish in April. I’m fishing places I’ve perpetually overlooked, like that little geothermal ditch loaded with goldfish and pumpkinseed that will take jigs and nymphs readily, it turns out. I’m marking off those places I always said I’d fish “someday” but never have. And, much to the delight of my neighbors, I’m completing all of the outdoor projects around the house.
With less money to spend, I’m not taking the boat out and burning $50 worth of boat gas for four fish when I can catch one or two from shore for $5.
Without the ability to travel, I’m playing in my backyard more than ever, and you know what’s weird? I’m actually fishing more. Though it may not be exotic or glamorous, I’ve spent more time on the water in April than ever before. I’ve fished 16 of 21 days at the time of writing, and I get to keep this schedule up for at least a month.
Sure, my life is missing a lot of pieces, but rather than lament what’s missing, I’m going to keep enjoying what isn’t for as long as I can. You should, too.