And so it came to pass that the Fisherman decided to go back to his favorite spot on the St Lawrence river and seek out the fish that had nourished his stomach and intellect for so long. The ever-present Pike. Even when he hadn’t seen one in a while, the Fisherman knew they were out there, just waiting to get hooked and reeled in.
With the decision made the night before, the Fisherman rose early knowing that the fish always bit better in the morning, when they too, were just waking up. The Fisherman chuckled to himself at the irony that at the moment the Pike were out hunting for their own breakfast they would become breakfast themselves. They were dancing to nature’s music and he enjoyed the relationship he had with the Pike of the River. It was a satisfying relationship.
As the Fisherman drove his old pickup down the dirt road that only he knew leading to his favorite spot, he had a moment to reflect. Looking inward, the Fisherman couldn’t remember just how he had found his spot on the River. What brought it to his attention for the first time so long ago? He couldn’t remember. His spot had always been his spot for as long as he could remember and while he was certain there were other locales just as stocked with Pike (and even the occasional Muskie now and then), he wouldn’t trade his spot for anything. He had spent too long a time learning its shy and subtle queues and hints to leave. No, this was his spot.
After the short drive through tight forest on a dirt track worn down by only his tires, he finally arrived at the shoreline. The Fisherman made sure to not announce his arrival too loudly; no need to let those amateur weekend fishermen to learn his special spot. They were unserious and would squander his spot and cause the Pike to leave if they ever found it. So, he parked his truck in a small clearing off to the side of the track and well within the wood line, away from the shore.
The Fisherman hopped out, reached into the bed of his truck where he pulled out his well-worn tackle box and rod and headed down to the flat rock that would be his seat for the day. His tackle box, light green and faded from the hot sun contained what amounted to the Fisherman’s accumulated experience of fishing. Each section of his tackle box contained different lures and hooks and represented a different era in his past and earlier version of his own understanding of his quarry.
You can’t learn everything all at once. Instead, knowledge is accumulated slowly and, once applied, becomes wisdom. The Fisherman’s tackle box was that accumulation of knowledge. The wisdom however, he kept hidden.
Breaking out of the woodline and making for his favorite rock/seat, he scanned the shore. Everything was just as he had left it; every reed, every rock, every branch. It amazed the Fisherman to think that while his favorite spot on the River was exactly as he left it; exactly as he expected when he returned, it was different nonetheless. How did he know this? Because the River is not a thing, it is action, is it movement. The water he was watching flow by was not the same water that he saw flowing the last time he was here. No man can set foot in the same river twice and here was a perfect example of this age old adage. His spot was both the same and different at the same time. What surprises might he find this morning?
As he thought of this, the Fisherman wondered how the Pike themselves experienced this dichotomy. They existed in the River, yet the flowing water raced past the same rocks and logs that they observed every day of their existence. Did the Pike notice the newness of the cool water rushing over them and the sameness of all those rocks and sunken logs?
Shaking his head at such unknowable and silly questions, he made his way towards the rock that would be his seat for the day. As he surveyed the inlet, he took note of the many details of the location; details lost on those amateur weekenders. He knew how to read the water, the shoreline, the vegetation, the very surface of the water itself. He knew that the lessons learned over the years told him what to look for, where to look and the baits the Pikes enjoyed the most. The Fisherman’s skills had become so innate that he hardly took notice of the mental checklist he used on every excursion.
Reeds along the shoreline?
Deep and cool water?
Random branch providing shade over the water?
Eddies creating small ‘carve outs’ for the Pike to congregate or feel comfortable and safe?
Check, check, check, check and check. Yes, this was his spot and it was ready for the first cast of the day.
Sitting quietly along the shore and settling into the small hollow of his flat rock, he set his rod down and brought his small tackle box onto his lap. He enjoyed this part of the ritual. Rummaging through all the old and new lures representing his own personal history of learning; learning to fish, learning to read his environment, being aware that his environment had something to tell him at all. These memories all came back to him as he fingered each lure before dismissing it for the one in the next tray. Which lure worked best? Which lure had the fish learned to avoid? And the hooks! Which hook to use? Which would be sufficient to hook his favorite fish, but not be so damaging as to ruin his catch and spoil the spot altogether?
But, as the Fisherman well knew, the old ways are the best ways. He picked up the lure that had brought him so much attention from the pikes on previous mornings. While he was always on the look out for a Pike’s new proclivities and tastes, he was hesitant to change horses in midstream. The black lure with the long slender and chromed neck always did the trick to get their attention. They were a rare lure, but effective nonetheless. So few others knew of this lure that once in the water, it always caused quite a stir.
After attaching the lure to his line, adding the appropriate weights and bobber, the Fisherman made his first cast. It wasn’t long before he made his first catch of the quiet morning. The tug on the line seemed to even cause the mist hanging over the water to jump back. The Fisherman knew the Pike were there in the dark waters. He also knew they liked this particular spot. Over the years, the Fisherman grew more surprised when he didn’t hook a Pike than the days that he did. It was almost as if the Pike knew their responsibility in nature’s dance and willfully obliged him; they wanted to be there with the Fisherman. Why was this? Was it simply in their nature or was there a larger context at play? The Fisherman figured there must be something else going on in that River that he could only suspect at.
The Pike is a strong fish made strong from the flowing waters of the St Lawrence. No weakling fish would survive long in such a challenging environment. But the tug on the Fisherman’s line this morning was different from those he had come to expect. It wasn’t nearly as strong as the other Pike he had experienced over the years.
Perhaps it wasn’t a Pike at all? There are, as they say, plenty of fish out there. They can’t all be Pike. Maybe it was an imposter hanging around the Pike’s favorite spot and merely trying to blend in like that Muskie from recent times? Or maybe a Large Mouth Bass? They were smaller fish than the Pike; maybe that would explain the weaker fight on the line? Good eating, but not nearly as interesting a taste to both the palette and mind as the Pike.
After a short struggle the Fisherman finally reeled in his catch. He passed his pole to his right hand and took the line with his left, bringing the small fish in close to inspect it. Yup, this was a Pike alright. It had all the markings indicative of a Pike, the shape of its head, the placement of its fins. There was no two ways about it, he had caught a Pike.
The Fisherman even went so far as to check closely to see if he had misidentified a Muskie as a Pike like he had before. Muskie were known to be in the area and he had experience with them. But upon closer inspection, it was a solid hit: it was a Pike and only a Pike.
But this particular Pike was much smaller than the ones he was accustomed to catching here. Normally, the Pike he came across were 10 pounders and experienced in the River. But this one was much smaller, immature, untested.
Thinking to himself, the Fisherman couldn’t understand how such a small fish would end up on the end of his fishing line. Didn’t the other Pike teach it? Didn’t the other Pike at this spot warn the baby Pike that the Fisherman was a professional and knew what he was looking for? And, if the more mature Pike wanted to be hooked by the Fisherman as called for in Nature’s dance, why would they allow the immature Pike to take their place?
Then it dawned on the Fisherman that this particular Pike may be of a different school than the other Pike he was accustomed to seeing. Perhaps this new school of Pike were new to the area and were unaware of the Fisherman along the bank? Or perhaps they saw the Fisherman but failed to recognize his skill at recognizing their brethren? If this were the case then (a new school of Pike), doesn’t it stand to reason that the original school of Pike that the Fisherman was already familiar with would tell the new and visiting school of their bank-side observer?
But what if the visiting Pike were unaware of the location’s current residents? Or vice versa?
Or, if they were aware of each other, why would two separate schools of the same species of fish not communicate their presence to the other, to say nothing of the Fisherman overhead and his known abilities to find them?
A different thought then occurred to the Fisherman. What if the “first” school of Pike were not the first ones here? What if the visiting school of Pike were actually the first at this spot? It was at this point the Fisherman could feel a headache beginning with the idea of effects preceding causes. He was certain he was witnessing something interesting and strange (as represented by hooking such an immature Pike), but he felt there was likely much more going on in the murky water than he was then aware of.
Squinting his eye and looking hard at the little Pike, the Fisherman said, “Well, little Pike, welcome to the best spot on the whole St. Lawrence. I’m glad you’re here and I welcome you. I look forward to many more days such as this one, knowing that you are out there enjoying this small inlet with your friends. But you should be more careful. While I am a friendly Fisherman, I am a fisherman nonetheless. Why your friends did not prepare you better for my presence I do not know. But now you know: I am here and I expect a more engaging spirit from the Pike I hook.”