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Sam Cook column: Fishing and life - the one that got away

A story my brother told me a couple of years ago still comes to mind on a regular basis. He's a fly fisherman, and he had been out West, fishing one of Montana's premier trout streams. He fishes often with the same guide, and they have become friends through their sport.

Jim had cast to a trout — a brown, a rainbow? That detail escapes me. But he had either misplaced his cast or failed to connect when the fish tried to take his offering. In any case, he had missed a good opportunity at a decent fish.

Jim is an experienced fly-fisher, and he knew he had squandered a good chance. His guide, no doubt, knew it, too.

As he stripped in line to make another cast, Jim apparently was chastising himself for missing the fish. It was what the guide said next that has stuck with me.

"He said, 'Fish the future, Jimmy. Fish the future,'" Jim told me.

What a great line. I've thought about that many times since Jim told me the story.

So simple. So wise.

How many times have any of us felt the subtle take of a walleye or crappie or a perch — whatever — and tried to set the hook, only to come up empty. I don't know why it's so deflating. Happens to me all the time. A chance, a moment, an opportunity — lost.

We want to see that fish. We want to feel its heft at the end of our line. Any tap, any bite could be the "big one." Or at least another one.

What has kept that insightful guide's words etched in the folds of my brain, though, is how applicable they are in our lives beyond fishing. We miss the buzzer-beater. We fail to take advantage of some business opportunity. We wait too long to connect with someone who might have changed the course of our life. Opportunity slips away.

It does no good to stew about it, to wallow in self-pity, to berate ourselves.

"Fish the future, Jimmy. Fish the future."

Pick up the pieces. Learn from the experience. Move on as quickly as possible. That's all we can do.

I think one of the reasons the guide's words resonated with me is that I'm not particularly effective at executing them. I'm always amazed by the resilience of NFL quarterbacks who miss a receiver or get plowed under by some behemoth defensive lineman or watch a tight end drop a perfectly thrown pass. How many times have we seen that quarterback come back on the next series — or next play — and connect for a long gain or a touchdown?

How do they do that? They have short memories.

"Fish the future, Jimmy. Fish the future."

The next play is a new opportunity. Accept the setback. Wipe the slate clean. Move on.

Most of us carry around a bag of regrets, a bundle of could-have-beens, a passel of if-onlys. They make us human. We can choose to live back there, stewing in anger or remorse. Or we can choose to learn from those opportunities and look ahead.

Jim and I come from the same tangle of genetics and received the same messages at home. Try hard. Do a good job. Good things will come.

Somehow, we didn't get a ready script for what happens when we come up short. Maybe a lot of us don't get that script.

But if you're lucky, somewhere along the way a spouse or a friend — or a good fishing guide — can help you learn it before it's too late.

"Fish the future, Jimmy. Fish the future."

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