It’s thrilling to feel a fish tugging on the line.
After all the waiting around, your heart jumps at the first sudden jolt, followed by the frantic pulling, diving, and darting.
The drama unfolds underwater. The anticipation builds as you wait to see what you hooked.
I thought of this recently while walking my dog, Boomer, a big shaggy 100-pound goldendoodle.
Despite years of scolding from my wife, I never did train him properly. He still tugs on the leash when we walk.
Eleven years ago, he was so strong and so excited for our walks, it was easier just to give in and jog instead of walking.
Win-win situation. He and I both got exercise.
Occasionally I even fastened his harness to a long rope and tied that to the yellow electric Jeep which my son Jesse used to drive around our neighborhood.
That too was a win-win situation. My son was delighted by the increased speed, and Boomer got a great workout.
Nowadays, the dog is older, and my son is, too. The Jeep has long since been given away. In another year, my son will begin driving real cars.
Boomer has less energy now. He still occasionally pulls on the leash, and sometimes it annoys me. But my new habit is to try to remind myself of the life-force on the other end of the line. It’s not as exciting as fighting a fish, but I mean, it’s on the scale.
When Boomer is pulling, I tell myself to be grateful. This dog has given my family so much love, kindness, and devotion. We are lucky to have him. Thank God he is still here pulling the leash!
Fishing wise, my family has done its share. My father, Tom Troyer, a Nebraska native, caught this 8-pound-5-ounce Brown trout in the early 1950s on the Straight River in Minnesota:
My sister’s son, Bruno Zicarelli, caught this 23-inch Brown trout in Montana last week:
And then there is my other brother, Ken Troyer, who eclipsed us all, fishing wise, by devoting his entire professional life to the creatures.
Ken is a fisheries biologist for the federal government. Based in Boise, Idaho, he studies and helps manage our nation’s native salmon populations.
Almost 30 years ago, when he was based in Alaska, he was nice enough to invite me for two summers of fish work north of the Arctic Circle.
The first summer, we traveled from lake to lake by small airplanes. We set gill nets in remote wilderness lakes to gather data on fish populations. If you think it’s exciting to reel in a line with a single fish on it, imagine slowly pulling up from the dark, hidden depths an entire net full of them.
The next summer, after my first year of college, we worked by ourselves on a single big lake, Walker Lake. We netted Arctic char, trout, and every other kind of fish in the lake, including a burbot, a species I’d never even heard of. (Long, slimy, prehistoric-looking things.)
We tagged these fish and released them. For years afterward, anglers were still catching some of the same ones we had tagged, and were reporting back on the size and age of the fish.
That was a magical summer in 1987. We were by ourselves in the middle of truly remote, pristine wilderness. We were so far north, the daylight seemed to last forever.
In recent years, I have cut back on fishing. At some point I started to feel guilty. Even though our family has always practiced catch-and-release (unless we plan to eat the fish), I started thinking about how terrifying and painful the whole ordeal likely is for the fish.
I still go fishing, but I stop as soon as I have enough to eat.
There’s a song Bruce Springsteen wrote after the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks. One verse goes like this:
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin’ on the end of my line
It’s a hell of a thing to be connected to another living thing, whether a fish, dog, or human being.
It’s not always a happy tension, like a dog excited for his walk. Sometimes it’s the fish fighting for its life. Sometimes it’s your teenaged child straining for more freedom or independence. Or your spouse with a different idea about how things ought to be done.
When possible, I try to remember the ancient Buddhist saying about winning the war by losing the war. I drop the leash and let Boomer roam where he wants. Or I concede the argument and let my kids do what they want.
When I fail to do this, which admittedly is most of the time, I tug back, sometime hard.
Instead, I should be reminding myself: Isn’t this amazing? We are alive, and connected.