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Fishing for Dreams

Fishing for Dreams
Notes from the Water’s Edge

by Dennis Colin Reid

Exerpt Below

Fishing for Dreams Cover

A great gift for all anglers and for all those who know an angler! The eagerly awaited, Fishing for Dreams, combines D.C. Reid the man of fishing and D.C. Reid the man of literature. The result is an uncommonly fine book of essays and stories in the tradition of Nick Lyons, James Babb and Trey Combs.

These stories range widely over the fishing territory of British Columbia and Alberta where Reid grew up, appropriately, on Fish Creek., to later haunts of Westslope Cutthroat trout rivers and a range of remote saltwater remote locales from Victoria to the Queen Charlotte Islands. There are tales of the ghosts of summer, summer steelhead, that are spotted first by their shadows on the bottom and next on the swung-end of elusive beautiful Spey casts; to the ballet that is motor-mooching 50 pound kings among orchestrated boats at remote saltwater rock walls; to the tug of war that is galloping halibut.

Roderick Haig-Brown’s lucid elegiac prose introduced the world to the beauties of British Columbia’s waters. Reid carries the tradition forward.

Click here to purchase.

D.C. Reid is a gifted angling writer published in more than 50 magazines across North America, syndicated in newspapers around the world and on 6 websites. For other articles and books, visit Catch Salmon BC.

Here is the introduction to the book:

Chapter 1: Why I Fish And Do Not Hunt

Reaching into the invisible and pulling out the beautiful. This is fishing’s greatest appeal. It is magic, an art form. At its most basic, this art is about killing another animal and the speeding of the heart that attends. And thus it is religion, for we must give thanks to the fish for surrendering its body for our tooth and mind to appreciate.

And when the last fish is killed, true appreciation begins; in my own life, the Klingon stilled after 10,000 deaths. Now, I think, this creature deserves its one life more than it deserves to have it removed. It deserves better than to have its body retained until freezer burn eliminates its taste and then thrown out without being consumed. It deserves life.

My view of life, how it works, comes from the most important things that I have learned. My first university degree is in zoology and biochemistry, a B.Sc. The great secret of these areas of human thought is a book of colour thrown open. From that open book is read the construction of life and the meaning of life. I was taught to understand life on a molecular level, and thus how the world of carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen works to conjure life from elements that contain none. Another great illumination is the evolution of species. Through the entire vertebrate world — fish, frogs, snakes, birds and mammals — with minor differences the same molecule, anti-diuretic hormone, regulates the removal of water from the blood in the kidneys.

The retention of one chemical is repeated in thousands of chemicals across the entire world of animals with backbones. This was a major revelation for me and helped prove to me that evolution of species is simply a fact; those who argue for divine intervention — not necessarily a Christian God — are simply incorrect. Every living thing can be explained in terms of its material of reproduction: DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, from viruses (with the exception of a few that have RNA) up to man. A mouse and a man have more than 90 percent of the same genetic material.

I do not quarrel with those who are religious. It is clear to me that religion, along with self awareness, language and economy is one of the most important aspects of our sentience. Religion is important as all men seek some way to explain the origins of life, our nature in life, a sense of law and morality and the nature of objects around us as well as what happens to living things when the form they are in dies and is degraded.

I am thus, as philosophers may wish to phrase my views, a soft biological determinist. As I see it, there is nothing beyond the physical. Thought is the function of the organ called the brain. I do not think my view is difficult to understand and it is not disagreeable to many people. It includes the knowledge that sentience is the result of a physical organ. Without the organ there is no self awareness. A rock, then, is not aware of itself.

Now that my view and its underpinnings have been sketched, it is time to move to the first time I remember catching a fish. I was five and my family was out at an office party along a stream. Two men came up and said that there was a trout under a rock they would like to catch. So they asked me to help. When they lifted the rock and the trout had to slither away in half an inch of water, I was supposed to grab it and they would take it. They had a large outdoor pool and other fish assembled over the years. I would be allowed to come along and see it.

So, the two of them hunkered down, hands upon a rock the size of a small ottoman. I squatted across the half-inch trickle of water flowing from under the rock. When they lifted, the trout squirted out and when it went past me, I reached into the stream and pulled it out. Just like that: no emotion, no prescience of what fish would come to mean to me later in life. It is no great hyperbole to say that fish now rule my life.

But though I felt no emotion about the fish other than possessiveness, I would not give it up to the men for their keeping in a large tank in their car. I would not honour the bargain that I had struck. No. Instead, I would take it home and keep it myself. Reluctantly, they put it in the squat relish bottle I presented. The fish was far too large for the small bottle and simply bent around the inside, unable to move. I can still see the image of the fish stuck in the bottle. Nevertheless, I was resolute in standing against the men and my parents.

Crying, unwilling to give up the fish, I had it transferred to the roaster in which we cooked the Sunday beef. By the time we got home the fish was leaning off centre. As I have come to know, the effort to stay upright is a deep instinct for a fish. One that cannot maintain its balance is going to die. I recall being in tears watching the fish for the rest of the afternoon, watching it lose ground and lose ground until it was upside down, belly-up in the roaster.

I knew that I had done something truly shameful. And that I had been wrong. Had I given the fish to the men it would have happily survived and I could have visited if I wished. Instead, my intransigence had resulted in death. Fish are not puppets suspended on silky strings. They are magic, in their dance within the liquid air, the red of their fan-shaped gills opening to take in life. This magic I had destroyed.

To this day, I recall this incident. I do not feel ashamed anymore but I remember. I did the wrong thing. I killed another living being at five years of age. It was a bad surprise I did not realize would happen. And yet it did.

Also in the early days, I remember going with my father and some other men in a large, dark, 1950s-era car. I rode in silence deep in the back seat and the men talked among themselves as we moved out along a brown trail. We walked into a forest where a stream flowed among the roots. Memory does not give me anyone with fishing gear, though a small trout was angled. It was put in my hand and I remember being hooked from that moment and in every moment that has followed. That a fish was invisible in knee-deep water was magic and I had to have them myself.

Sweat dripping down our chins and itching up my shirt, I watched the rainbow colours disappear as home we drove on the hot summer day. The fish was a hard glass corpse by the time we arrived and when cooked, its flesh I refused to eat. Since that day I have fished with greater and greater intensity. And it is the intensity of expectation, even when one is thrashed and truly beaten, that is the lure of fishing. There is no enjoyment of the summer day for me. For more than a couple score years it was the gambler’s sweat of possibility, the connection to the pleasure centre of the brain that explained my attachment to fishing.

I have read what the great writers have written and find their reasons not among my own. I have read and read the long, the involved, the high, the moral, the lofty, the etc. Read Dame Berners and Izaak Walton for such reasons of fishing’s allure. In her The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle, 1496, the Dame recommends fishing “pryncypally for your solace and to cause the helthe of your body and specially of your soule.” Walton in his happy little volume, The Compleat Angler, further observed, in 1653, “Its solitary recreation banishes idleness and allows time for serious and holy contemplation.”

I find none of that. I make the argument that fishing is the finest form of battle. And the moment of fish in the sky under tension to the tip is battle of greatest purity. But to call it purity is to overlook the biological facts. My understanding of the world is of its molecules, its serotonin, amygdala, cell membrane potentials and nerves that work by the sodium and potassium ion pumps. Unless all those work, there is no pleasure in the centre of the brain. I am one whose wiring receives so much nervous anticipation that I cannot sleep before going fishing, that in my ’50s I still wake before the alarm clock rings (and cannot leave the alarm clock off because I cannot sleep, worrying all night that I’ll be asleep when it is time to go).

And, of course, fishing is reckless gambling. You place your money, the ball totters among the catching cups and then it lands. If you are right, it pays 35 to 1. But of course, the odds are stacked against you. Slowly you lose and keep on losing, all the while keeping hope that you will win. Such is the mind set of the addicted gambler; and so it is of the angler. And that is what fishing is to me: it is an addiction, one of great pleasure. And it is more: it is part of my identity. Part of who I am. Beyond the biological purpose of reproducing one of one’s kind, which is life’s only purpose (consider that if there were no need for reproduction, we would never be born, and life could never have evolved) I was put here to catch fish, and I do that. And that truly is something large and important. For the hardwiring of personality presents the opportunity to find out who you are and do what your mind tells you to do in this one finite chance at life. In current psychology speak, if you know what your feelings are and you know why you have those feelings then you must act in accord with them to be fulfilled.

Fishing is fulfillment of who I am. Examination of the motives that move me to fish leads on to examining why I make it the focus of my life; that is, the rest of my life is organized around fishing. Each year I catch and release more than 500 salmon. I do this because doing fishing is doing me. Doing Dennis – the best thing that I can do. I do not think about fishing, per se, I do not think about the river or the ocean because my focus is on catching the fish before me. If one does what one is set on this Earth to do, then one has happily achieved something far too few people achieve in this short one-time entry into the existent. I am completely absorbed in the environment and the techniques of fly and gear in an effort to understand and reap the rewards of a beautiful wild creature that I appreciate and then send along its way unharmed.

When I fish, the boundary between nature and me disappears. I am simply another part of it, not a man isolated from his source. I have never felt outside of or distinct from nature. The view that the world of man is separate from the world of nature is not my view. What I do feel, instead, is that the world of man has lost its way if it cannot be a part of the world that engenders and surrounds it. It is an existence that is unhappy. Consider the question: is it better to die or never have existed at all, that union of sperm and egg finagled by your mother and father? Let me answer that it is better to exist and die though death is an unhappy eventuality for those who live and for all those who know them.

I am often asked whether I hunt. And I suppose, when you fish as I do, it is a form of hunting. Knowledge built up over decades makes one far more capable of drawing a bead on a fish. This fine knowledge includes fish behaviour, water and its hydraulic considerations. It grants me the chance to fool the predatory instinct of fish who are carnivores by and large and seek out and eat what they want. Strangely, a spinner, a Vibrax Blue Fox, Bolo or whatever, does not even resemble a kind of food and yet a fish will follow, be stimulated by and glom the lure. I have had unhooked fish refuse to give up a spinner blade until they were in the net, even though it didn’t look, taste or feel like real food.

I am a hunter of fish. I grew up on the Alberta prairie north and south of Calgary, Alberta. When I was a boy, every boy in the country, and most in the city, had a gun. It was common for kids to be seen on the waste lands with a BB gun, a small air-compression weapon, often shaped like a Winchester. Loading the barrel, as in a shot gun, you pumped the barrel and compressed air that when the trigger was pulled fired a round copper pellet.

I had a pellet gun, a rifle much more powerful than a BB gun. I also had a 22, that fired a single, gunpowder-propelled lead bullet. Open the breach, insert the bullet, slide in the bolt, put the gun on safety and pull back fully, then crack, the gun reported across the 1950s and early ’60s prairie, its grey and yellow, its snow in the lee of the wolf willow, crocus gaping before the last snow left the land.

At that time, gophers (a small, social ground squirrel) were considered vermin and a bounty of five cents was paid for each tail. Taking the life of an animal was worth only a nickel and I was a very good shot. Gophers were considered bad because their holes, sometimes a foot or two across, and tailings, stretching in a six- to eight-foot circle, were said to result in broken legs for horses. So they said. I paid for my bullets easily by killing gophers and then had money for other things. A diminutive bounty hunter you could say.

One day, I looked down the unused well that filled almost to the surface every spring. I discovered a wet gopher, scrabbling at the inside walls of the foot diameter pipe. It would swim until it drowned. That was the only outcome. Or I could shoot it. But I didn’t think of the option of putting it out of its misery. I just went into the house and in the night, when I was wakeful, knew that while I was safe and warm this animal was dying. I have no memory of going back to check on it. It was an irrelevant death and a small tragedy.

In a boy’s careless brutality, I learned to hunt efficiently. I learned to aim low so the malleable bullet would bounce from the ground distorted and thus on entry mushroom up into the animal in a broader shape that would be more effective in killing. When I was about 13, I had pretty much stopped shooting gophers. Without moral qualms about what I had done, I moved on to a different use for my guns. The last death crystallized my mind; never again could I kill with a gun.

Walking east in grasses that swished my knees to the ravine leading down to Fish Creek where the cliffs had worn away and were just a hill, I was attracted to the song of a sparrow. Its black feet wrapped the wire of the barbed-wire fence. I took aim at that sparrow and when the shot rang out it fell from the wire and plopped within the swaying timothy and brome. I had shot off the roof of its skull and it lay in the grasses far away from itself, small convoluted brain beating in a light pink fluid. I knew immediately, and deeply, that I had done a great wrong that could not be righted. That was the last animal I shot, and though the purpose of hunting is to procure meat, I found I could never again take aim at a warm animal. My shooting was restricted to popping screws out of fence posts over the cliffs and to shooting the stalks of Queen Anne’s Lace so they would fall over. One day, I put the barrel of the gun in a vice and hit it with a hammer so that it would never again kill anything. The bolt I threw from the cliff into what was left of my childhood.

These decades later, I have no issue with others who want to bring a moose or bear or elk or goose home to the kitchen table. That is their right. Hunting for food is legitimate and lawful. So while I cannot hunt, I have no dispute with those who want to.

My dispute, my quiet resistance, is with those who tell us we ought not hunt or fish. People who don’t like a certain activity or outcome are allowed to have their view. But political correctness is all about crossing a fundamental boundary. That is the boundary between what I like or do not like and telling the rest of society they must feel and act the same way. Animal-rights activists extend their argument from themselves to society when they suggest that hunting and fishing are immoral and abusing to animals particularly if the fisherman (the more enlightened and ethical of us) releases his catch.

It is suggested that killing an animal, a grizzly bear for instance, is morally repugnant and should be stopped. My answer to this line of reasoning is that it is manipulative. The way to deal with the actions of one another is to accept and respect their right to do as they lawfully wish. It is of interest to me that this method of dealing with one’s feelings is in essence existential. Psychoanalysis has much to thank Jean Paul Sartre and his concepts of Good Faith and Bad Faith. If someone has an opposing view, I am not angered, I do not want them to change.

We live in a world, now, where most of us never have the life of another creature in our hands. We do not regularly kill. Remember, though, that before the 1950s most people had their own cows and chickens and when they wanted a dinner, they butchered an animal. Every person knew today’s roast came from a stunned cow strung up by the sinews of its hind leg, its throat slashed so the blood could seep out in its copiousness. That is the way of the world. For anything to live, it must kill other animals or plants. But over the decades, the activity of butchering has more and more become the basis of business rather than a killing each of us must do. And today more than 2.5 million cattle are slaughtered each year, in Canada, alone. This does not include chickens, hogs, sheep and other animals.

And we avoid the killing. I could not stand being in an abbatoir even for an hour. Our meat comes to us sanitized, in white foam trays, with bright labels for payment. The meat is clean, neat, attractive. No guts. No hair disfiguring the cut. No sawdust. No shit. We have become separated from ourselves, separated from the reality that living necessitates killing. Thus today, those who wish others to stop killing fish or other animals can sway opinion because all of us have become distanced from the killing our lives necessarily involve.

For me, there is an irony. While I say if you don’t wish to eat meat, don’t, I also don’t eat meat, but not for any moral reason. I am allergic to meat and thus cannot eat it. I say, accept what others do and accept what you do. I will continue fishing. I will continue letting 98% of the fish I catch go. And I will go on feeling guilt when I take the life of a fish for my dinner or for that of a close friend or family. I have never met a fish that wanted me to kill it. How many do you think want to be let go?

Join me at the river bank. Join me with your fly and your eyes searching the braiding elements. We will go back to being kids, when summer days lasted forever and every fish was a mystery and a sudden beating of the heart. Let us enjoy the odd truth that of what we remember, none comes from the past. Each time we think of the fish that tried us so, we are, so the scientists now tell us, conjuring an image from one side of the brain, and the sensations from another, and the effect on our emotions is brought to a peak the moment we think it by the small almond of the brain, the amygdala, that assembles our memories in the present though we think of them as from the past. We still think of our complete thoughts as engrams as was thought in the times of Orwell or Huxley, in their totalitarian literature. Some things are not as we think, and that is not a bad thing.