Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Thursday, December 20, 2018
A Christmas Story
Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Good, The Bad and The Lucky
When it comes to fishing, I’ve never allowed myself to believe in luck. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist for as sure there is a nick in my line that won’t break no matter how much force I apply in pulling free of a snag, there is one that will fail a moment later when an eight-pounder strikes. Luck of every description rides shotgun with us; I’m just not willing to acknowledge its existence. To do so would mean that I accept the bad kind as much, or as willingly, or as honestly as I do the good.

When good luck comes calling, the sun is shining and, it seems, all things are possible. Casts fall precisely where we direct them. There are no cut fingers, forgotten sunglasses or dead batteries. The fish are somehow powerless against our wile and cat-like physicality. We are an unstoppable force, blending art and science seamlessly together in a water-borne ballet of angling perfection. We are fishing gods.

When it goes right, it feels like that. When it goes wrong, it is a much different kettle of, well, no fish. It is a cold and black place where even once-friendly allies conspire against you. Of course it is an exaggeration to compare our petty little fishing foibles to something as terrible as, say, the Game of Thrones Red Wedding scene, but, yeah, it does feel something like crossbows and daggers.

In my experience, the start to the day can mean everything. Sometimes the smallest of things can be the tipping point in creating an aura of invincibility or one of failure. Attitude, as they often say, is everything.

One morning not all that long ago, I awoke to a day full of promise, the kind with that certain sunrise where you are assured of needing only a fleece hoody to be comfortable. The hitch lowered right down onto the ball without any muscling required, all the trailer lights, even the balky ones, shone brightly and no one else was on the road.

About halfway to the lake, the neon glow of a mini-mart appeared up ahead. Nothing like a cup of coffee to get the juices flowing. That is, until I realized, I already had one. It was my favorite mug, the one that always fit perfectly in every cup holder and was right there when I was hooking up the boat. Fuming, I pulled into the parking lot and slammed the door of the truck. Me and that mug had been through a lot together and now I had left it to some lonely roadside graveyard. As I walked towards the store, certain there was little chance of replacing the finest travel mug ever to have been, I saw my old friend still sitting there, right where I had left it on the tongue of the trailer. In an instant, my mood went from despair to elation, a small celebration of good fortune followed by a silent affirmation that I quite possibly might be the smoothest driving, boat trailering fisherman ever. Yes, it happens that fast. Good luck is as seductive as morphine is addictive. Without missing a beat, I had spun the story from being a very minor disaster into something uplifting. And, since the rest of the day went quite memorably, I’m sure I took credit for that as well.

As I said, accepting good luck is the easy part. Bad luck, however, is the white elephant. When it shows up, no one wants to claim it. All but the rarest of human beings, those imbued with a deep honesty and clear vision, will take ownership of something where the root cause is not exactly clear. If we somehow had a hand in creating the bad luck, doing the forensics is a painful process, so painful that even our mothers recognized it wasn’t worth fussing over. To end a sibling squabble or quickly dry up some tears, the classic mom-method to end the uproar was a simple declarative statement, “It’s nobody’s fault.” However, by the time those words were uttered, most mothers were in no mood for further argument.

Obviously, starting a day with bad luck is an awful situation. Only a true optimist would think that somehow things can only get better, as if one can merely brush bad luck aside. Those with the appropriate mental toughness can certainly fend off the effects unless this surly beast slips up with tsunami stealth or crashes down with the sudden fury of an avalanche. Still, the most insidious brand of bad luck doesn’t hit you all at once. Most likely, one piranha won’t kill you until his friends show up. For anglers, the layering of bad on bad like tar on dinosaur bones is more in keeping with how good days go wrong.

While there is no replacement for a positive start, there is much to say about getting the negative stuff out of the way early. At least, you’ve got most of the day to mount a comeback, a far better option than having bad juju show up late.

One of my most vivid memories was of a team tournament in which my partner and I could do no wrong. For all but a very small part of the two-day event, we dominated. We found fish we didn’t have to share, they bit early so our spirits soared from sunup to sundown, we discovered the exact right lure and even had enough time to buy extras, overnighted in, just in case. While we did our due diligence in replacing the factory split rings with upgraded versions, it was hard not to feel giddy. Or mentally sort through carpet swatches that would look nice in our new, first-place boat. Good luck was flowing like free drinks in Vegas, that is, until the following day when our final, limit-making bruiser came unbuttoned right at the boat.

Poor technique, dull hooks, a poor net job? Worse yet, bad luck. Apparently we had neglected to replace all the split rings on all the lures. Anyway, who ever heard of a split-ring failure? When does that ever happen? As the victim of a one-in-a-bazillion chance, it instantly became far more difficult to ignore the power of luck.

And that’s bad.

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