Fly fishing gear

Fishing has become a rich metaphor for what matters in our lives.

“A lot of men go fishing all their lives not knowing that it’s not fish they’re looking for.”

We have been fishing Rainbow Trout in the Missouri Ozarks for 30 years. This is an annual pilgrimage from San Antonio to a rural fishing lodge in southwestern Missouri, a 1,600 mile round trip.

Over these three decades, our friendship has grown stronger with each excursion to the point that we now admit that the week together is not about fly rods, reels, dry flies and nymphs. Nor is it about the fish we hook.

So if the journey is not about the mechanics of fishing, then what is the guideline of this adventure? We now realize that fishing has become a rich metaphor for what matters in our lives.

It’s about camaraderie and friendship, undertaken in one of the oldest human activities, travel, and what we discover each time we step into this vessel of adventure.

When we were young, we fished early in the morning and then again late in the afternoon for hours. Not anymore. Our time on the stream has shortened considerably.

Our pilgrimage took on a more contemplative, less active pace, with the fish playing a less important role than before. The focus shifted from fish and catch size to our friendship.

Catching three fish a day, not eight, is more than satisfying. Something more precious is now caught in the nets of our imagination, like the return to the value of an ordinary day and the treasures that invite a sustained feeling of gratitude.

Preparing and enjoying our meals together in the house we rent has become a sacred ritual.

Now it’s all about sitting on the porch and feeling the dusk descend. We love to hear the crickets and other creatures cavorting in the thickening shadows, creating a chorus of sounds as day turns to darkness.

Our period of release from the regular rhythms of our lives enables memories and gives a form of history to memories of previous journeys and to our lives more broadly.

Now in our 70s, we fish for stories to be pulled from the deep waters of memory. The stories allow their bright and colorful hues, like those of trout jumping in the sun, to illuminate our current identity.

We have become more aware of the reality that where the water is flowing fastest, and especially in the shadow of the stream, is where the invisible trout congregate.

It became our way of reconnecting with the natural order, with its own wonderful rhythms and nuances.

Our fishing trips bring much of our individual lives to the surface. The events of our lives are fixed for a moment in the story, which is itself one of the richest elements of a long and sustained friendship.

Our lines of flight morphed into our scenarios.

At our age, we now turn our attention to the meaning of life itself. These trips are an opportunity to take stock of the big questions that life raises.

A shift in our collective attitude is itself a migration from quantity to quality, an important observation to consider as it includes the very journey of life itself in its constant flux, eddies and currents.

What we grasp now is the importance of connecting our stories. They are the mythical foundations of our lives, providing us with coherence, cohesion and camaraderie.

But to be clear about the trout we catch: yes, we bring them home and eat them.

Dennis Patrick Slattery is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Roger C. Barnes is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word.