Hindsight is 20/20
By: Jeff Piercey
There’s an old adage which astutely states that hindsight is 20/20. The meaning of this saying is steeped in the undeniable fact that correct decisions and actions are much clearer when looking backwards. Indeed, when wrapped in the happenings of a moment we all too often get it wrong. Surely, if there was any such thing as a “do-over” button, most people would admit to having had multiple occasions in life when they probably would have said to hell with the butterfly effect and pressed it.
In reflecting back on nearly four decades of salmon fishing, I have obviously made plenty of regrettable and dunderhead choices. I can honestly say, though, that there are really only two that would warrant pressing a do-over button. But they are bad and remain firmly entrenched in my mind as snippets in time when I was definitely not at my best.
They have nothing to do with lost fish, broken gear, injuries or bad timing, but rather both were occasions when I let my own selfish and misguided interests take control of my thoughts. In each case I feel as though I probably robbed other anglers – and myself – from what might have been lifetime memories. Allow me to share a couple of my less-than-stellar moments in chasing the king of fish.
The first occurred only a few years ago and involved my son Gabe. At the time he was only 6, but I was very anxious for him to experience the thrill of catching his first salmon. Following a significant rainfall and with a good run of fish on, I knew right where to take him. Basically all he would need to do is get his fly into the run; the current and the fish would take care of the rest.
Accompanied by my fishing buddy Harry, we arrived at our pool of choice at about 6 p.m. From years of experience we knew there would be several receptive salmon lying in this run. With a little coaching from his Dad, it was only a matter of minutes before Gabe was hard and fast into his first Atlantic salmon. I stepped away and let my shrieking boy do battle with the feisty grilse completely on his own. Amidst the picture taking, both Harry and I excitedly bellowed, “keep your rod up,” then “let ‘im go, let ‘im go, let ‘im go,” and “reel, reel, reel!”
After several spectacular leaps and a couple of very decent runs, I was able to dip the three-pound fish inside of 10 minutes – not too shabby for a 6-year-old. Gabe had played the salmon like a real pro, and amazingly on a little 5-weight boyish blue Ross Flystart rod and reel combo that would test the skills of any salmon angler. It was a proud moment for sure… that is until I ruined it.
Almost immediately after dipping the fish, Gabe exuberantly said, “Dad I want to let him go; let me do it!”
“No, we’re going to keep this one, Gabe buddy. It’s your first salmon and Dad wants one to smoke,” I quickly responded.
“No Dad, no, I want to let him go! Why can’t you catch your own?” he fired back.
Needless to say, Gabe became very upset when I drove the blade of my buck knife through the salmon’s head and proceeded to clean and tag it.
Still not fully understanding the magnitude of my mistake, I calmed the waters by promising him that he could let the next one go, and while it took a little convincing, I got him to force out a little grin for a picture with his first fish, although he would have no part of holding it.
In that moment, looking at him struggling to smile, I felt a pronounced wave of shame and wished to hell there was a way to rewind the last 10 minutes. My feelings of pride quickly turned to regret as I came to the stark realization that I had stripped Gabe of HIS moment, and all for the sake of a few pieces of friggin’ smoked salmon.
With great thanks to the salmon gods, Gabe did manage to hook and land another fish on that evening, which he took great satisfaction in releasing to continue its journey up stream. It also served to admonish, at least in small part, my extreme feelings of guilt for killing his first fish. This time getting a few snaps took no convincing at all, although he did struggle a little to maintain his doubled-up barehanded grip on its tail. The pictures which captured that moment are probably my favourites of all the ‘outdoorsy’ pictures I have taken. Not only are they a source of great pride, but they also remind me to be very careful about imposing my will on others.
My second regrettable choice occurred at the Tidal Pool of Champney’s River well over a decade ago, though it stays with me like a boyhood scar and I remorsefully think about it often. It was late June, and on this occasion I delayed going to the river until around 9-ish, knowing that the tide would not be turning to rise until 8 o’clock. Having fished this river since I was a teenager, experience had taught me that the fish would not enter, settle and start taking until the big rock in the middle of the pool was about half covered by water.
Walking down the steep hill towards the river, I was a little surprised to find the pool devoid of anglers. I crossed the bridge and headed over to the spot from which we most commonly fished – the Boiling Hole. Before I even had a chance to joint my rod, I was startled by a fish that jumped directly below me. My heart started to race as I instinctively knew I was in for a bit of fun.
It didn’t take long for my Nimbus to capture the attention of five pounds of fury, fresh from the ocean, and as always at Tidal Pool, the fish put up a spectacular fight. I was just in the process of landing and releasing the fish when I noticed another couple of anglers heading down the hill, an older man and what appeared to be a teenage boy. Upon approach I recognized the older man as being a former resident of Port Rexton.
“I see there’s a few around,” he quipped with a kindly smile.
“Scatter one; main run is not hit yet though,” I quickly responded, not wanting to draw too much attention to my beloved little river. After exchanging niceties and introducing me to his grandson, I invited them over to the preferred perch to have a try.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” he asked, with a hint of hesitation.
“Not at all, that’s the way we do it here. The pools are few and only able to handle a single rod at a time, so have at ‘er,” I responded.
“Well I really appreciate it; not like some of the rivers I’ve fished,” he said with a furled brow.
After giving them the low-down on where the fish usually take and where to place a “white-winged” fly, the grandson took position and began casting first. It was obvious that he didn’t have a lot of experience and he really struggled to get his fly across the pool against the brisk southwest wind that was funnelling in through the cove. His grandfather explained that this was his first year with a licence and that he had never hooked a salmon.
Despite there being several active fish in the pool, the young man came up empty. His grandfather now stepped forward and began casting. He had explained to me that he had much more experience chasing trout than salmon, but I could easily tell it wasn’t his first time handling a fly rod. Towards the end of his 10-15 minute turn, I noticed a very slight disturbance in the natural flow of the water beneath his fly. Immediately I knew a fish had come to his white winged Blue Charm, however he failed to recognize it as a rise amidst the turbulence of the outflow, and with my turn looming I decided to stay quiet.
Sure enough, within another few flicks the older man reeled in and said, “Show us how it’s done, Mr. Piercey.”
I took up my spot, and sort of wanting to show-off, I immediately targeted the place where the grandfather had missed the subtle rise. I literally made no more than two or three casts before I was firmly tied to another fresh-from-the-ocean grilse, obviously the one that had risen to the older man’s fly only a few minutes prior.
Upon releasing the 60-centimetre slab of chrome, I turned towards the grandfather and grandson, stood directly above me on the bank. They were genuinely tickled with the excitement and glad to have witnessed the battle. My excitement, however, was quickly replaced by that empty feeling of wrong-doing. I felt disgrace and knew that I had missed an awesome opportunity to be a part of a wonderful lifetime memory for these two.
I should have told the grandfather that he had risen a fish and offered advice on how best to hook it. If he then failed to tighten up, I should have relinquished my turn to the young man; maybe with some coaching he would have hooked his first ever salmo salar. I probably should have ‘fessed-up’ and apologized for my selfish behaviour. Instead, I took my rod apart, wished them good luck and took my guilt-ridden behind back up over the hill. It stands to this day as my biggest regret while salmon fishing.
Alas, at this point in human evolution, we have not yet discovered a way to rewind time. Ultimately we are left to live with our bad decisions. Some might argue that it is pointless to look backwards and reflect on the error of our actions. I disagree, putting aside the feelings of guilt and remorse, the positive that comes from hindsight being 20/20 is the fact that it presents us with great opportunities to learn and grow. Sometimes we need to make mistakes to bring clarity to the things that are truly important, like the way we make others feel when sharing our company.
I will never again try to convince my son to keep a fish that he would like to set free. I also try my best to refrain from selfish behaviour (not always easy) on the river and welcome opportunities to brighten the day of less experienced anglers by helping them hook a fish.
Maybe this article becomes the impetus for some of you to pause and take that sobering second thought before making a rash decision. Recognizing and acting on opportunities to be righteous is good karma. And while foresight will never rival the 20/20 sharpness of reflection, if we train ourselves to pause for just a few moments and to be cognizant of the bigger picture, we surely reduce the chances of having to live with regret.