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Patience, Timing, and The Inner Chemistry of Hooking the Big One

FOR years now, while summering in Ontario's cottage country, I've been asked by my contemporaries why I love to fish. I'm the guy who slips out the door in the early morning and who at dusk will be off with a friend's father or grandfather.

For as long as I can remember, I've always fished alone, with my dad, or with a man at least as old as my father.

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I'm one of those rare 30-year-old veterans, having been a devoted fisherman ever since my dad taught me to tie a proper knot, bait a hook, and cast a line.

I'm captivated by the way a small mouth jumps, by the way the sun sets or rises on the water, and by the hidden delights in discovering where the big fish are. Yet, over the long-run, even I have found myself questioning why I enjoy fishing so much. So, I was quite pleased when, a couple of weeks ago, I realized in part what keeps me fishing year after year.

Having arrived at dinnertime at my friend Michael's cottage - too late to join my favorite fishing companions who live nearby - I accepted his offer of after-dinner fishing. Michael, his brother-in-law, Steve, and I set out.

Michael was practically born on Kahshe Lake, and over the years he's taught water-skiing professionally. In other words, Michael likes speed - fast boats - as does his brother-in-law. But they're lukewarm when the subject of lures and live bait arises.

Being a patient fisherman, I took our full-throttle tour of the lake in stride. Our first stop - at the end of the lake - turned out to be too still and murky. So we pulled up anchor and sped back across the lake.

``You guys don't really want to fish tonight, do you?'' I asked with good-natured sarcasm. Michael ribbed me back, although I knew he felt a bit under the gun. We've been friends a dozen years, and he's always delivered.

WE finally set anchor at a well-known spot on the lake. I got my line in quickly and leaned back. I was here - the workweek over - and an easy feeling returned. Michael was still getting his line ready. Everything looked ideal for fishing, until Steve asked, ``Do you like Genesis?''

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``What?'' I said.

``Do you like the group Genesis?'' Steve had brought a pint-size tape deck. No matter. I'd never fished to music, but there's always a first for everything.

After a short while - the fish weren't biting - we set off again. This time we ended up in a small bay, which, after no bites, I found out was Michael's secret place to nap. ``OK,'' he said in an effort to please and just as the sun was finished with the sky, ``I'll take you there.''

``There'' is the place we had caught four-pound small mouths week after week. ``There'' is where I sat with my elder companions talking quietly about the city, the increasing pollution of the lake, and the nature of bad jokes.

The following evening, I went out fishing with an older friend, who is an inveterate fisherman.

When the water became choppy, he slowed the boat down: ``No use rocking the boat,'' he said and laughed. We headed slowly toward some favorite rock cliffs. Later, we would drift through a shallow patch in the center of the lake.

On land, I could fully enjoy the comedy of the previous night's fishing fiasco, but on water I yearn for a type of calm that I associate with older men. Fishing is indeed about patience, timing, and a kind of inner chemistry that leads to hooking the big one. But, it is also about appreciating simple truths and subtle gestures.

The real fishing stories aren't the ones churned out back on land about the big fish or the one that got away; they are the seemingly meaningless tales told while trolling or those that come from the mouths of older men. And whether or not they carry mind-altering wisdom, their well-earned casual delivery holds the mystique.

What I've heard and seen in my brief lifetime of fishing with older gents is that fishing is about minor victories - even if you throw back 90 percent of the catch.

Whether I agree with the ideas of my fishing mates is not at issue. I am not out there to debate. What I am after - and what we enjoy together - is the mood of settling in, waiting, and of being in touch with that state of limbo.

Back on shore, I may be as eager to prove myself as any young man, but on water I have come to understand that life's deepest answers lie in the slow-moving mannerisms from ordinary lifetimes spent reeling in and letting go.

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