Recently, I received an interesting story from a superb, well-known local fly fisherman, retired physician Dr. Charles Wohl. He wanted my opinion of it. Charles has fished for trout and other game fish all over this country, Canada, Europe, South and Central America, the Bahamas, Iceland and New Zealand. However, he claims his favorite fishing experiences have happened while fishing in such local rivers as the Deerfield, where the events depicted in this story, entitled 'God and the Fish,' occurred.
God and the Fish
as told by Charles I. Wohl
"A couple of days ago, I decided to fish the Deerfield River where it courses through a fairly remote area of northwestern Massachusetts. The flow of that part of the river is controlled by a hydroelectric dam owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, the folks who brought you the deadly Northern California forest fires of 2017 and 2018. The normal flow at which the river is fishable is about 130 cubic feet per second (cfs). When PG&E needs to generate electricity, the flow is ramped up so that the river rises from one 130 cfs to about 850 cfs in a matter of a few minutes. When that happens, an angler wading in the river should get out quickly or risk drowning. If he or she is on the other side of the river from the access road, they will be stranded and face a long trek in waders through deep woods to get to the nearest bridge. A loud warning siren at the dam that can be heard for a few hundred yards goes off when the flow is about to increase. The company also obligingly posts its daily schedule of dam releases on its website. Before I left to go fishing, I checked the website and noted that the flow rate would be at 130 cfs from 3 p.m. until midnight, so that I would have several hours of safe fishing.
I got there just before 6 p.m. and planned to fish until dark. About an hour later, I was casting flies to a rising trout about 200 yards below the dam when the siren sounded, some five hours before the scheduled release time on the website.
Perhaps, on that warm day, extra power was needed to run the air conditioners of suburban Boston.
I quickly got out of the water and decided to drive to a good fishing spot two or three miles downstream where I could fish for an hour or so before the high water reached that point. On the way, I spotted another angler fishing on the other side of the river. I knew he would not have heard the siren that far below the dam so, even though it would cut into my fishing time, I knew I had to warn him. I pulled off the road, walked down the trail to the river and started screaming at him to come back across the river. When he reached my side, I told him (from a safe distance in view of the pandemic) about the imminent rise of the river, and he thanked me profusely. I continued my drive down the river in the hopes that the spot I hoped to fish, which is quite popular, was not already occupied by another fisherman, which it often was. Perhaps, I thought, God will reward me for warning the angler by leaving the good fishing spot vacant for me.
Indeed, there was no one else around when I got to the stretch of river I wanted to fish. I thought, God has rewarded me for my deed.
I sat down on a rock by the river and waited for a fish to rise. Perhaps, God will reward me further by having a trout rise to insects floating down the river. Wouldn't you know it — about five minutes later, a trout rose about 25 feet in front of me. Dayenu, again.
Maybe God would think I deserved yet a further reward and prevail upon the trout to take my fly. After all, if it weren't for my warning, that angler upstream would have been stranded on the other side of the river and would have faced an hour or so schlep through dense forest before being able to cross.
I cast my fly, and — Bingo — the fish rose and ate my fly.
Dayenu, once more, and game on!
The reel screamed as the great fish shot across the river and treated me to several magnificent leaps. After an arduous struggle, I gained enough line so that the fish was about 20 feet from me and seemed to be tiring. I was definitely tiring. In the gin clear water, I got a good look at the fish — maybe 20 inches or so of gleaming rainbow trout — obviously, the best rainbow of this season and possibly several seasons. I began to lose muscle tone, allowed myself to think that perhaps, as a final reward for my wondrous act of kindness, God will let me draw the behemoth into my landing net, admire it, and then, of course, let it go. The fish had other ideas. He looked at me, shook his head, and the hook popped free.
I said a very bad word, and sat on my rock, head between my knees. I thought, 'Was God teasing me by connecting me to such a great fish only to lose it? Had I done something wrong? Or, maybe, for some reason, God hates me.' Or, more charitably, I supposed that God would never want to micromanage an event which, in the enormity of time and space, was rather insignificant, although you couldn't have convinced me of that. I did recall how silly I felt as a child after praying for God to give me an 'A' on my history final, as if that were all she had to think about. Of course, if God were the theological equivalent of the laws of nature, as folks like Spinoza believe, then it was clear that, according to the laws of physics, the fish got off because it wasn't well-hooked. It wouldn't have mattered what I thought I deserved for warning the guy. I finally settled on the explanation that perhaps God, whether the same as the laws of nature or not, felt it sufficient to give me the opportunity to catch the fish and then to get out of the way while I either landed or lost the fish.
As I mulled over these possibilities, I heard someone coming down the path behind me and turned to see another fisherman. He — again at an epidemiological safe distance — greeted me and said that he was the angler that I had warned about the rising water. He told me that about fifteen minutes after crossing to the road side of the river, the water came up and he would have been stuck on the other side. He said he stopped just to thank me again. Then the river where we stood started rising, and we both left.
On the way home, it came to me: Yes, I had taken the trouble and delayed my fishing to warn the guy; but it wasn't much trouble, and it was a relatively brief delay. I hadn't done anything miraculous or dangerous or heroic. It couldn't touch what thousands of healthcare workers and other frontline personnel are doing every day during the pandemic. I had done nothing more than what any other normal human being would have done in similar circumstances. It was incredible chutzpah for me to think that God should have rewarded me by making sure that no one else was fishing where I wanted to, that a gorgeous trout would be rising, and that the fish would take my fly, whether I landed it or not.
It should have been — and was — enough that the man I warned took the trouble to stop and thank me again.
Dayenu is the Hebrew word meaning, approximately, "it would have been enough." It is also the name of a song sung at the seder of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Charles, thank you for that great story. I think the readers will agree that it was Oysgetsaykhnt!**
**Oysgetsaykhnt is Yiddish for excellent.
Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: (413) 637-1818.