Kermit and Yoda fishing for catfish

"I didn't learn any of this at school, of course. I learned it online. The Internet gave me the chance to pursue all the topics I was interested in, and all the links between them, unconstrained by the pace of my classmates and my teachers. The more time I spent online, however, the more my schoolwork felt extracurricular.

The summer I turned thirteen, I resolved never to return, or at least to seriously reduce my classroom commitments. I wasn't quite sure how I'd swing that, though. All the plans I came up with were likely to backfire.

If I was caught skipping class, my parents would revoke my computer privileges; if I decided to drop out, they'd bury my body deep in the woods and tell the neighbors I'd run away.

I had to come up with a hack - and then, on the first day of the new school yeat, I found one. Indeed, it was basically handed to me." - Edward Snowden


"Every form of obsession is bad,

no matter whether the narcotic be

alcohol, idealism or fantasy."

Carl Gustav Jung

So it was that I applied my powers of ratiocination to the invention of a mechanism called a "Life-Quality Balancing System."

The L.Q.B.S. consisted of a scale (two pans of equal weight hanging in balance), 1,400 #8 medium-shank fishhooks (one for each minute of the day), and a meticulous list dividing my Standard Day into Neutral Minutes (N.M.'s), Unsatisfactory Minutes (U.M.'s), and Satisfactory Minutes (S.M.'s).

For every U .M. I put a hook on the left scale-pan, for every S.M. I put one on the right, N.M. hooks I put in a neutral box.

I then constructed a series of charts and graphs dealing with ways to turn V.M.'s and N.M.'s into S.M.'s, fully convinced that this simple scientific process would eventually allow me to attain a state called " Unending Satisfaction Actualization ," or "U.S.A."

I was thrilled with this program, and baffled that I hadn't come up with it sooner.

Nothing but unadulterated fishing went into the plus pan; I put Bill Bob hooks in the neutral box, not because he wasn't satisfactory, but because neutral is the way he prefers to be.

Of course Ma- and H2O-hooks were piled high in the junk pan, along with school, yard work, Flyfishing Clubs, pimple-popping, constipation and other nasty imbalances.

The historian-type reader with his high tolerance for dull but factual material may be disappointed to learn that, though I still use the hooks, the lists and graphs were reduced to fluffy gray ash when "U.S.A." failed to pan out.

One fragment survived, however, and since it exemplifies the quasi-logical gymnastics my polarized brain was wont to perform, I include it:

The River


1. sleep: 6 hrs.
2. food consumption: 30 min.
3. school: 0 hrs !
4. bath, stool, etc: 15 min.
5. housework chores: 30 min.
6. nonangling conversation: 0 hrs !
7. transportation: 45 min.
8. gear maintenance: 1 hr. 30 min.
9. fishing time: 14-1/2 hrs. per day!


1. finish school; no college!
2. move alone to year-round stream
3. avoid friendships, anglers not excepted
4. experiment with drugs to eliminate sleep
5. spend daylight hours only fishing

4,000 actual fishing hrs. per year!!!

It took some time to get settled in the cabin: a day to stash gear, a day to build a fish-smoker, a day to set up and stock the aquarium, a day to clean and salt in supplies, two days to cut three cords of wood.

On June 9th I hung the Ideal Schedule on the wall and began to live it:

I proceeded to fish all day, every day, first light to last.

All my life I'd longed for such a marathon - and I haven't one happy memory of it.

All I recall is stream after stream, fish after fish, cast after cast, and nothing in my head but the low cunning required to hoodwink my mindless quarry.

Each night my Log entries read like tax tables or grocery receipts, describing not a dream come true, but a drudgery of double shifts on a creekside assembly line.

After two weeks of "ideal" six-hour nights and sixteen-hour days I got an incurable case of insomnia.

It hardly mattered: sleeping I dreamt of fishing and waking I fished till there was one, undivided, sleep like state.


I dreamed Dutch Hines wanted to interview me!

I knew he'd made Fuzz Gramsay a rich man by endorsing him.

If I told him that I'd built the rod he'd just used he would inform his readers.

I knew that if he endorsed me I'd get a thousand rod orders before the month was out.

I knew that if I lowered my prices, making a meagre ten dollars profit per rod, that was ten thousand smackers.

I knew that with profits from that first burst of orders I could advertise in every major sporting magazine in the country.

I could hire a half-dozen peons to do my rod-building and fly-tying for me while I became a designer, an organizer, an entrepreneur.

I could open a tackle factory and warehouse.

I could hire salesmen and financial advisors and marketing experts.

I could automatize and computerize and expand.

I could spend my days inventing prototype rods and flies and let the local peasantry hunch over vises, squinting their eyesight away and snorting rod varnish.

I could start a guide service, take fat cats to all the great sport-fishing grounds on Earth.

I could open a chain of Trusty Gus's Custom Rods and Flies that circumscribed the continent.

I could start chains of Cutthroat Gus's Seafood Restaurants, Cutthroat Gus's Riverside Fishing Schools, Cutthroat Gus's Trouter's Resorts beginning in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas.

I could buy the coast of Oregon, name it Gussica, secede from the Union, start my own space program, make Titus my Lieutenant Spock and me the Captain of an Intergalactic Winnebago and blast away into space to search out potential trout-planets and go where no fisherman had gone before !

There was fishing. There was nothing else.

A Kiluhiturmiut Eskimo song tells of a man like me:

Glorious was life when standing at my fishing hole on the ice.

Did standing at my fishing hole ever bring me joy?


Splish Splash

Ever was I so anxious for my little fishhook if it should not get a bite, Ayi, yai ya. . . .

Like the Eskimo, my last thought before going fishing was "Won't it be glorious!" And like the Eskimo I then stood by the water, a needy, nervous wretch too anxious to wonder how "glory" could be so dismal. Ayi, yai ya!

So I continued my Ideal Schedule and was soon exhibiting more bizarre symptoms: besides the insomnia, tangled tongue and water hallucinations, I began to hide or even flee when I encountered other fishermen; to avoid human contact I began stockpiling groceries and bought a fifty-gallon gas drum; soon my communications with fellow humanoids consisted of an occasional Thank you, Hi, or Fill-er-up, and that was it.

Like many an addled hermit, I started yacking a blue streak, but not to myself.

Oh no. I talked to my fly rod, Rodney.

As expected, we became almost preternaturally skillful at extracting fish from coastal streams ("we" being Rodney and me).

We caught cutthroat in staggering numbers, often over a hundred a day.

I kept only enough to eat and my appetite shrank with my ability to sleep; still, I ate trout twice a day and grew no more tired of it than an anteater grows tired of ants, he with his long snout and sticky tongue, me with my Rodney and flies.

By mid-July I was no longer in pain.

I was totally bamboozled; I was chicaned; I was necromanced; I was stuffed and nonsensed.

I no longer saw anything wrong with my life as it was.

Rodney fished because I fished and I fished because Rodney fished.

We had an understanding: we were two pieces of fishing gear-smash us, lose us, wear us out, fishing gear will never question your judgement.

That was the thing about Nature: make one lousy rule to describe it and it'll contradict you even if it has to transmogrify and metamorphosize and bust its ass to do it.

And so what?

If anybody grew wise enough to grasp the real immutable Laws of Nature, Nature'd only rear back and strike 'em dead before they got anybody to understand them.

What use were such questions?

Everyone I knew would one day be dead.

Was there reference material to peruse that would make it comprehensible?

Pills to pop to make it bearable? Calesthenics to make it ... fun?

I didn't know. I didn't know anything about anything.

Every thing in my head came from fishing magazines, fishing manuals, fishing novels.

And what did these works have to say about the meaning of Life and Death?

When I awoke, the first thing I saw was the morning star, bluegreen and brilliant between black silhouettes of cedars.

I scarcely recognized myself: the fanatical fisherman in me had died, and what remained was a stranger.

I was someone I barely knew, lying on my side, watching a star.

The fisherman left a pair of binoculars on a peg at the window.

He'd used them to watch for trout rising on the river; I aimed-them at the star - and was amazed: brilliant greens, violets and blues eddied through it as it glittered and shone.

My naked eye had seen nothing of this whirling spectrum, and even now, through binoculars, I saw little of the beauty that must really be there.

Then it struck me: trees, mists, mountains, flowers, fish, stones and streams - all these must be the robes saving my eyes from the searing light; they refracted and colored the light, and it shone through, making them beautiful.

adapted from David James Duncan, The River Why

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