It’s December, and fly fishing feels like a distant memory. For me, the fly fishing season runs from April through September, although rarely do I fish much into September. That is when another season begins, the time of the High Holidays. When Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur arrive, I am too busy thinking about sermons, prayer and penitence to make it to the cold water streams. And by the time all four of the Fall Jewish Holidays end (including Sukkot and Simchat Torah), it is already October. In my life, the fly fishing season gives way to the High Holiday season, and after that, winter has already arrived.
For some people, there is no time off from fly fishing. I often read about those who pile on layer upon layer of wool and fleece and neoprene, and then wade into 35 degree water in February. A good friend of mine, Jon O., likes to go ice-fishing in Michigan. That’s where you sit in a small hut on an ice-covered lake, drill a hole, drop in your line and freeze all day, hoping for a bite. He loves it. Sounds cold to me.
I actually think it is good to have an off-season for fly fishing. A time to re-charge and prepare for the spring. Judaism affirms that all of life, including fly fishing, needs an off-season. Each week, we Jews celebrate Shabbat, a day dedicated to rest and refreshment. The Torah says that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, celebrating the first Shabbat. And we imitate God one day each week by praying, being with family, taking a break and recharging our batteries. If winter is the off season for fly fishing, Shabbat is the off season for our souls.
I once heard a quote that Shabbat is like the pause between notes in a great piece of music. If music happened without end, without a rest, it would be overwhelming. Great artistry can be found as much in the choice of notes as the space offered between them and the anticipation of the music to come.
In my opinion, Shabbat and the fly fishing off-season mean to teach us some of the same values. They give us a time to rest, recharge and prepare for the next adventure. And they cultivate within us a sense of anticipation and excitement for our next undertaking. There are few things more exciting than the beginning of April, when you enter the cold water streams for the first time in months. There is one final lesson that Shabbat, and the off-season teach us: appreciation. When the fly fishing season returns after a long hiatus, we realize that fishing for trout, and all the good things in our lives, are precious gifts from a source much greater than ourselves.