Monday, August 24, 2009

Large Trout and Big Problems

I am very fortunate to be able to go fly fishing for rainbow and brown trout near my home. I fish the Farmington River in Connectict and the Croton Watershed in New York. Sometimes, I hook a few fish, which I release back into the water. When I do have a trout resting briefly in the net, I make a mental note of its size: small, medium or large. That way, when I tell the story, I can be sure to lengthen the fish by a few inches.

It occurred to me that reeling in a beautiful rainbow trout can be a metaphor for dealing with problems in our lives. We face all sorts of issues each day, from work, from home and even inside of ourselves. Some are more easily overcome than others, just as the bigger trout are harder to bring to the net than small ones. Perhaps the experiences of bringing a trout to the net could offer a bit of guidance in dealing with the difficulties of life.

The smallest size trout found in a stream are fingerlings, fish that are theoretically the size of one’s finger, although usually between six and nine inches. It takes about a year for a trout to grow to this size after hatching from an egg. It is no problem to reel in and overpower such a small fish. I quickly bring the fish to the net, remove the hook from its mouth and gently return it to the stream.

Small Brown Trout caught on a beetle imitation

Many issues that we all face in life are equally simple to handle. We make a mistake a work, but find a way to fix it. We do something wrong at home like coming home too late or raising our voices when we should have asked a question or been more patient. These are the “I’m sorry” type of problems, where a genuine apology can lead to forgiveness.

The most common trout that I catch and release is a medium sized adult fish, usually about 10 or 12 inches, and weighing a pound or two. You can definitely feel the weight of the trout on the line. You have to be a little patient as you reel a medium sized fish in, not to create too much tension on the line or it will snap. Once hooked, the fish will run. Then he tires, and you can bring him into the net. Reeling in a medium size trout becomes relatively easy with practice, but you always have to be careful not to pull to hard and snap the line.

Medium sized brown trout caught and released

Reeling in a medium size trout is like dealing with a decent sized problem. We are pretty sure we can overcome it, but which if we handle it in the wrong way, it could worsen. The Pharaoh in Egypt thought that the Hebrews were a problem that he could handle. Pharaoh was concerned that the Jews could join his enemies and fight against him in a war. Rather than talk to the Israelites or try to ally with them, Pharaoh chose to enslave our people.

Pharaoh kept pulling and pulling on the metaphoric fishing line, trying to keep us enslaved, even though God brought plague after plague on Egypt, decimating the country. Finally after the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, the line had been broken, along with Pharaoh’s will, and the king knew he had to let the people go. We benefit from learning from the experience of Pharaoh and not trying to overpower large problems in our lives. Sometimes we have to be patient, we have to negotiate, compromise and admit our mistakes.

Only a few times have I caught a truly large trout. This is a fish over 18 or so inches and weighing a few pounds. When you hook a fish this size on a fly fishing rod, you cannot possibly reel it in directly. If you pull too hard on a large trout, you will break the five-pound fly fishing line in five seconds. The only technique for bringing in large trout is to endure.

The largest trout I ever brought to the net. I released this rainbow back to its river home.

You reel in a little bit, then the fish starts swimming and you let it run. You try to keep the fish away from submerged trees and other hazards that can break the line. Then you just wait. Hopefully you can wear out the fish and bring it to the net over time. Or just as likely, the fish will find a way to break the line and escape. I have hooked three or four large trout over the years, and have only managed to bring one or two into the net.

Reeling in a large trout is like dealing with problems over which we have very little control. Some problems are so difficult that we have to simply find a way to endure and be patient, even as we continue to work to try to solve them. In Egpyt, the Israelites had to endure 400 years of slavery. During this terrible time, they found a way to maintain Judaism and pass it down from generation to generation.

In dealing with the difficulties of life, we too can take the same approach as the Israelite slaves. We can turn to our faith. We can continue each day to work to solve our problems. And sometimes we must simply endure. The Israelites were freed after 400 years of slavery. We benefit from living with this same hope. For you never know when the solution to a very large problem may appear, like a very a large trout rising to the surface and biting your caddis dry fly.


Randyflycaster said...

Great metaphor. Thanks Rabbi.

Anonymous said...

Great story.
The less you handle these delicate creatures the better chance they have surviving.