What makes a fly fishing trip a success? For some, catching fish is the only measure of a good fly fishing trip. Maybe that is why fly fishing stores sell scales and rulers to calculate the length and weight of the trout we land.
If the number of trout you catch is the only measure of your success, then what happens if you get skunked, not hooking a single fish? When I first taught myself to fly fish in the trout parks of Missouri, I would go hours, and days without catching a trout. It was frustrating. Yet even on the hardest day, when there were no fish to be seen, I still relished the time spent in the stream.
Fly fishing is not only about catching fish. Time spent on the stream can help us feel connected to nature, reflect on our lives and escape from the relentless pace of the modern world. At its highest moments, fly fishing can brings us closer to the Divine, as we sense the awe and beauty of our world and wonder how such an amazing place came to be. As a person I met recently on the stream told me: “Fly fishing is deep.”
Defining success in fly fishing by the number of fish you catch is kind of like defining success in life by how much money you have or by the size of your home. There is nothing wrong with material success. It is good to work hard and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But if our lives are only the sum total of our bank accounts, we have not accomplished all that we can in this world.
Judaism teaches that the measure of a successful life includes the ways we repair our broken world, the love we share with family and friends, and our striving to become better people. Even in the realm of the material, success does not only come from what we acquire, but also what we give away to others. Giving tzedakah, charity, is an obligation for every Jew, no matter how rich or poor. The most destitute must give something, even a penny, because the act of charity makes one a better person.
It seems to me that life is not about the size of the fish we catch or the sum of our material possessions. Success comes from all that we have seen and done that is beautiful and elevating and makes this world just a little bit better. When I am waist-deep in cold water, casting my line, I certainly want to catch fish. But I also try to remember to take a moment to breathe, to look around, and to appreciate those precious moments of connection and solitude on the stream.