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The Life-Quality Balancing System

by Erin Block
Fly Fishing

photo by Winged Reel

There is no off-season here in Colorado; rarely are there bad-weather days. It’s like living in the upbeat mind of an optimist: the sun always shines and the pint glass is always full, even when the bottom is cracked and leaking overly-hoppy beer. When people aren’t skiing they’re mountain biking, and when not on two-wheels they’re on foot, hoofing it up hills. Around those pesky nine-to-fives some of us have, they cross-train, stay-fit, and eat-right (at least when we’re looking).

It’s inspiring and sometimes ridiculous to watch (must we really jog-in-place at stoplights?), exhausting to be a part of. When there’s low gray clouds, veils of rain, fog piled up like a jellyroll deconstructing across the Bay—then it’s ok to sit inside, read, bake, eat what you baked, and marathon House of Cards. But not here, not now.

Here, there’s no off-season, no closed season for trout. There is no Opening Day. In the West we’re lucky: we’ve established native, reproducing populations of fish and aren’t entirely reliant on state hatchery trucks to pull up and dump thousands of eatable-sized rainbows smelling of dog food, bringing the stench of crowds.

We’ve engineering our closed season away with dams and tailwaters, with aptly named “toilet bowls” that never stop flushing, keeping the ice from forming except in the most severe of winters. Someone’s always got to go. Someone’s always got to drag nymphs through ice-rimmed pools because they want to and they can and so they do. Wouldn’t you?

Silly question.

Even when the bass are bunked down, the carp slow and indifferent, and the highcountry trout streams still covered with ice and feet of snow (technically “open,” if you could get down to them), there are trout ready and willing in this state’s streams, able to take your mind off your worries and cares, to make you feel special. That sounds like some messed up ad for an inter-species escort service, doesn’t it?

I know.

Shortly after I started fly fishing I was given David James Duncan’s book The River Why for Christmas, tied up in a brown paper wine bag with a bow from someone who doesn’t usually celebrate the day. That’s to say, it meant a lot. And like my dog into road apples I dove excitedly in—its crisp pages now creased, coffee-stained, underlined in both pencil and pen.

Like Colorado, Gus Orviston—the novel’s main character and narrator—didn’t want an off-season. Taking it further, he didn’t want a single off-day and thus orchestrated what he imagined to be an Ideal Schedule, the result of “quasi-logistical gymnastics” his “polarized brain was wont to perform.”

The foundation of this Ideal Schedule was Gus’s devised Life-Quality Balancing System (L.Q.B.S.). Minutes of the day represented by fishhooks (size 8, medium-shanked), divided into three: Neutral Minutes (N.M.), Unsatisfactory Minutes (U.M.), and Satisfactory Minutes (S.M.). The U.M.s cast to the left scale-pan, like cursed goats into fire. And the S.M.s weighed and measured on the right, not found wanting in anything but their number. The chosen ones, righteous in purpose, holy unto all waters. N.M.s were kept out of the conflict like The Vatican, in a small cardboard box like a coffin.

By whittling away school, family, friends (anglers and non), eating, housework (“dust not unhealthy,” he jotted down on his angler-ascetic’s list). The result, he figured, would be a nirvanic state of “U.S.A.” (Unending Satisfaction Actualization). Meaning 14 ½ hours of fishing time per day. Meaning… bliss.

But Gus comes to find out that somewhere in all of his sums and weighing and measuring, he went wrong. He left out something important: anticipation. “The once-monthly fisherman adores his rare day on the river, imagining that ten times the trips would yield ten times the pleasure,” he says. “But I have lived the gallant fisher’s life, and I learned that not fishing is crucial to the enjoyment of fishing.” In other words, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing anymore. It’s just work.

Whether you trace it back to our species’ evolution and adaptation to change—that we can get used to just about anything but are at the same time never satisfied with what we have, even when it’s decadent and good—the curiosity that killed the cat keeps us going, got us walking upright and out of the cave. That sort of thing. Or, whether it’s the simple truth that if you eat ice cream every night it loses a bit of its sweetness. We become habituated, cease to respond to stimulus. Sometimes that’s what keeps us alive; sometimes, it’s what makes us give up.

Lately I’ve been itching for summer, for long and light evenings, treeline, and parr-marked trout. For not so many logs piled into the woodstove and a garden that won’t grow but that I’ll plant anyway. I’ve been thinking about Duncan’s novel, and realized: somewhere along the way I’ve worked out my own Perfect Schedule—my own off-season and opening day (which doesn’t involve trout at all, but rather still-cool warmwaters with grumpy bass and ambivalent carp). I’ve created my own L.Q.B.S.—that’s to say, I take a few winter months to not fish—and discovered that Gus is right: sometimes love is in the breaks, gallantry in restraint, appreciation in the wait. Enjoyment holes up in the spaces in between seasons where you get short of breath anticipating more.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Raised on an Iowa farm and then educated as a classical guitarist, Erin Block now works as librarian by day, writer by night, and a fly fisher and fly tier on her days off. Living in the mountains of Colorado, she and her dog Banjo roam the high country exploring alpine lakes and small streams as well as slog through mudflats and warm water ponds in pursuit of carp and bass along the Front Range. More of Erin's writing can be found at: http://mysteriesinternal.blogspot.com/.
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  • erparf

    “[S]ometimes love is in the breaks, gallantry in restraint, appreciation in the wait,” anticipatory anxiety though often a cause of dread, perhaps even a part of PTSD does also generate excitement so essential to constructive living, and also helps make the repetitive tedium of work and chore more bearable. Nicely said, Erin.

  • Mike Krall

    And the not going is the close holding of having went. The senses of imagination are acute. Not as real as real, but there is an emotion in it the real doesn’t present. And now it’s whole.

    Write your heart out, deary… and thank you.

  • Optoadwater

    I only made it to the third paragraph, and I will tell you why. “…we’ve established native, reproducing populations of fish and aren’t entirely reliant on state hatchery trucks to pull up and dump thousands of eatable-sized rainbows smelling of dog food, bringing the stench of crowds..”

    Maybe the most ignorant thing I have read. First of all, you can’t establish native species. If you are talking about saving some native species, I understand. However, brown trout and in your case brook trout are not native! They aren’t from there, that is precisely what native means!! Establish native populations???!!! Then you go on to claim Colorado is not “totally reliant on hatchery trucks…” Congratulations! So is a huge part of the rest of the country. Do you really think that other states are completely reliant on stocking? That’s simply not the case! My local waters are not stocked and have self sustaining, high quality trout populations, and I live in what you probably think of as redneck Michigan.

    The ignorance among writers and “names” in this industry is unreal. Dave Karczynski called Browns native to Michigan last week. I think he was trying to be cute but I still wanted to vomit. And then he goes on to give shoutouts to his buddies. What a bunch of bologna!!

    I’m losing faith in these kind of websites and literature.

    • Jay Zimmerman

      Greenback Cutthroat.

      Educate yourself before going off half cocked.

      • Optoadwater

        There is absolutely no indication she is talking about the greenback cutthroat. Am I supposed to assume it’s the greenback because it’s Colorado and they did some work to restore populatins? Then why does she say it like Colorado stands alone as the only state that has done work like that? Furthermore, your response still doesn’t make any sense. The state of Colorado established native greenbacks that reproduce naturally?? When a species is native, it is found there before whitey came along. If humans “established” a population of fish somewhere, then it wasn’t there before and that means it’s not native. Maybe she meant the state of Colorado “saved” a native species and it reproduces naturally. That detail should be clarified. And if she just means, “hey, we have native, wild trout,” well, lots of states do. So all those states are lucky, not just big shit Colorado. Dude, you need to exlain yourself. You don’t make any sense or you have not really made a point. Explain, and try to keep it relative to what Ms. Block has stated and not what just happens to be part of your imagination.

        • Jay Zimmerman

          My comment was in reply to your statement, “you can’t establish native species” which is exactly what the state of Colorado is doing with the Greenback. The irony being this gem came immediately after you claiming that Block wrote “Maybe the most ignorant thing I have read.” Hence my suggestion of further education. May I suggest some education material? Please note the author. http://online.qmags.com/TU0914S#pg1&mode2

          • Optoadwater

            Well thanks for that, now that I understand what she was trying to say. And thanks for the link, it’s now apparent that you may be a bit of a fan of Ms. Block. Good for you!

            One of the definitions for “establish” means to begin or create. That is probably the most commonly used definition for “etablish” in our society, the most widely accepted use. Did the state of Colorado begin or create native species? I would have to say the answer is no because that would be a poor way to describe what they did. The state of Colorado “restored,” “rehabilitated,” “stabilized,” hell, you could say they “saved” the greenback. But “establish?” Poor choice of words. It sounds like you are saying they are naturalizing a species. If you don’t know what that means then I recommend you go educate yourself…

            So the state of Colorado saved the greenback. That’s great. Happy for them.

            Here in the Great Lakes region we have hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of streams that have native and wild brook trout that have never been in any danger of a diminishing population. There is even a lake run strain of which the DNR just created more liberal keep limit depending on where you are, because they think the population can handle it. They are a strong species despite their required, high environmental standards. A population of native and wild fish that carries on strong even in today’s overpopulated, industrialized world, that my friend, is special. Cheers!

            • Optoadwater

              And as far as the ignorance statement goes. That is also referring to her making that whole statement about Colorado not being entirely reliant on hatchery trucks to maintain a native population as if everyone in the East uses hatchery fish to maintain native populations.

              “In the West we’re lucky: we’ve established native, reproducing populations of fish and aren’t entirely reliant on state hatchery trucks to pull up and dump thousands of eatable-sized rainbows smelling of dog food, bringing the stench of crowds.”

              That sounds naive. It sounds like she is saying everyone east of the Mississippi just dumps hatchery rainbows into all their streams, and anyone who fishes for them is trailer trash. That is so far from reality. I can never be fan of Ms. Block, like the way you are, for saying that. It’s just not true and it comes with a tone of arrogance. What is there to be a fan of that or respect that? That’s a part of flyfishing I never want to be a part of

              • Jay Zimmerman

                Sounds like a lot of semantic gymnastics to avoid apologizing for overreacting to a sentence you misunderstood. But, OK…I’ll leave it alone. I have lived and fished for trout in many places and have found that the majority of the trout fisheries in the Midwest are put-and-take and stocking trucks are often followed by a herd of opportunistic anglers. It is why I moved to a state were wild fish (and yes, some even native) are as abundant as cockroaches in a dump. I love real mountains and wild fish. As does Block, it is why I love her and her writing. That is not arrogance, that is idealism and I see nothing wrong with it. We all can dream, right? I know, as does Block, that others states have native and wild populations of trout and other great fish…the states that have more of those are just luckier. This is not a competition, we should all strive for an ideal in our state’s fisheries. In an ideal world, none of us would have to settle for stocked trout. I wish none of us had to…

                I wish you well, brother and hope you have a great fishing season.

                Oh…and GO BUCKEYES!

                • Optoadwater

                  Jay Zimmerman, I am Ohio State alum so you can eat my shorts.

                  Where I live cannot take credit or blame for all of the Midwest as I would not give credit to or blame Colorado for the all of the fallacies or glories of places like Kansas, Nebraska, or Utah.

                  There aren’t enough hatchery facilities and resources to accommodate “majority of trout fisheries” in this region. It’s not physically possible because you can’t even count all the streams, rivers and lakes with trout in them where I live and there isn’t the money in the DNR. You don’t completely understand the capabilities or intentions of stocking. Stocking isn’t just means to stabilize a population of fish. It is also to give the regular Joe an easy way to catch fish, because he demanded it, because he pays taxes. Joe also doesn’t want to drive very far or work very hard so Joe only sees maybe 10 percent of where trout live around here, maybe 10 percent and that’s really pushing it. It’s probably less than 5 percent. It sounds like you have only gone where Joe goes.

                  It does not take much to facilitate natural reproduction. Clean, cold water, gravel, a food source and some privacy. We have the greatest freshwater system in the world here and we live next to Canada, its cold. Do you see what I am getting at? I am not saying we are better, I am saying the potential and resources are ridiculous. Michigan sells the second most fishing licenses behind Florida because there is a lot of fishing. The government does not have anywhere near the capability to support what is here. They only have the capability to charge for a ticket to go on the ride.

                  Erin Block drew the line. She created the duality. Us and them.

                  Eat my shorts.

          • Optoadwater

            And as far as the ignorance statement goes. That is also referring to her making that whole statement about Colorado not being entirely reliant on hatchery trucks to maintain a native population as if everyone in the East uses hatchery fish to maintain native populations.

            “In the West we’re lucky: we’ve established native, reproducing populations of fish and aren’t entirely reliant on state hatchery trucks to pull up and dump thousands of eatable-sized rainbows smelling of dog food, bringing the stench of crowds.”

            That sounds naive. It sounds like she is saying everyone east of the Mississippi just dumps hatchery rainbows into all their streams, and anyone who fishes for them is trailer trash. That is so far from reality. I can never be fan of Ms. Block, like the way you are, for saying that. It’s just not true and it comes with a tone of arrogance. What is there to be a fan of that or respect that? That’s a part of flyfishing I never want to be a part of.

  • Cee Blue

    —-: You’re getting there Erin – easy on the elitism – – – those ‘crowds bearing stench’ could be in front of their laptops – these folks buy licenses / support our addiction
    —- keep scratching
    Bobby

  • Kendall Zimmerman

    Great piece…..I keep wanting to re-read it. This explains why the idea of heaven has never appealed to me. And I LOVE the two sentence paragraphs.

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  • Mike Krall

    I enjoyed it, Erin…

    Mike