Sharpening the Sword
I love this phrase – I’ve heard a couple of my guide colleagues use it and have adopted it myself. The imagery conjured by “sharpening the sword” is one of medieval warriors around campfires or in fortresses. Their focus in internal. They are usually hunched over, deep in thought or feverishly going through some sort of mental checklist.
Occasionally, soldiers preparing for battle look over at their fellow warriors to see what they are up to. Maybe they do this to get a sense of what they are missing. Maybe they do this to see where they stand compared to the others in the group. Whatever the motivation or mindset during the preparation, all have one thing in common – they have some sense that their fate will be in their hands if they prepare “well.” In the hours before getting on the water, I’ve seen anglers exhibit the same behavior. It’s awesome to see yet somewhat frustrating.
What Does it Mean to be “Well Prepared?”
I am not going to try to answer this question because the response is almost entirely personal. What everyone is trying to do in this situation is generate some sort of confidence. Confidence in their gear, the conditions on the water, their abilities, etc. – thinking about all of this is an internal way to fight back anxiety and ultimately lead to success on the water.
I’ve always had a hard time empathizing with people going through these motions. I guess I have a hard time believing that it’s a pleasurable experience. Mainly because if one prepares “thoroughly,” anxiety is sure to emerge once the individual recognizes that many things can go wrong no matter how “well prepared” one is.
The reality is that Mother Nature always plays a huge roll in what will transpire once you depart for the water. Sometimes you’ll get a flat tire on your way to the launch. When you get to the spot you planned on fishing for the day, there may be quite a few anglers already there. You may break a rod. You may sprain an ankle. The point is – no matter how well prepared one is, chaos looms and you’ll almost always be in for a surprise. How are you going to react when it does? I can assure you that all your preparation isn’t gonna help.
Keep it Simple and Chill Out to Thrive in Chaos
I could go into a long essay about the art and science of warfare and where preparation for battle falls in it all – but I won’t. The general theme to contend with chaos is to keep things simple and remain flexible. The more detailed one gets in preparation, the more stress bubbles up and the greater the hardship one experiences when something unanticipated emerges. Trust me – something you never considered almost always pops up.
Here’s a non-fishing related example everyone can relate to. Throughout my life in academia, I’ve witnessed the same “sharpening of the sword” behavior prior to exams. Feverish highlighting in books and notes. All night benders in pajamas in college libraries boosted by Adderall. For what? Does it help you retain any knowledge? The answer is a resounding “no” almost every time. Does it help you get a better grade? Sometimes…I guess. The question to ask if you exhibit this type of behavior is, “why are you doing this?” Inevitably, you’ll encounter something on the exam you didn’t anticipate. All your preparation is for naught. What now?The answer to how you got here in the case of exams is likely because you didn’t fully absorb the material in class. In the case of angling, you likely haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on around you all the other times you’ve been on the water. Either that or you have too little experience and too much gear.
Experiment with Very Little Preparation and See What Happens
I am by no means advocating that preparation for a day on the water shouldn’t happen. It should – but the process should be simple. Everyone should always have safety in mind – all the equipment required to ensure a safe day on the water should be prepackaged. One need only inventory it from time to time to make sure it’s all functional/in working condition. Other than that, hit the water one day with minimal gear and minimal preparation and see what happens.
Quickly grab a couple rods, a handful of flies/lures/bait, a little bit of terminal tackle on your way out the door and let events unfold as they may once on the water. When Mother Nature deals you a hand you didn’t anticipate, make a mental note of it, get creative, and adjust accordingly. That experience of getting creative will ensure resonance – it’ll stick with you and add to your intuition the next time you prepare for a day on the water.
Look – I am not advocating to forgo preparation for a day on the water. I am saying that it shouldn’t be anything like preparing for war. Trust yourself. Trust your guides. Build your own intuition through experience and just have fun. Instead of preparing for hours before getting on the water, sleep in/get some rest, have a few cups of coffee and a decent breakfast before departing, and just roll with the punches.
You can read “how to” articles until you can’t see anymore but none of them replace actual experience. That may be a blinding statement of the obvious for some but not many. In most cases, such articles speak in generalities and are written by another human being – via his/her own experiences and personality. Only you can “do you.” Get out there and develop your own preparation pattern via personal experience. It’ll become much more intuitive and stick with you forever.