"Will I catch a salmon?" I asked my host, a man of 50 who has fished the river all his life.
He said, "If you don't catch six a day, I'll eat my reel."
For three days I all but wore a groove in the river with my casting. I knew the salmon should have been lying where the riffles flattened out to meet the pools, but I did not raise one. No one on the river did, and everyone knew why. The fall had been so warm that the water was not cool enough for spawning yet. Or it had been so dry that the water was too low. DDT was in the food chain, or PCBs were in the water. A local guide feared that the Canadians across the lake had set out nets. There were criticisms of the moon and the sun. I had another theory. I was actually Joe Btfsplk, the man in the Li'l Abner comic strip with the cloud over his head, who brings rain and ruin wherever he goes.
A week later I was telling friends about my miserable luck, and one asked, "So why do you go fishing?"
"Why does he go?" another replied. "Have you looked at his face when he talks about it? Does he look unhappy?"
At that moment I thought of Virginia, North Carolina and Maine, of the frustration and mishaps, which seemed humorous now, and of the good things—the pungent mossy smell of the Smith River, how every minute of watching those 18 rods on Pamlico Sound had been full of anticipation, the St. Croix River with its deep shadowy pools.
"I go fishing because I like to think about it," I said, and a beatific smile came over my face.