by Dave Micus
he Agonia is a term coined by Christian monk and aesthete Thomas Merton to describe how man, alone among all God's creatures, is cognizant that this wonderful gift of life will someday end. As a fisher of striped bass, you well understand the Agonia. You experience it every Fall.
It's then that the fishing is best; then when the bass, gorging on bait for their long trek to the Chesapeake, are taken in prodigious numbers and titanic size in and around the shores of New England. And it will be then that you hit the beach at dawn, long rod in hand, and see no diving birds or busting bass and you'll know it's over. You'll fish the whole day, because that is what you do, but you won't catch anything.
As each year passes you more acutely feel the pangs of the upcoming off-season. Perhaps it's because you are getting older, approaching your own off-season more quickly than you'd like, and this has you grasping at more. While you fish all is well; it's when you're off the water that the longing grows. You peruse the tide charts, visualizing where the bass are likely to be at that precise moment. You dream of blitzing fish and actually wrench yourself awake by jerking your arm to set the hook. You call in sick and spend all day in the brine.
But you're not being devious; you really are sick, unable to eat or sleep or concentrate because of that gnawing feeling within, that conviction that cow stripers are feeding within 80 feet of the beach somewhere on the northern shore. Striper fever bass bums call it, a strange ailment that sweeps coastal New England during September and October.
You do a good job the rest of the year so the boss understands. The soon-to-be-ex-wife doesn’t; never has. And how do you explain it when you really don't understand yourself? What compares? It's not love, nor religion, nor philosophy, nor sex, but there are those magical moments on the water, what Abraham Maslow referred to as a Peak Experience and Melville called "that profound silence, the only voice of God." How can you not go back for more?
And then it ends.
At first it's almost a relief. You start getting more rest and that nervous tick in your left eye that manifests itself every August and is a sure sign of sleep depravation finally goes away. The cuts at the first joints of your little fingers, caused by clinching knots on 20-pound fluorocarbon with saltwater-softened hands, finally begin to heal.
Soon, though, the longing returns. It's been five months since you've felt the throb of a fish on the line, and there is still at least a month to go. "April," as T.S. Eliot so rightly observed, "is the cruelest month." In grade school, when there were four weeks left of school until summer vacation, every moment was spent pretending to listen while trying not to burst right out of your skin. Now I wait for the schools to come in, and it's as hard as waiting for school to let out.
Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he was an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer, instructor and "star" of an episode of the outdoor show, Fly Fishing America. In 2006 he made the move from sea level to the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he has taken up fly rodding for trout, hunting and enjoying life in the "Big Country."
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