Essay: Life Lessons Learned From the End of a Line

Special to the Valley News
Published: 9/1/2018 11:21:58 PM
Modified: 9/1/2018 11:22:25 PM

I have been fishing for 63 years. In all those years of wetting a line, angling has helped me learn some of life’s important lessons. For instance:

Patience. In the age of instant gratification, don’t we all need more patience? Success (or a good catch) doesn’t come all at once.

Early in my writing career, I had a lot of rejection. Even in rejection, editors didn’t tell me that I couldn’t write. Most of the comments were encouraging. I was just fishing at the wrong end of the lake.

Fishing has helped me develop a great deal of patience. I’ve endured the disappointment of seeing a bass jump over a topwater lure only to miss the hook. I’ve suffered broken lines and big fish that, at the last minute, threw the lure right back at the boat. However …

Persistence. I kept casting and submitting manuscripts. I caught a lot of small ones in the form of newspaper and magazine assignments. Then I caught the big one: I sold my first paperback, which led to more work writing popular novels.

Berkley Books hired me to write series westerns. Then Harper Collins enlisted me to pen young adult horror novels. When those books did well, Berkley asked me to create a YA horror series called Terror Academy which became the Berkley’s most successful YA series at the time. The relentless casting eventually paid off.

Patience. Even after I was successful, the rejection did not stop. Fawcett-Crest Books solicited me to write a proposal for a series of books about “a straight-laced lawman in the Old West who loves his horse more than people.” Fawcett-Crest rejected it on the basis that it was about “a straight-laced lawman in the Old West who loves his horse more than people.”

Many times on the water, I have dealt with failure. Some days you just don’t catch anything, but that has never stopped me. I like fishing more than I like catching fish.

Patience. Being on the water helps me to focus — the Zen of fishing. I watch for the bobber to quiver. I anticipate the tap-tap on the soft plastic jig. Or the line tightens when a trout picks up the Power Bait and starts to swim away.

Awareness allows me to recognize opportunities. See a fish chasing a minnow? A swirl on surface of a cove? Cast in that direction.

When opportunity strikes, be ready to set the hook and follow through.

Superstition. If I miss the first strike of the morning, it could be a sign that the rest of the day might not pan out. It’s an omen that has come true far too many times.

My late stepmother had to keep the first fish of the day for the skillet, even if it was a tiny sunfish. She felt that if she returned it to the water, it would jinx her luck. No matter how small, she’d fry it up for dinner.

Every angler has his or her superstitions. It might be a lucky hat or a favorite rod and reel. Or the belief that one more cast will do the trick.

Even for the experts, luck is a big part of angling. As the adage goes, “It’s better to be lucky than good.”

Conservation. Leave it how you found it. Carry in, carry out. Catch and release. Don’t spread unwanted weeds by motoring through that patch of invasive milfoil. Don’t litter.

Not everyone embraces the last concept. Whenever I fish from shore, I inevitably end up with a bag of trash that I gather along the way: plastic bags, worm cups, beer and soda cans, discarded line and cigarette butts.

I once found a batch of dirty disposable diapers on the boat launch at the north end of Mascoma Lake. They carried in, but they didn’t carry out. Thanks for the memories.

Everyone should enjoy the great outdoors, but leave it tidy and intact for generations to come.

Humility. Some days, I may catch the biggest fish or the most fish. Other days, I skunk out big-time. Best not to boast about today’s success, because fortune’s wheel spins up and down.

Diversity. In my travels, I have fished with people from all over the world. When two people enjoy fishing, there is an immediate bond that transcends class, nationality or race. All anglers have the same goal — to catch fish.

As soon as you ask the question, “Any luck?” you’re on common ground.

Thankfulness. Every time I catch a fish, I am thankful that I can participate in a human tradition that is thousands of years old. I am also thankful for all the other blessings that have come my way in life. I’m thankful even when I don’t catch anything.

Coleman Stokes can be reached at

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


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