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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

Hope over Experience


It Will Be Different on the Next Cast

I’m convinced that fly fishing – much like politics – is a simple matter of hope overcoming experience. You can pursue the wily cutthroat for hours – days – and still believe that the next cast, the next perfect march of fly through riffle, will produce the fish that will keep you coming back and back.

Politicians, even successful ones, must practice the same “hope over experience” approach when wooing voters, building support and passing legislation. In both pursuits, you fail much more often than you succeed. Still, the pursuer of votes must believe that the next handshake, like the next successful presentation of an elk hair caddis, will produce affirmation, success and hope over experience.

In baseball, if you hit safely three times out of ten, you can get to the Hall of Fame. The success rate on a stretch of trout water or under a capitol dome is much, much lower.

Fly fishing (politics, too) is – excuse me – a brainy pursuit. It is all about practice, patience and persistence. You have to think about many things at once and if your mind wanders, even a bit, your fly is in the bushes or your waders are full of very cold water. Same thing in politics, although I know a lot more politicians than fishermen (or women) who can’t get their line untangled, if you get my drift.

The relative lack of success in trout fishing may explain why certain types of people – politicians – gravitate to the sport. Two of our brainiest presidents – Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter – were passionate fly fishermen. They also generally rank as among the most unsuccessful presidents. I would argue both have been victims of a bad rap in the history books. It’s time for some revisionism about both men – both engineers, both self made from humble beginnings who took up the fly rod for recreational and intellectual reasons.

Hoover once said, “Fishing is a… discipline in the equality of men – for all men are equal before fish.” That sounds like something Hoover would have said, but the old engineer was right. Forever the engineer, Carter has written well about fishing and become an expert fly tier.

Carrying all that baggage from the Great Depression – Carter had his own Iranian hostage baggage to lug around – helps me understand why a brainy politician, who didn’t succeed all that well at his chosen profession would seek solace on a stretch of water. Unlike politics, fishing is a solitary pursuit. Man against trout. And even when we know the river and its inhabitants will win the vast majority of the time, we keep casting. Hope over experience.

“Fishing is much more than fish,” Hoover also said. “It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.”

Amen. Any president who knew that simple fact can’t be all bad. I’ll think about the much maligned engineer/politicians from West Branch and Plains today when I am unsuccessful the vast majority of the time, but still loving every minute of it.

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