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The right way to deal with a tangled line

| Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001

'The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light. But where shall wisdom be found• And where is understanding?'

- Job 28:11-12


What is it about a low-hanging branch that makes me try one more cast into the promising shadowed water• I know there's a fish under that branch as clear as I know it mocks me the second I release the line. Because the fish and I both know the same two things. One, he's in no mortal danger. And two, we know that my line is headed not for the water in a smooth, straight slingshot, but is headed instead toward the low-hanging branch, much like the way a SCUD missile never hits the right target.

Without fail, nearly every time, the baited hook sails effortlessly over the branch, landing with an unceremonious and disruptive sploosh like a diver who decides halfway down to perform a cannonball instead of a sleek swan dive. At this time, the fish flops just enough to expose his shiny rainbow colors before speeding off to watch my shoreline antics from midriver safety.

Fishing relaxes my mind while reminding my soul that I am, after all, only human. The chirps of robins, sparrows and the occasional chickadee or finch, the knock-knock-knock of a redheaded woodpecker working happily away at his new abode and the burbling gurgle of the river dancing between fallen tree branches always douses my worries, silences my concerns and empties my head of negative karmic plaque buildup.

In this idyllic and serene atmosphere, I feel queen of all I survey ... until I see that inevitable low-hanging branch. One cast is usually all it takes for my line to become hopelessly tangled around the bark, shoots and leaves. And the tangle is never, ever within arm's reach. No, it is way at the end of the branch at the shadow's far edge. To retrieve such a tangle the right way would mean stepping into 50-degree water, getting soaked from the thighs down, essentially ending the fishing trip.

Moments ago, I was fortunate to become tangled on a young and still flexible branch. I bravely reeled in, praying my hook and sinker wouldn't catch on the river's rocky bottom. With one masterful yank, I watched my hook wind itself into a knot around this branch a good five feet away. My choices were simple - get soaked or get creative. Needless to say, I chose creative.

I gingerly pulled my rod behind me until, outstretched dangerously over the frigid water and holding onto only my rod, my fingers grabbed the branch tip. I stood slowly and realized my feet were sliding toward the river's edge. It rained all day yesterday, so mud is a constant companion.

My boot jammed against a trunk section that linked my tree nemesis with the muddy slope on which I perched. The branch surrendered, allowing itself to bend my direction. As I untangled my line, I had to work methodically and slowly, since one quick move would release the branch, flinging it and possibly me and my rod back over the water.

I'm sure I was quite the sight with my one hand gripping the tautly bent branch, rod between my legs, as my other hand carefully undid the knot. I learn this lesson every time I go fishing. You'd think I would know better than to cast under low-hanging branches and would learn from my mistakes. But fishing is like life, and some temptations - when the successful result is wonderful and exhilarating - are worth the extra frustration and effort. The alternative to such risk-taking is to sit at the open water's edge with no obstacles in view, patiently waiting for a fish to try my tasty mealworm treat, which is what I'm doing now.

Every sport has been likened to life, but to me, fishing truly is the only accurate analogy. Patience, finesse and intelligence are required, as well as common sense, good instincts and the ability to know when to move on. Frustration, irritability and even anger are inevitable results, but so are elation, heart-racing excitement and pride. You can do it alone or in a group. Add in the quiet time to ponder life, feel at peace with nature, God and yourself and you've got the perfect sport that imitates life.

Once you learn the right way to deal with a tangled line, it becomes part of the whole joyous fishing experience. Oops, my line just moved. Could be a nibble. Could be the wind. I think I'll reel in and move along the river a ways to see how they're biting elsewhere.

Amanda Lynch is a Pittsburgh free-lance writer for the Tribune-Review.

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