It’s no surprise our brains are somewhat modal. We process a lot of information, and despite all the mobile computing/smartphone ads to the contrary, we multitask rather poorly.

The Gears Are Turning at the Underground

Are the gears turning or jammed?

I know that when I’m truly focused on fishing, I’m sunk in an almost reptilian “zog catch fish” mode that drives the rest of the world away.

Yet sometimes I find myself translating the fishing experience into ideas, sentences and paragraphs as it happens — an odd sensation, but one that has become far more common since I started the Underground 6.5 years ago.

The latter “translation” mode delivers less fishing success, but more sentences for the text editor. And a very, very different fishing experience.

It’s likely that some people (notably productive fiction writers) are always in “writer” mode, directly translating their streams of symbols into sentences. Others shift into it.

I wonder if the compelling, directly told experiences of John Gierach suggest he’s always in translation mode (and that he does it well), while the more complex constructs surrounding Leeson’s writing means he fishes now and translates later.

Probably no way to know for sure, and it’s a tough question to ask.

Fav sci-fi writer Walter Jon Williams cops to something similar when he describes his writing process, which involves a translation from symbols into words — a reaction to a writer’s workshop where other writers suggested they thought in sentences (I’d guess Williams is working on a deeper level):

After that I began paying more attention to the way my brain seems to function. When I think, I’m not using a structured, grammatical language, it’s more like I’m laying out a series of Tarot cards. Each card is a symbol, or series of symbols, that stands for a group of concepts or associations. The shape of the array of cards implies a structure and a conclusion. My mind skips from one card to the other without bothering to fill in the grammar that connects them, like a mountain goat bounding from peak to peak without traversing the valleys in between.

I can translate this into English, but it takes a certain amount of effort. I have to add the grammar and explain what the symbols mean. Sometimes my mind gets well ahead of the translation and I stumble to a halt, looking for a word or phrase that got lost. Sometimes I can backtrack and pick up the translation where it stopped; and sometimes I end up totally lost, with people staring at me wondering what the hell I was trying to say.

Most fly fishermen aren’t much concerned with translating their experience into words (though with advent of blogs, that number has grown). For them, achieving “caveman mode” is the most desirable outcome.

The world recedes and the fish come. Simply put, “life good.”

While you’d expect someone’s fly fishing experience to change over the course of 6.5 years, I believe that writing constantly about fly fishing has altered the way I experience the sport.

To Tom the Caveman, the fish are the end result. To Tom the Writer, the goals and the picture are hazier.

Some fishing buddies will tell you I’m pretty intense about fishing for a time. Dave Roberts once remarked that we’d get halfway through a drift boat trip and I’d suddenly straighten up and start looking around, not bored with the process, but not as deeply sunk in it either.

I know that moment, and I think a lot of the fishing reports I’ve filed over the last three years reflect the fact that Tom the Writer/Appreciator is now present as much as Tom the Caveman.

The Changing Caveman

I’ve become more interested in exploring small streams — more interested in what’s around the next bend or how a stretch feels like “home water” — than I am with hoovering every available fish from every available pool.

That’s not to denigrate Tom the Caveman (who could probably stand to bathe more often). Becoming the Caveman is a prerequisite for learning to catch trout, and Tom the Writer’s appreciation for the formerly empty space surrounding the act of fishing is predicated on an ability to catch those fish.

All of this is interesting (at least it was to me as I wrote it), but it also skirts pretty closely to the fly fishing writing abyss: Excessive Navel Gazing.

Which is why I’m halting here, and inviting the Undergrounders to sit back for a minute and try to distinguish between their Caveman and their Appreciator. Given the nature of any population, I’d expect some never remove themselves from Caveman mode, while others essentially live in Appreciator mode.

And for those who flip, how many of you know the moment when it happens?

See you with Zog and the Writer on the river, Tom Chandler.