An Outdoor View: Uncertainty

Uncertainty is the natural order of things. In fishing, it’s often the only thing you can count on.

You never know what will happen when you lower a hook and line into the water. Unless you’re fishing in a goldfish bowl, you can’t be certain what’s down there. Even if a fish is there, you can’t know if it will bite. If it does bite, will you hook it? If you do hook it, you still face the uncertainty about landing it. And even if you’ve pulled a fish onto a river bank, it can still escape, as several devious fish have demonstrated to me.

In a lifetime of fishing, I can recall only one time when I was certain that I was going to catch a fish. It happened in the mid-1970s, while a friend was helping me build a cabin in Sterling. We were getting hungry, so I told him I was going to go get a quick salmon for dinner. “I’ll be right back,” I told him. I could tell he didn’t think that was possible, and I can still see his surprised look when I came back a few minutes later with a silver salmon.

That year, the silver fishing was so good in the Sterling part of the Kenai River, it wasn’t unusual to have one grab your spinner on the first cast. I haven’t been that certain about anything since, which is just as well. That sure-thing fishing was fun, but it was too much of a good thing. It needed a little uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a funny thing. We spend our lives trying to make things more certain. We strive to eliminate possibilities for failure. We fear pitfalls and disasters, and sometimes resort to foolish acts to alleviate our uncertainty. We don’t like surprises.

Yet, we like to be pleasantly surprised. We don’t really want to know what’s in that present under the Christmas tree. We like the anticipation, the not knowing for sure, the hoping that it will be something exciting and wonderful.

I’ve always liked not knowing if any fish are in the water where I’m fishing. If the water clarity is so good that it’s plain to see that there are no fish, the outlook is certain, and hopelessness is not far behind. As long as I’m uncertain, there is hope. When all is uncertain, nothing is impossible.

Let’s say I give a charter-boat skipper $300 for a day of fishing on Cook Inlet. If I’m certain that I’ll catch my limit, odds are good that my high expectations will fall short. That’s why I’ve found that it’s best to be aggressively uncertain, right up front, and to keep my expectations low. That way, if I end up skunked, I’m not disappointed, and I have the satisfaction of having realized my expectations. If I catch my limit, I’m in for a pleasant surprise.

Uncertainty isn’t all good, of course, but neither is it all bad. When you’re fishing, not knowing what’s going to happen can be a good thing, especially when the fish simply aren’t there.

I’m not sure about this, but uncertainty just might be one of the best parts of fishing.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

More in Life

This photo of Frenchy with a freshly killed black bear was taken on the Kenai Peninsula in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 1

The stories were full of high adventure — whaling, mining, polar bear hunting, extensive travel, and the accumulation of wealth

File
Seeing God’s hand in this grand and glorious creation

The same God of creation is the God that made me and you with the same thoughtfulness of design, purpose and intention

Chewy and sweet the macaroons are done in 30 minutes flat. (Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Sophisticated, simplified

When macarons are too complicated, make these delicious, simple macaroons

Michael S. Lockett / capital city weekly
Gigi Monroe welcomes guests to Glitz at Centennial Hall, a major annual drag event celebrated every Pride Month, on June 18.
Packed houses, back to back: GLITZ a roaring success

Sold-out sets and heavy-hitting headliners

Michael Armstrong / Homer News 
Music lovers dance to Nervis Rex at the KBBI Concert on the Lawn on July 28, 2012, at Karen Hornaday Park in Homer.
Concert on the Lawn returns

COTL line up includes The English Bay Band, a group that played in 1980

Marcia and Mary Alice Grainge pose in 1980 with a pair of caribou antlers they found in 1972. The sisters dug the antlers from deep snow and detached them from a dead caribou. (Photo provided by Marcia Grainge King)
Fortune and misfortune on the Kenai — Part 2

In Kasilof, and on Kachemak Bay, in Seldovia and later in Unga, Petersen worked various jobs before being appointed deputy marshal in 1934

“Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement” was published in 2018 by Razorbill and Dutton, imprints of Penguin Random House LLC. (Image via amazon.com)
Off the Shelf: The power of personal voice

“A Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement” provides first-person accounts of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida

Most Read