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

A copy of Prince Harry’s “Spare” sits on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion office on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Prince Harry gets candid about ‘gilded cage’ in new memoir

“Spare” undoubtedly succeeds in humanizing Harry

The cast of “Tarzan” rides the Triumvirate Theatre float during the Independence Day parade in downtown Kenai, Alaska on Monday, July 4, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate swings into the year with ‘Tarzan’, Dr. Seuss and fishy parody

The next local showing of the Triumvirate Theatre is fast approaching with a Feb. 10 premiere of “Seussical”

This vegan kimchi mandu uses crumbled extra-firm tofu as the protein. (Photo by Tressa Dale / Peninsula Clarion)
Meditating on the new year with kimchi mandu

Artfully folding dumplings evokes the peace and thoughtful calm of the Year of the Rabbit

Mashed potatoes are served with chicken breast, green beans and pan sauce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Mashed potatoes for a chef

They are deceptively hard to get right

Photo 210.029.162, from the Clark Collection, courtesy of Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum 
Emma Clark feeds the Clark “pet” moose named Spook in 1981. At the urging of state wildlife officials, Carl Clark had agreed to care for this calf at their home in Hope.
Emma Clark: Becoming a Hope pioneer

For 50 years, Emma and Carl had been central to the story of Hope

A copy of “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” stands on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion office on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Coffee shop time travelers leave reader cold

“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is the debut novel of author and playwright Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Josiah Burton and Jaylee Webster rehearse "Something Rotten" on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
School productions bring SpongeBob SquarePants, Sherlock Holmes to the stage

Nikiski and Soldotna drama programs prepare for April productions

Ultra-fast, protein-packed miso soup is a mild and comforting broth for sick days. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Soothing soup for January ills

It’s probably a novelty to have experienced my child’s infancy without a single sniffle

Adobo Chicken Floutas are topped with queso, sour cream, cilantro, onions and tomatoes. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Deep-fried New Year’s indulgence

Like many people, I used to make New Year’s resolutions every year