The author’s wife fights a steelhead while the author contemplates fly selection. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

The author’s wife fights a steelhead while the author contemplates fly selection. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

I Went to the Woods: The fear of missing fish

Student: “You know, FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out”

Me: “I know exactly what you mean. It’s a lot like FOMF.”


“Yeah, the Fear Of Missing Fish.”

I can hear the eye roll but I explain nonetheless.

“Sometimes you’re not sure if you should be spending more time fishing that little slot by the tree that holds a couple steelhead when the water is right, or fish the root. It’s deeper at the root and you’ll need a heavier fly. Or maybe you should just go fish the trench.”


“It’s impossible to know what is going to pay off and which matters most. Is it the fly? The location? The method? You could be fishing the wrong water with the right fly. But how do you know? You have to make your decision and fish it honestly. The more time you stand there worried about other decisions you could have made or what steelhead Steve or Closed-mouth Rick are doing, you’re not really present. The problem could be less about the fly and location, and more about a bad attitude!”

“That makes sense, but how do you know?”

“You don’t! And that’s the great thing. If you knew you could just get a fish on every cast, it wouldn’t be free or nearly as fun. Uncertainty doesn’t have to be scary.”

“Are you saying that because you’re not 18 anymore and you have a career?”

“Probably, yeah, When I was your age I worried about whether or not I was going to fish the right water and whether or not I had the right flies…”

“Are you really gonna stick with the fishing metaphor?”

“Yes, don’t interrupt. Being told exactly where to fish and what to use works for a while, but you grow out of that. At some point you have to develop the intuition to make the decisions yourself. That’s how you develop confidence. By the time I was a senior I was nervous about leaving, but was so excited to wade out by myself. Sometimes it’s a struggle, other times you figure it out. Then you start to realize how much water is out there and it becomes more exciting than intimidating.”

“But things are different now. It seems like everything is worse than it was. College is more expensive, and, like, am I going to be able to afford a house or a boat or a good life? All the stuff my parents were able to work for and afford don’t seem like they are obtainable.”

“Yeah, well, colleges have to pay for all the new administrators they hire so tuition has gone way up. But social media presents this distorted idea of reality and how you’re the only one who isn’t catching fish, or that no one is catching fish and there’s no way you can catch fish either so you might as well just go sit down under a tree or go home.”

“What’s wrong with coming home?”

“Nothing. But at some point you get tired of catching shiners and bullheads off the dock. You’ve gotta go fish a salmon fly hatch in Montana or tie on a size 20 Pale Morning Dun for rainbows in Idaho. Maybe you love it, maybe you don’t. But the key is to come home and be skilled enough to fish new water with better gear for better fish even if it is just a few miles from the dock where you used to fish when you were a kid.”

“So catching a fish equals happiness?”

“Sometimes, but not always.”

“What does that mean?”

“Let me explain…”

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

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