These days there are several new angling writers well worth reading, and I have always enjoyed books that have vicariously taken me on fishing trips of the mind, trips that I will never have the opportunity to take. A few years ago it was my privilege to write a blurb for a wonderful book by Canadian writer Robert Reid entitled Casting into Mystery. The book weaves the author’s in-depth perspective on how fly fishing impacts his life with insights and quotes from naturalists, philosophers, poets, song writers, and other angling authors about fishing and the natural world. Reid also delves into the spiritual realm of nature including the Celtic Way, which is reflective of his own Scottish heritage. After my second time reading through his manuscript, my mind began to drift to bygone days.
For some reason, I have always been consumed with fishing until absolute darkness. As the ashen hues of twilight dissolve into the black of night I have often felt engulfed by a web of peacefulness. Since few anglers out West fished well into dark, my aloneness during that time evoked a sense of complete oneness with my surroundings as well.
According to Reid, the Celts define that thin line of time experienced between sunset and total darkness as “the gloaming.” A culture totally absorbed in nature, the traditional Celts believed “the gloaming” to be a holy period when our profane world connects to a sacred “other-world” as the awakening of nightlife merges with the mystery of life beyond. Relating this belief to fishing, I found the concept of gloaming particularly intriguing.
Watching and waiting in eager anticipation, a river comes to life as darkness descends. Almost magically so, an ensemble of insects engage in a ritualistic dance celebrating the cycle of life while one by one trout awaken and start to rise in mystical cadence to the music of the river. As an angler trying to immerse myself into the rhythm of the moment, at one point it happens. Like that precise instant when a person falls asleep, time and eternity become one crossing that thin line of gloaming as if to catch a glimpse of the “other-world” to which the Celts refer. The river murmurs a mesmerizing tune as I cast, and then cast again in a meditative state hoping never to wake up. But upon my return to “our profane world,” there is a sense that I have been touched by something special far beyond the act of just trying to catch fish.
My mind still wanders back to one evening on the West Branch of the Delaware decades ago when I first began to feel at ease in that “other-worldliness” defined by the Celtic Way. While casting to a pod of impossible-to-catch rising brown trout sipping sulfur spinners, I recall being magically drawn into that limbo state when day melted into night as if touched by something special. Although completely unfamiliar with my surroundings at the time, my vision adjusted to low light while the sounds and aromas of emerging darkness became more acute. Like a door gradually opening to a world that frightens many, I was overwhelmed by a sense of calmness and peace. At that very moment, a nice brown sipped in my spinner.
Celtic lore associated with the gloaming historically reflects either the wonders of new love or the sorrow of those in mourning; but for us anglers, the gloaming can represent that sliver of time when water comes alive and, for a brief glimmer, everything flows together in a moment of perfection. Whether it be salmon, steelhead, trout, or striped bass in my kayak, I will always continue to fish the gloaming. For me, it has become a hallowed pursuit.