Angling With Al (Einstein)

Einstein. Pretty smart guy, right? In Maine, were he alive today, he’d qualify as wicked smart. I mean, he came up with that amazing formula that explains just about everything: e=mc². I think the e stands for everything. Everything equals mass times speed. Squared. Brilliant.

So why am I talking about Al Einstein, brilliant and famous mathematician, in a blog about angling? I thought you’d never ask.

Fishing Buddy Al E.

I’ll tell you in a minute. First I’ll tell you my one and only Einstein story. It’s relevant, actually, because it illustrates that Al had his weaknesses. A famous violinist told me that when his famous string quartet played a gig at Princeton University many years ago a famous professor invited the quartet over to his house for a jam session. The prof was A. E., who was a pretty good amateur fiddler himself. So the quartet plus Einstein — a quintet, now — launches into a number. The music starts to go a little off. Suddenly the Big E says, “Stop! Stop!” The music stops. The genius in the room says, “Sorry! I can’t count.” True story. So if Einstein went fishing, do you reckon the mathematical genius would have similar problems with the math of angling?

“How big was that trout, Al?”
“Eighteen inches!”
“That didn’t look like an 18-incher to me, Al.”
‘Well, you know, I can’t count inches all that well. I’m more of a metric guy.”

Still, I wish someone had taken Einstein fishing. Maybe — just maybe — if the Big E had spent some time in a canoe with a flyrod in hand, getting skunked along with the rest of us schlubs, he would have put the angling question under his mental microscope and come up with the Unified Theory of Fishing. He would have cranked out a formula , a=fc² or something like that, where a stands for angler, f stands for fish, c for casts squared — that would explain why the average angler on the average day catches fewer trout than a blind otter. But until that happened, he would go through all the same trial and error, heavy on the error, that we all go through on a seasonal basis.

Like today, for example. A windy day on Pond X. Trout are rising for emerging caddis, but the rises are hard to see in the choppy water. So we cast and cast, the Bro and I, hoping that the trout can see our Goddard’s Caddis flies better than we can see their rises. We cast with the wind, against the wind, across the wind. We hook our own lines, as featherweight fly and middleweight line cross paths in the gusts. Our tippets tie themselves in knots and worse. So I’m riffing on the Big E, Al Einstein, wondering how he would solve this equation. I imagine him in the front seat of my canoe, contemplating a wind-blown mare’s nest of line, leader and tippet and muttering “Oy vey!” while a swarm of blackflies homesteaded in the wilderness of his hair.

But Einstein is long gone, and we will never know if he had been, shall we say, lured into angling whether he would have turned his immortal mind to solving the angler’s Eternal Question: Why the hell am I not catching more fish? Here’s the man who postulated the Big Bang, who calculated the expansion of the Universe, whose General Theory might even help to explain Facebook and Starbucks. But could he have figured out fishing?

I doubt it. Don’t you? But it was fun to think about, out there in the wind, not catching fish. Thanks for keeping me company, Al.

Photograph of Einstein by Orren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. Modified with Photoshop by PM_Poon and later by Dantadd. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Nick Mills

About Nick Mills

Full disclosure: I was not born in Maine, alas! I was born in Massachusetts, but the family moved to Maine when I was eleven, and I grew up in Thomaston. My dad was skipper of one of the draggers that sailed out of Rockland, in the days when it was a rough-tough working fishing port. When he came in from the sea his favorite activity was freshwater fishing with me and my brother, Peter. We learned together to flyfish for trout in the Alder Stream in Eustis. Once hooked on the sport, pun intended, I fished at every opportunity in every place I could -- in the rivers, streams and ponds of Maine; in the mountain ponds of Utah, where I was stationed for a year in the Army; in high Andean lakes in Colombia, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; even in a lagoon that surrounded one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. I tried once to go trout fishing in northern Afghanistan, when the U.S.S.R. occupied that country; a landslide blocked my path, but that led to a more interesting adventure, which I will tell you about in a future post.