Philip seeks enlightenment.

You would be forgiven for thinking that with decades of flyfishing experience, comes clarity. In fact, it doesn’t always work that way.

I’ve written before that my mate Steve Dunn is the best blind fisher I know, and our recent week together fishing the lakes in and around the Snowy Mountains has done nothing to weaken that view. But as flattering as my description might seem, Steve would beg to gently differ. That’s because often, Steve is convinced he can sense fish he can’t actually see or hear in the conventional meaning of those words. Exactly what it is that Steve perceives is harder for him to nail down. I wonder if that’s in part because in the modern era, such abilities – while still present deep within us – don’t carry the same value as they would have done in hunter/gatherer times.

Steve gets another one fishing ‘blind’… or maybe not.

I suppose the closest we come is the term ‘sixth sense’, although really, this is just a lame catch-all that can refer to anything from a Bruce Willis movie, to the feeling someone is watching you.

There is another example which sticks in my mind of the sort of the conjuring, if you like, which Steve seems to practice; only this time, it involves another fishing mate, Max Caruso. A couple of years ago, Max and I were fishing Lake Fyans on a winter’s day. The conditions were less than ideal with a strong south-easterly, cold temperatures and scudding cloud. I was digging deep for confidence and application as I prospected the waves, but with not a sign of a trout in the rough water, and little chance of seeing or hearing one, I was struggling to stay on task.

Suddenly, Max called out ‘Yes!’. I looked back up the shore to see his rod buckled, and then an impressive splash out in the lake. Big fish. I wound in and ran up the bank. It was a typically nerve-wracking fight. (When isn’t it with big trout?) The worst part was Max having to bring the fish through a claw-like row of drowned saplings. But he did, and we had a fish which turned the day around.

All very exciting and impressive, but here’s the thing. After I’d snapped a few pics and the brownie had been sent on its way, Max described how he knew the fish was there at least a minute or two before he hooked it. No, he hadn’t seen the trout or heard it, nor was that particular part of the lake any different physically to the water for 100 metres either side – not that we could tell anyway.

The result of a premonition? Or was something else at play?

Keep in mind that this unlikely information was coming from a close mate who I know to be an entirely reliable witness. Some anglers I’ve met not only exaggerate, but also fabricate to the point where any fishing information they offer is useless. It might be true, it might not, and there’s no way of knowing the difference. With Max though, if he catches a 3 pounder around the corner, there’s no need to see the photo. He absolutely caught it, and it was 3 pounds.

The scientific side of my brain wants to explain both Steve’s and Max’s experiences as a function of confidence. The belief you are going to catch a trout is often borne out eventually, and there are sound logical reasons for that; including the extra attention to detail a confident angler applies, not to mention a willingness to persist with a specific location, a fly, etc.

However, I’m open to the idea there might be more to it. Is it possible that when we’re really in the clear mind space which focused fishing can create, we notice something on the edge of perception? Something too minor to register consciously – a mere blip among the regular sights, sounds or touches down the line. Yet this detection compels us to repeat or really focus a cast (and possibly a certain retrieve) without exactly knowing why.

Maybe I’m sounding like a mountain-top mystic. If that’s so, fair enough. But if there’s a better explanation for blind fishing enlightenment, I’d like to hear it.