Being tested out as a die-hard pragmatic, I find reasons for almost every response but this is a tough question. Here are a few thoughts:
In 1957 I was introduced to fly fishing for bluegills and had fished for suckers to bass with bait casting rods since 1952. Fishing by this method was a new, yet beautiful challenge. Those early crude skills were soon applied to trout waters small and large. In the early years, success was measured by the weight of my fern lined creel. This was acceptable. You were simply expected to have something to show to go with the “tell.”
In the early 1970’s, I felt and also resisted a strange urge to release legally retainable fish. It was easier to kill a good sized trout than to let him go and worry about not having something to show. A thirteen inch class brown from a small mountain gorge was my first “victim.” Gently releasing him in a shallow pool and watching him swim away produced an anxious feeling that I should spring forward and grab him. I had a choice. The life of that fish had a moment before laid in my hands. After the fish was seen returning under the boulder near where he was duped, I suddenly felt a new responsibility to repeat this act and was right proud. Being in that rough little gorge by myself, there was no one around to share in my act so the results were fully absorbed solo. Subsequent releases in days to come became easier. Today it is perfectly natural and second thoughts of keeping those fish do not occur.
Memories are my greatest fuel. Hiking into a favored place, dropping the thermometer in the stream, and rigging up allow flashbacks of many past experiences. Curiosity always draws me to look for changes in the old paths, boulders, trees that have fallen, and pools that are constantly shifting. My background forces looks for wildflowers and second looks cast at bugs which flutter by. Recognizing birds and gazing at animal tracks becomes a part of the hike. Identifying trees by their bark patterns and looking for animal movements in the forest sharpens senses. The large and the small become part of the day. Flushing a bedded deer or witnessing the aerial snag of a gnat by a dragonfly complete the scenes. A satisfying sweat becomes part of the experience. Stepping into a most familiar pool makes the time and energy spent worth every minute and calorie. Reading that pool as many times before draws my glances towards the places where successes were attained in the past. I love to cast into water filled boulder cracks seemingly unchanged by time to see if a fish from a newer generation has taken up where many fish from other decades have been caught.
Some ask: “Why do you fish XYZ stream? That stream has nothing but dinky rainbows!”
Yeah, keep on believing that. Many hours paid in certain places opened a few secrets of those streams and there are trophies to be had. Those trophies may not always be in the form of overly large fish but are won just as well by the difficulty of where they are taken and when they choose to feed. When someone asks me such, I truly hope they believe their own question and go somewhere else. I have invested fractions of my life in most of the streams still frequented. Not that I don’t fish new water and greatly enjoy it, but feel magnetic attachments to the old. There is an investment. If for no other reason, I fish certain streams for the memories.
And when Mother Nature chooses to smile, a new deposit enters the account.