“You’ve gotta put down the duckie if you want to play the saxophone.” That’s a line from an old Sesame Street song that’s rolling around in my head this morning. Maybe by using it in a blog post, I’ll get rid of it. It also has a lot to say about fishing.

Concentration and focus are essential to successful fishing (with one exception. See below). The more of those things you bring to the game, the more you’ll catch. If you’re thinking or worrying about family issues or job problems, the fishing is not going to go well. So put down the duckie, and you’ll fish better.

I think that’s partly why fishing is such a good thing. For the bit of time you have a rod in hand, most of the rest of the world just disappears. It is, as novelist Jim Harrison once wrote, a refuge “from the horrors of earning a living.”

So most of the time on a trout stream or bass lake, I’m thinking about the fishing–whether trying to tie the perfect knot or to note the subtlest of takes on a drifting nymph. I am not thinking about the mortgage payment, my son’s latest traffic ticket, or whether or not my wife is mad at me.

That kind of concentration doesn’t always come easy. There are days on this river when I slip into fishing focus immediately. Other days, it might take an hour or so. I can’t force it to happen. It just happens naturally, as I fish.

Now, I grant you that all the talk of focus and concentration can make fishing seem like work. Fair enough. There’s another sort of fishing that is a complete counterpoint. Throw a baited hook into a river-bend pool, set the rod in a forked stick, and wait for a bite. Watch the birds or the clouds while you’re waiting. No concentration is really required. And you’ll have plenty of time to worry about whatever’s on your mind.