As I released the third Cuthroat in as many casts, I was once again reminded of the incredible power of lucky hats. It was a late-September fishing trip with my dad and oldest son and the beat-up old camo Simms hat had done its part, producing fish on every river we hit: the Gallatin, Madison, Soda Butte, Lamar, Firehole and Gibbon. Now I know what you are thinking – even a dummy could catch fish in those rivers, Allen. And I get it, but I can confirm that not every dummy on the trip did, and I, for one, am convinced it was the hat more so than my fishing prowess.
Before we get too much further, I probably need to make a few confessions.
First, I have a shit-ton of hats. I don’t know how many a shit-ton is exactly but it’s a lot. Seriously. Some (my wife) might say I have a problem. I have hats on the coat rack, hats in the closet, hats in the other closet, hats in the garage, hats in the truck, hats at the cabin, hats at the family cottage, hats in the office. I am never out of arms reach of a good hat or twelve. But not all of them are lucky, which leads to my next confession.
I MAY be slightly superstitious. If something works for me, I make every effort to repeat it exactly the next time. I once had an epic day of fishing on the Pere Marquette River with my buddy, Dan Shepler. I was borrowing his rod that day and even using some of his streamers. The day was so good I decided I needed to replicate it, exactly. Later that week I went out and purchased the exact same rod, reel, line and streamers. I’m not joking. Or when I have success hunting, I vigorously attempt to repeat everything exactly the next time. Same breakfast, same underwear, same socks, same boots, same rifle, same ammo, same jacket, same hand warmers, etc. Same order. Same rituals. You get the idea. And while this practice has met with some success, it doesn’t hold as true as hats.
I understand. You’re probably thinking coincidence, right? And I certainly was too. Call me skeptically superstitious. But I have tested numerous superstitions and am quick to debunk those that don’t hold water. For example, being from Michigan I am one of those long-suffering Lions fans. Those damn Lions. Many a Sunday afternoon have been ruined by my feline friends finding any and every way imaginable to lose a football game. For a while I thought I had cracked the code. I had noticed that when I was watching the Lions they would play poorly and when I wasn’t, they would perform better. On the couch with a beer and the Lions find a way to fumble. Get up for a new beer and some chips, they suddenly score 14 points in 34 seconds. Return to the couch, pick six. Coincidence? No, it was clearly a trend. My superstition took over and I started to intentionally not watch the Lions play to test the theory. Turns out that while my blood pressure did improve through the process, the Lions actually suck whether or not I witness it. Debunked.
But the hat thing is real. The hat thing is legit.
The real trouble is in identifying the lucky ones – it’s that age-old nature versus nurture debate. While no one will argue that a lucky hat’s power increases with age and that you NEVER EVER for ANY reason wash a lucky hat, I’ve often born witness to the “hat is lucky or unlucky from the start” (nature) or the “luck is activated in a hat over time” (nurture) debate. Likely due to my lack of patience I have given up on the building-luck-into-a-hat-over-time method and find myself firmly in the “it’s lucky or it’s not right off the shelf” camp.
I’ve had a few can’t miss hats over the years and I currently have two workhorses, but they are getting pretty weathered (not to mention ripe) and it is time to add a few more newbies into the rotation. So, I search. Some hats just look lucky and that’s a solid first step. Next they need to feel lucky. Obviously, not as lucky as they will over time and with break in, but I can put on a hat and know if it feels lucky or not. Then comes the true test in the field. This is a delicate process to say these least. You can ruin several good fishing days trying to add a new hat to the lineup. Trust me. My first three outings of 2020 season were blown on this effort to intentionally bring some new hats into the lucky fold. And while I realize this is a long-term investment (a lucky hat can bring several years of good fishing), my next two outings found me in a desperate state and I went back to one of the trusted starters. And I caught fish, as one would expect.
These are the predicaments that can keep a man awake at night.
Poor performers get relegated to the bench (back closet) quickly. Promising up and comers get their shot, maybe two if I really like them, but the leash is short. They might end up being a fine grab-a-drink-with-a-buddy hat, but never under any circumstances be allowed on a trip to the river. Only the proven veterans have earned that honor.
I know there are some non-believers out there. I know there are some doubters. But I can tell you I will not go to the river again without my trusted talisman. I pulled four more Cutties out of that hole in four more casts. I then handed the rod to one of the unnamed family members on the trip with me who proceeded to work the spot for 15 minutes without even a bump. Maybe the fish shut off? As he walked away, I made one more cast, landed one more fish, smiled to myself and quietly touched the hat in reverent thanks for its service.
I’m a believer.