“Well, do you want to go fishing for 20 Rupees?”
If there’s one unifier that defines The Legend of Zelda as a franchise, it’s freedom. Even at its most linear, Zelda has understood the importance of allowing an audience to break off the beaten path and indulge in a virtual world littered with secrets to uncover. Video games, unlike other mediums, can afford more liberal use of “narrative filler.” The player avoiding every dungeon Link sees like the plague doesn’t move the story along, but it’s an allowance that offers an opportunity to explore, find new Heart Pieces, trigger side quests, or simply spend time in Hyrule. It’s hardly a plot, but these optional moments are often the most important in not only conveying The Legend of Zelda’s design strengths but fleshing out the franchise’s world.
As epic as the series’ storytelling can be, Zelda’s draw has always been the gameplay. The Legend of Zelda’s ever-expanding narrative is clearly more than just an afterthought to anyone paying attention, but it’s no secret that Nintendo typically abides by a “gameplay first” mentality when developing for the series. Fishing has nothing to do with Link’s adventure in the context of Ocarina of Time, but that’s precisely why Lake Hylia’s Fishing Pond is one of the most memorable locations in the game. There’s no narrative pressure, no Navi ringing in Link’s ear, and entering the pond at all is entirely at the discretion of the player.
More than any other mini-game in Ocarina of Time, fishing emphasizes the sheer importance of side content. The Fishing Pond is a place to relax & decompress, independent of Link’s quest. The pond’s mere inclusion widens the scope of Hyrule while capitalizing on that “playground” element inherent to gaming– especially important as Ocarina of Time was setting foundations for 3D games the medium still builds off. Which makes it interesting to note that fishing wasn’t an intended feature at first.
Kazuaki Morita, Ocarina of Time’s boss enemy programmer, was inspired to implement fishing while working on Morpha– the Water Tempe’s boss. After placing the fish model used to enter Jabu-Jabu inside of Morpha’s boss arena, Morita created a cylinder model, gave it Link’s attack animation, and began using his makeshift pond as a “breather.” It wouldn’t take long for other members of the team to find Morita out, but this would ultimately result in the mini-game’s full implementation. The Fishing Pond was tucked into Lake Hylia’s edges, and Morita would go on to design a mini-game Satoru Iwata once described as “so complete that it’s practically a whole fishing video game.”
“The fish are really biting today!”
The Fishing Pond is just remote enough where it doesn’t feel attached to the dangers of Lake Hylia, while also recognizable from a distance. Even though the story never pushes Link to enter the Fishing Pond, its presence beckons players towards it. The swim is worth it since, for only 20 Rupees, Link can fish as much as he likes. Fishing actually originated in Link’s Awakening, not Ocarina of Time, but it notably forced Link to pay up every time he wanted to fish. Taking into account that OoT’s economy isn’t as expensive as LA’s, the payment change is essentially necessary. More importantly, it removes the stress of needing a fat wallet to fish.
The Fishing Pond places an emphasis on natural fixtures. Only the entrance is man-made, with its cobbled path and stone walls cutting off in front of the water. The pond itself is surrounded by sand that Link can cast from at any angle. There are likewise logs submerged within the water that can be stood upon in order to make use of unique vantage points, along with assorted stones. In terms of greenery, the pond is surrounded by moss-covered cliffs with treetops towering the area while weeds & lily pads counterbalance the water’s blue hue.
While Kaepora Gaebora makes it a point to Link that time does not pass in most locations, the Fishing Pond counts as part of the overworld. Day and night actively cycle through each other, even influencing the fish. At sunrise, smaller fish swim into the pond and trigger a feeding frenzy, making it much easier to catch large fish. Complete with Kakariko Village’s tranquil tune playing in the background, the Fishing Pond is one of Ocarina of Time’s coziest areas. The visuals may be on the plainer side, but the Fishing Pond’s atmosphere is second to none.
Visiting the Fishing Pond for the first time is as simple as turning towards Lake Hylia upon leaving Kokiri Forest. Kaepora Gaebora will be perched in front of the gates to guide Link elsewhere, but there’s nothing actually stopping the player from immediately fishing (other than 20 Rupees.) There aren’t that many fish in the past, and the ones present rarely weigh more than 10 to 12 pounds.
In truth, the past’s pond should be treated as practice– a proving ground to master fishing’s mechanics in a low-stress pond where fish don’t distract from each other and offer quite a bit of room for error. Link can even earn a Piece of Heart by catching a 10-pound fish, encouraging players to take their time and play around with the mini-game. Considering how much more dynamic the pond becomes seven years in the future, the more time players spend fishing in the past, the better.
Since Lake Hylia has dried up when Link wakes up in the future, players can’t simply swim over to the Fishing Pond anymore– at least not until the Water Temple is completed. There are two ways to enter the Fishing Pond as an adult early, but they require having prepared in the past. If Link plants a bean in Lake Hylia as a child, he can use the fully grown sprout to hover towards the pond’s entrance as an adult. If players composed the Scarecrow’s Song in the past, playing it for Bonooru (conveniently also at Lake Hylia) will allow Link to summon Pierre– a ‘hookshottable’ Scarecrow– in set locations by playing the song. Simply play the Scarecrow’s Song in range of the Fishing Pond, and voila.
The future pond is the real meat of the fishing mini-game, and where dedicated anglers will spend most of their time. Not only are there far more fish as an adult, they’ve all grown considerably. The heaviest fish now push 20, and players need to be mindful not to hook small fish by accident. Positioning becomes more important, as does actually understanding fishing’s mechanical nuances. While the only relevant item to be gained as an adult is the Golden Scale– which mercifully only requires Link catch a measly 13 to 15 pounder– the game keeping track of your heaviest fish is enough to come back for more. Especially since there are much bigger fish to fry.
“Do you want to know some fishing secrets?”
For as relaxing as fishing can be, Ocarina of Time’s standout mini-game has something of a reputation– and perhaps not without reason. In-game fishing instructions are as vague as they are abstract. Players are expected to feel the controls out themselves, but like real fishing, this requires real patience. Much like with combat, rushing in thoughtlessly does the player little favors. Fish aren’t just strewn about randomly with no rhyme or reason. Observe their behavior, their swimming patterns, and where they go in relation to the time of day. Smaller fish tend to hide amongst the weeds while the largest fish will always start their cycle in the middle of the pond.
As Morita used Link’s sword animations as a base for fishing, casting naturally shares similarities with swordplay. Fishing almost has a combat-like rhythm at times. Once the fishing rod has been cast with B, players can wiggle their line with the analog, aggressively tug with B, reel slow with A, or reel fast by pressing A & R together. Smaller fish will bite just about anything, but bigger fish require some goading. Aggressively tugging is useful for getting a fish’s attention, but do it too many times and they’ll quickly lose interest. Likewise, fish will follow a slow reel but not for very long. Slow, methodical wiggling tends to work best with luring bigger fish.
Once a fish is hooked, Ocarina of Time’s battle music begins to play and players are tasked with actually catching their fish. General rule of thumb is to never stop holding A– the moment a fish notices they’re not being reeled in, they’ll swim away. Other than holding A, all a player needs to do is work the analog stick, but that in itself can be a challenge. The key to fishing is to pull back on the analog stick and follow the direction the fish is swimming in. If a fish is swimming right, pull back while tilting right.
Similarly, it’s important to let go of the analog stick when fish start splashing around. Should Link keep pulling, he’s liable to lose the fish. Fishing actively punishes players who aren’t paying attention to the fish on their line. Hooking them is just half the battle. A perceptive eye is key in making the most out of the Fishing Pond. So long as players are aggressive when a fish is passive and passive when a fish is aggressive, it’s possible to become a master fisherman in no time.
As a reward, unlocking the Piece of Heart in the past and Golden Scale in the future will spawn the Sinking Lure in their respective ponds. An illegal lure, the Sinking Lure can reach the bottom of the pond, making it much easier to catch specific fish. Every time Link enters the Fishing Pond, the lure will spawn in one of four random locations: on the western log, in the stream, by the northern patch of grass, or in a pile of underwater rocks northeast of the entrance. While the Sinking Lure prevents Link from earning Rupees for his lunkers, players can at the very least convince the Fishing Pond owner to let them use the lure– a vital tool for anyone looking to catch the legendary Hyrule Loach.
“WOW! What a rare fish! This is a Hyrule Loach!”
On every fourth paid visit of the Fishing Pond, an eel-esque fish will spawn by the lily pads. This is the Hyrule Loach– both the heaviest fish in Ocarina of Time and the hardest to catch. As the Hyrule Loach always responds to the lure when in shallow water, quick players can try to catch the Loach right away. Be warned, however, as failing to reel the Loach in (or simply disturbing it) triggers a roughly 15-minute waiting cycle where Link must leave the Loach alone as it swims to the center of the pond and back. The Loach will periodically come up for air, but it’ll ignore the lure until making its way back.
Patience is critical here, as is ensuring the Loach isn’t surrounded by smaller fish. Tinier fish will often cut the Loach off and disturb it if players aren’t careful while reeling. Waiting to catch the Loach is the most authentic Ocarina of Time gets in simulating fishing, capturing that building anticipation of waiting for just the right fish to bite. The Hyrule Loach is considerably more aggressive than other fish in the pond as well, losing its mind the closer it gets to Link. Keeping a careful eye on the Loach and a quick thumb on the analog stick is necessary for subduing the beast.
Even OoT fishing experts might find themselves periodically bested by the Hyrule Loach, especially if they choose to wait out the 15-minute timer instead of save-scumming or entering & re-entering. Waiting so long just to blow the chance to catch the Loach is a pain unlike any other– whether it be because the Loach broke free right before certain victory or simply because another fish got in its way right as it was turning back. If anything, though, the tension just makes catching the Loach all the more satisfying.
There’s a reason Ocarina of Time’s battle music plays when hooking in fish– for as relaxing as standing in the ambiance of the Fishing Pond is, actually reeling in a fish is a mechanical challenge that requires quick reflexes and precise analog controls. All things considered, fishing might be the most difficult challenge the game throws at players. And it’s still incredibly relaxing in the process.
Satoru Iwata’s claims that fishing could be a proper video game in and of itself might seem rose-tinted– and to an extent, they certainly are– but the amount of content present in the Fishing Pond is deceptively varied. The challenge of catching the Hyrule Loach comes from hooking in its 30+ pound self in the future, but there are actually two Hyrule Loaches in the past that Link can only cast with the regular lure. Likewise, every record-breaking fish a player catches does seem to raise the max weight of fish inside the pond (to a certain extent,) generating replayability for attentive players. Link can even catch the hat off the Fishing Pond owner’s head.
Fishing in Ocarina of Time isn’t quite its own video game, but there are a number of small reasons to keep coming back for more. In that regard, it’s not hard to see where Iwata was coming from. The Fishing Pond has its own tiered progression, unlocking the Sinking Lure as a reward while adapting to your personal best. The Hyrule Loach in and of itself is one of Ocarina of Time’s most charismatic secrets– a rare fish that’s incredibly difficult to catch and only awards the Link 50 Rupees. The Hyrule Loach amounts to little more than bragging rights, but that arguably makes catching it more meaningful. It’s a genuine labor of love.
Fishing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially in video games, but Ocarina of Time makes the most out of a mini-game that was never supposed to exist. What began life as a destressor for Kazuaki Morita ended up the game’s most dense mini-game. Working up the skills to catch the Hyrule Loach is quite rewarding, but fishing is fun for all skill levels. Just letting the time pass by while the sun sets and the fish go about their business is enough to justify the pond’s inclusion. Fishing has nothing to do with Link’s quest and Lake Hylia may have been designed without the Fishing Pond in mind, but The Legend of Zelda is better when Link can take a break to fish for hours on end.