When I was a kid, I did a lot of fishing with my dad. Though we did cast off from the pier or the riverbank on occasion, we would usually take out the pontoon boat to drown some worms. Most often, these excursions included a slew of family members (something in which I have no shortage), an abundance of snacks, and enough fishing poles to equip a bass tournament. I loved these fishing trips…even though I actually didn’t care that much about fishing. Mostly, I just enjoyed spending time with my family and being on the river. Perhaps now would also be a good time for a little confession: I am actually part fish.
I love the water. Rivers, lakes, oceans, pools, creeks, bathtubs, sinks, puddles, buckets, mud holes…. Doesn’t matter. If there’s water in it/near it/around it, it’s my favorite thing. Notice, I am using the present tense.
So it wasn’t any wonder that I loved my family’s fishing trips. I got to hang out with some great people and be on the water. And did I mention the abundance of snacks? All in all, a great time. However, I should also mention that I fidget constantly and have the patience of a four-year-old in a candy store — and this is me now, as an adult. So when I was a kid, the thought of having to sit still in the boat, holding a fishing pole and waiting for some random unseen creature to cooperate and just take the darn bait, was not high on my list of fun things — especially considering that I would much rather be swimming in the water than sitting quietly on top of it. But as a kid, fishing was about catching a fish, something that may or may not happen at any given time during any given fishing trip, and that was just too much uncertainty and waiting than I was willing to take.
That picture is evidence of my most successful fishing trip, but if you look closely, you’ll notice I’m not actually holding the fish I caught. That’s because fish are gross. They’re slimy and scaly, but worst of all, they have these glass-like eyes that should hold scorn and accusation but, instead, are devoid of anything but a reflection of your own shame and guilt at having impaled a living creature on a rusted fishing hook. This leads me to the other reason I was never a fan of fishing: I felt bad for the fish. And for the worms. And the crickets. And the minnows (or “minnas,” as we Southerners call them). I always throw the fish back, but it still has a hole in it somewhere that it didn’t have before, and the bait was a goner the minute it was pierced by the hook.
For these reasons, I didn’t fish for a long time — probably at least a decade. I would still go out on the boat, but I would just focus on getting a tan or talking to my cousins and leave the fishing to everybody else.
Believe it or not, though, this is a pro-fishing blog post; knowing why I disliked fishing when I was a kid is an important part of understanding why I actually enjoy it as an adult. Strangely enough, the basis of my transition in attitude is due to a change in goals: fishing is no longer about catching a fish. I know, I know. This seems rather counter-intuitive. But for me, fishing is more about simply being. For a few hours, you leave your troubles on the bank, quietly putter around the river inlets with a trolling motor, and wait for your cork to disappear beneath the surface of the water. You’re warm in the sun, and the casting-and-reeling motion offers just enough activity to keep you from petrifying to the seat but not too much mental involvement that you can’t let your mind wander. Best of all, fishing is perfect quality time with my dad. We have this comfortable silence that was made for fishing. We can joke about the seemingly unconcerned fish who are swimming all around our bait, or we can discuss world issues…or we can just sit quietly and watch our corks bob in the water, with a waterfall providing pleasant background noise.
So if I catch a fish, that’s great. It really is a thrill when you feel that tug on your line. But if I don’t catch anything except for a tree branch, that’s fine, too. Fish are still gross. I still feel guilty about harming them (and the bait). I still throw them back. But for the first and only time in my life, I just enjoy the wait.