“To go fishing is the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of sun on blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature…all men are equal before fish.”- – Herbert Hoover
When I was growing up, I never really understood why people liked fishing. I saw fishing as nothing but negatives: the bait was slimy, the fish smelled and it was just a little too degrading to constantly be outwitted by something as primitive looking as a fish. After seeing a fish alive, actually eating it was out of the question (especially after I observed the process of killing and cleaning a fish). The whole thing to me was a pretty torturous affair, endured only on a few rare occasions to accompany a friend or relative.
The first time I ever went fishing was with my sisters and my father off of the old Mather’s Bridge in Melbourne, Florida. The year was 1967 and I was 12 years old. My father had moved to Florida a few months before us because of his job with the space program. We had stayed in New Jersey with our mother to sell our house. Once we finally got here, any time with my father was quality time, even if it meant going fishing.
My father, a smiling, likable man seemed to know everyone at the bridge. My sisters and I, unaccustomed to live-bait and fish guts and big, sunburned fishermen, were like strangers in a strange land.
I don’t think I ever caught a real fish off of Mather’s Bridge except maybe a blowfish (which everyone knows is the booby prize of fishing). But I have very fond memories of those times with my dad and sisters, standing side by side on the bridge with our lines thrown out on the water. My dad would bait our hooks and help us cast and point out all the new and exciting Florida sights and creatures to us. It was so much better than spending time at a crowded theme park. Even with the fish smells and all.
Thirty-eight years later, I find myself fishing with another smiling, likable man… my husband. At times we go out on our small boat and go flats fishing in the Indian River Lagoon. My husband scans the water for signs of fish movement, or points out dolphins, manatees and roseate spoon-bills. The sun warms our skin and the breeze helps to cool it again. I cast my line, and slowly reel it in, just the way my dad and my husband tried to teach me, but I do it more for show than anything else. I have no real desire to catch a fish. Which is just as well, because I always do a lot more fish feeding than fish catching.
Whether it’s on the boat or at the beach surf-fishing, this time with my husband is quality time. I see the peace that it brings him to be on the water and the thrill that it brings him when he reels one in and the gentleness that he uses when he slowly moves a fish back and forth in the water to make sure it is breathing again before he sets it free. After going fishing with my husband, I finally understand the depth of the sport.
I think some people need an excuse to slow down and enjoy nature. Fishermen have that excuse. I think they enjoy the challenge of “the hunt” and the thrill of the catch, but I think they also enjoy the lapping of the waves against their ankles and the call of the sea-birds overhead and most certainly the silvery flash of a school of redfish breaking the water. Even if they don’t know it….even if they won’t admit it….I think fishing helps to restore their spirit and calm their soul. It teaches them patience and allows them a quiet, private time to appreciate nature. Success in fishing isn’t necessarily measured in the quantity of fish caught, but by the quality of the experiences felt. Anticipation, excitement, awe, peace, success, serenity, tenderness, freedom…all of these things can be “caught” on a good day of fishing.
I wasn’t really old enough to recognize those qualities in my dad when we went fishing. All I remember is the playful shake of his head as he replaced my lost bait for the umpteenth time or his gentle release of even the booby prize of fish, the blowfish. But I bet those qualities were there. And I bet that if I had spent more time on fishing back then, I would have gotten to know him a lot better than I ever did. But I was 12, and you know how 12 year old girls are. Maybe he was really trying to teach me something I would have been a lot better off learning at the age of twelve. But that time is long past, and like all fishermen know, there’s really no sense talking about the ones that got away.
“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”—
– Henry David Thoreau
**Author’s note: I wrote this essay back in 2005. It was published in Florida Wildlife Magazine in January 2006. I couldn’t find a photo of my dad fishing to add with the post so I included a photo of Tom and one of his favorite fishing buddies.