Why Do I Fish?

February 2, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

What pursues anglers to make countless thousand casts each year?

What pursues anglers to make countless thousand casts each year?

Why do you fish? Now that is a question with as many answers as there are people to ask it to. And it is likely that anglers will have more than one response when posed with such an inquiry.

I was asked this question recently, and all I could come up with (to my surprise) was “just to fish.” I left the conversation at that, but each night since, while feeling for the whirl of my spinner in 18 feet or working a jig around some shoreline rock, I’ve asked myself “why DO I do this?” Apparently, deep down, tripped up by the yin and the yang of this hobby, even I don’t know.

But at least I know what I’m not out on the water for…or do I?

It certainly isn’t for food. With the supermarket a few blocks away, if I wanted fish to eat I could buy it in a dozen varieties – fresh, bagged, boxed or completely breaded – ready to fry, bake or grill.

But I swear nothing tastes better or satisfies the hunger like fried walleye after a day on the ice, or a pile of bluegill fillets with baby red potatoes and summer sweet corn. But the food is just a bonus, albeit, a very tasty one.

Certainly, being such a modest angler, I don’t fish for the glory. I don’t need to catch a monster to feel good or to have a sense of pride in myself.

But then again, recognition is fun. Posting a picture on a website, tacking it up on the tackle shop bragging board or receiving a Catch and Release Club or Master Angler patch in the mail is always rewarding.

I’m not spending 200 days on the water each year chasing down the bass that will break George Perry’s world record, but I am spending 80 or more each year hoping to tie into a six-pound smallie, just to say I held a record, if ever so briefly.

What gets the heart pumping more than a big fish surfacing like this Mille Lacs Lake musky.

What gets the heart pumping more than a big fish surfacing like this Mille Lacs Lake musky.

What’s more, though I deny it openly to many, I suffer through freezing temperatures and frozen knuckles each spring, hoping to find that elusive 10-pound walleye making a pre-spawn run up the Sheyenne or Channel A. So maybe the glory factor does weigh in on my endeavors, and maybe I’m not so modest after all.

In that case, it is a good thing I know the reasons why I fish…or maybe I don’t?

First off, I enjoy the company. Fishing, like so many things in life, is about the people met along the way. The stranger standing a few feet away who spills his life story, his fishing successes and his secret weapons quickly becomes a fishing buddy, if only just for an evening. Whether the person is the retired school teacher visiting from Illinois that I bump into from summer to summer on the shores of the river or my brother, having someone along to share successes and stories with is one of the great rewards of angling.

Of course, there are those days when I’d rather be alone, flailing the fly rod at bluegills or bass, removing the cluttered desk from my mind and replacing it with the smooth mirrored surface of the water. Solitary experiences are rewarding in their own way with reflection, peace and internalization.

Fishing with someone else wins that battle. And I fish with people because I like to see others succeed.

To watch that first-time angler land a nice fish, the smile on his or her face saying “look at me, I can do this” is a rush for anyone trying to pass the sport on to a significant other, spouse or child. The glint in the eyes that says “I’m hooked” when a buddy lands a monster pike is another reward all of its own.

However, I can say there have been times where I’ve felt a brief pang of jealousy as another angler – best friend or complete stranger – holds up a fish and behind a forced smile I’ve thought “that could have been me holding that fish up.” I guess the old fisherman’s saying, “the only person I envy in this world is the one who catches more fish than me” is true, even to the most altruistic of anglers.

Why do we insist on being the last angler at the landing?

Why do we insist on being the last angler at the landing?

Alone or with friends, I enjoy being in the thick of nature. Picking out birds by their sounds – meadowlarks, rooster pheasants, or red-winged blackbirds – is an enjoyable facet of the experience. Watching deer sneak down to the riverside to drink or seeing a heron patrol the shallows for minnows are sights I’d never see if I wasn’t on the water. The sun, the trees and the wind-blown grasses are anesthesia for a body and mind trapped behind the four walls of an office space all day.

But I don’t fish to watch the sun set, if I wanted to do that, I’d stay on the dock. After all, the issue at hand is fishing, not nature-watching. So I fish to catch fish, but the avian activity and evening light show are nice consolations on a slow day.

So why do I fish?

Is it all of the above? Most definitely. I fish for the experience, to test myself, to take what I’ve learned at one place and put it to use somewhere else. I fish to feel alive, to feel like I’ve accomplished something, in hopes of leaving a legacy, and to tune into what is important to me and to tune out what isn’t.

I  fish to shut off the florescent bulbs in exchange for a sunrise on the lake or the moon over the boat landing at the end of the day. I think, deep down, I fish for trophies. I cast after the big one that got away or the one that will never come.

I fish to help others learn how to fish, in the hopes they’ll enjoy it as much as I do, while I still cast after my own ego. I fish for the excitement on most days, but on others to feel no emotion at all.

But all these reasons put together still don’t give me a concrete answer. In the end, the yin leaves me back at the beginning of the yang.

I fish…just to fish, knowing that the total experience is greater than the sum of its parts. What makes this so, I simply don’t know. But the one thing I am sure of is that the answer lies somewhere between my next cast and the last one I’ll make…in our outdoors.


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