There is a painting that hangs on the wall above my desk of a young boy sitting in a chair beside his fathers’ bed.
The boy is sitting there, dressed with hat and jacket, holding a fishing rod in one hand and waiting ever so patiently. There’s a look of anticipation on his face. An old-style wind-up clock sitting on a night table indicates it is 5:25 in the morning. The sun is just coming up through the window. The father is sound asleep.
I could very well have been that young boy 60 years ago, waiting so eager and patiently to go fishing with my father. I have felt that sense of anticipation prior to each and every fishing trip. Two months from now my friend Corry and I will be sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River. I can’t wait.
Words cannot possibly describe the excitement that comes when you tie into a prehistoric Fraser River white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus). Rod and reel in hand, holding on for dear life as a six-and-a-half-foot, 250-pound sturgeon comes sailing out of the water right in front of you. Seeing something that big rise up and splash down so close is, to say the least, pretty darned exciting.
I enjoy fishing, in part because I just like to be out there casting a line. I do, however, also enjoy actually catching fish. I am a so-called catch and release angler. So called because every now and then I will harvest a fish for the dinner table and, while I appreciate the thrill of tying into a 250-pound sturgeon, I can also get equally excited about hooking a three- or four-pound trout on a fly line.
It’s hard to explain, but when I’m on the water, I feel good about just being out there – whether I catch fish or not. Time spent casting a line – it gives me opportunity to both reflect on the past and contemplate the future. Things make more sense. Personal problems and complicated situations become simpler and less important and things just sort of fall into place. For a few precious hours I am able to leave my worries behind. Another way of putting it, I suppose, would be to say that for those few precious hours, I simply don’t give a damn.
On those occasions when I do actually manage to get a fish on, well, all I care about is the moment. When I’m fighting a fish, it’s just me and the fish – the eternal struggle of predator and prey. In those minutes I find myself responding to some primordial instinct, some ancient need to pit myself against nature. Nothing else matters.
As for those who might ask how I can claim to respect nature, and yet catch fish for the sole purpose of catching something only to turn around and release it, well, I do not feel the quality of my respect for nature is diminished by the fact that I enjoy fishing. For me, the actual process of catching fish is but a small part of the whole fishing/outdoor experience. Nor do I not take it lightly that by catching a fish and eating it, I am also taking a life.
So why then do I fish?
I can only answer by saying that when I am on the water, casting a line, I feel like there is a balance to my life – not at all dissimilar to the balance that exists in nature where things are in a state of continuous change, where all things must live and die in order to bring about rebirth and renewal.
I also believe that fishing is a way for some young people to get back to nature. Like the young boy in the painting, I remember getting up on many an early morning to go fishing with my father. I remember our talks in the car heading out and I remember stopping by the Half Moon Cafe for a 10-cent Coke on our way back. I remember our conversations far more than I remember any of the fish that I ever caught. I cherish those fishing trips.
I only hope that part of me will always feel like that young boy in the painting.