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Fishing As Therapy

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Every year when our annual sportfishing issue rolls around I get to ruminating about fishing and how it is that one activity can mean so many different things to so many different kinds of people.

Our issue typically emphasizes the big-game permutation, which is unique for a variety of reasons but mostly because it is a group activity. I always think of fishing primarily as a solitary endeavor (disclaimer: I just finished rereading The Old Man and The Sea). Even when multiple fishermen go out on a single boat, it’s basically one man trying to outsmart one animal. Big-game fishing, on the other hand, is a true team sport with each member having a specific assignment. The explanation for this is obviously scale: The magnitude of the quarry, distances, and boat demand it.

One advantage of team-style fishing is the feeling that you’re part of a group of like-minded people who share a common goal; one disadvantage is that it’s much less of a reflective pastime. When you’re fishing alone you have time to contemplate and reflect, a rare commodity. Over the years I’ve found it is this zen quality that has rewarded my efforts far more than the actual catch. When I’m fishing alone, be it in a stream or a boat, my mind calms, my pulse drops, and I’m rewarded with the chance to think about things I normally don’t think about.

But I don’t need to be totally alone. Every year I fish a few times with a guy named Kirk. Now Kirk is someone who the world has kicked around and who has kicked it right back. If personality were measured like sandpaper, Kirk’s would be 50 grit. He’s just not all that pleasant a guy to be around—until we climb into his 21-footer to go hunt stripers. The minute we clear the ramp, Kirk becomes the best company imaginable. Not for his conversational prowess—most of our time is spent in silence, each with his own thoughts—but for the comfortable space he provides. When we do talk, it’s about meaningful things like family and values and duty—subjects we’d never broach on land. Such peacefulness descends upon the boat that a strike is more likely viewed as an intrusion than a cause for glee.

When we’re back at the dock the process reverses itself and Kirk becomes his old gritty self. More often than not our catch is small, but we shake hands and go our separate ways, a little calmer and maybe even a little wiser. Sure beats psychotherapy.