A well-intentioned friend made an innocent suggestion over lunch several days ago. Why not get together, three or four of us, and go fishing. His intentions were first-rate. He considered a few hours fishing to be a natural adjunct to good friends spending time together. It was a logical - it was meant in the truest sense of friendship and, for many people, it would be wonderful. For me, it would never work.
For me, fishing is one of two things. It's something akin to a religious experience or it's a dog eat dog competition. For me, fishing is either time alone, enjoying all that nature has to offer, or, fishing; fierce, competitive fishing. To my friend, who hasn't fished much, fishing is an idle pastime, a time when friends can sit on a riverbank - drown worms - swap lies. My friend, like everyone who hasn't fished much, has no understanding of the fine art of fishing.
Think about it in your mind's eye. Let your mind carry you to a fine spring day, a day promising seventy degree temperatures, beautiful cumulus clouds and giant bass. You push the boat off from shore, easily an hour before the sun crests the hills to the east. The inky blackness of night has given way to the neutral greys of first light. The lake is calm, there is no wind, a soft fog hovers low, clinging to the lake as cool morning air meets water still warm from yesterday's sun. The air is damp - soothing - wonderful as it dampens your skin and clothes. The distant shoreline is shrouded in mist - ghostly across the glassy surface of the lake. In your minds's eye you see the shallows along that shoreline, thick with gnarled cypress knees, long-dead downed trees, thick clumps of aquatic grasses, all invisible in the darkness. And yet, before you even get there - you see it all clearly.
You slip into the front seat of the boat, lower the electric motor over the bow and steer slowly toward that distant shoreline. There's no hurry. Relax. Take you foot from the switch - sit back - luxuriate, taking in as much as you can. Close your eyes and feel the perfection of the moment. You know it will be fleeting - gone in mere minutes. Enjoy it while you can. Five minutes pass, ten, still you sit idly - out there in the middle of the lake, absorbing it all. Don't think. Don't analyze. Let it wash over you. Soak it all up - the beauty - the silence - and finally become aware - everything that's bothered you, right up to this very moment, is gone, washed softly away. Then there is nothing but you and this magical moment. Finally, you step softly on the foot pedal and again move toward the shoreline ahead - toward the giant largemouth bass you're surely to catch and release today.
The fishing? Well, the fishing is secondary. Do you wan't to catch fish? Sure. Does it matter all that much? No. Fish would be nice. A ten pound bass would be nicer. But, compared to just being out there, the fish fade to a distant second. You're confident. You're always confident. You'll catch bass. If they're big enough you may put the camera on the back seat - set the self-timer - take a picture - you holding a giant. Worth remembering. Still, thirty or more years ago you started releasing fish. Killing these magnificent creatures seemed wrong somehow. And so, like all those fine fish caught so long ago, these will be returned to the lake to fight another day.
A day alone out there must surely be worth a year in therapy. A day out there is unforgetable and yet can't be repeated. Each time will be it's own unique experience. Each time, when the day is though, you'll go home thanking the Lord for such an opportunity. And, when you're lying in bed that night, clear-headed and relaxed, your problems somehow unimportant, just before you doze off you'll remember - and you'll smile.
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”
Henry David Thoreau