“I only fish for the fishing, not the catching”

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There are two lies you will hear from anyone who is into the sport of angling. 1) “It was THIS BIG!” and 2) “Catching fish isn’t the point. It’s the experience of fishing that matters.”


The Mocking Bass. For four years this fish watched me cast lures and live bait from the end of the small dilapidated dock in the lagoon behind the cabin, without ever showing interest in what I had to offer. Two weeks ago I dropped a plastic worm on his head. The worm slid off and rested on the bottom. The mocking bass reoriented towards the worm and took a sniff. I jiggled the worm. And, BANG. He took the bait. My drag was set to medium, so WZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ .. he took off across the lagoon. I tightened the drag a little because he was running into brush and he turned direction and jumped. But I kept the rod tip up and used his jump to bring him in. He ran back and forth across the lagoon two more times and then headed out. WZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ against the harder drag with his last bit of strength, and one more jump. Then I brought him in, letting him struggle and tire a little more because they always manage to pull off that one last bit of resistance, the one where you lose most of the big ones. I got on my knees and pulled him out just as he got near the dock… And that fish was THIS BIG!!!!!

It is true that there are many components of the act of fishing that one might do otherwise because they are pleasant things to do. One may socialize, one may entertain the kiddies, one may tool around in a boat, one may visit a local park, one may sit on the shore of a lake or river, one may hang out on the end of a dock taking in some sun or a gentle breeze. If you do any or some combination of these things with a fishing pole in hand does not matter. The fishing may only be the excuse to get outside, get some sun, get some exercise, whatever. Or, one could just be honest with oneself and recognize that the fishing itself does matter after all. And fishing without catching fish …. well, there IS a reason they call it FISHing.

Years ago I would hang out with my friend Robert, and we’d talk about art and politics and enjoy being with each other, but there would be fishing going on at the same time. These days I hang out with my friend Asha and we talk about relationships, running, racism, and all sorts of things that start with the letter “R” and there is also fishing going on at the same time. But the truth is that although the friendship and the sunshine and the breeze are all warm and worthy of effort, we are also paying attention to the fish. Or lack thereof. So Robert and I would prefer the harder to reach but more likely to produce pond, or we would row across the lake to the good spot, or leave an unproductive shore for another with more potential. Asha and I are interested in exploring each other’s past and learning about each other’s interests, but we are also exploring the local lakes and rivers, and learning about what baits are working to actually catch some fish.

Indeed, there is something that I enjoy immensely that utterly goes against the concept that it is the experience, not the fish that I will be happy to tell you about. Here at the cabin, I spend most of the daylight hours in one place or another where I can see either the bay on one side of the property or the small shallow embayment that we call the “Lagoon” on the other side, or the channel that connects them. I am observant and attuned to the signs of nature. I am aware of the direction of the wind, the twist of the current, the shoal of the baitfish, and the position of the shade from shoreline trees. Even in my peripheral vision, I notice the surface spoor and the indicated pattern of movement of predators such as the northern pikes. I am one with the herons, the eagles, and the loons who are also following the fish. Their movements and activities are a book I know how to read. I know when and where the fish will bite before the fish themselves know it. I am the fish. I am Kung Fu Fish.

On the porch leaning against the faux redwood table is a light tackle rig and a medium tackle rig. At the moment, the medium rig has a Mepps Agila #5, and the light tackle is rigged with a plastic worm a little heavy for the line but sometimes I take chances. At some moment during the day conditions will change. I will perceive some piscene activity, a sign of predatory movement, a disturbance among the minnows. Right now a brisk breeze is pressing the natural flotsam against the bay shore so within casting range there are tens of thousands of minnows. Too many minnows. And the water is choppy so a lure has too much competition for attention. The clouds tell me that the breeze will lighten up in the next hour or two, but then it will be too warm. But after another hour or two I expect the stirred up highly oxygenated lagoon to be a place of activity. As conditions change, I may change the lures on the rigs leaning against the table out on the porch. Later on, the bluegills may start feeding off the surface on flying insects. In their state of distraction the smaller ones will be prey for the bass, or perhaps the tiger muskies that occasionally pass through under conditions like this. A well placed medium Mepps Agila or a weedless crank bait will do the trick. I will watch for signs of the fish becoming active, and in their state of hunger and the simple fishy-limbic distraction of pursuit, becoming careless as well.

And then, I will select the appropriate tackle rig and walk down to the lagoon. I will choose the spot from which I will cast. I will see the rise or the ripple. I will cast. If no fish takes the bait on that single cast, then the fish have won and I will retire to the cabin to meditate, over a glass of chilled chocolate tequila, on what I did wrong. Or, it will be the fish, and not me, making the mistake. And I will land the bass or the muskellunge, there will be a brief knowing eye contact between us, and I will release it. And only the fish and I will understand that I am the one-cast kung fu fish master.

Other times, I just cast and cast and cast and nothing happens and if you ask me what I’m doing, I’ll say: “Actually, this is good core body exercise. Actually, I’m mainly practicing accuracy in casting. In fact, actually, I hope no fish bite, it would actually ruin all the fun!”

And you would think, “Man, what a loser!”

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19 thoughts on ““I only fish for the fishing, not the catching”

  1. Not sure if this applies, but on one particular vacation, my father would go fishing every day. He would work hard to catch a certain fish. After he caught it, he would release it. He would catch it the next day. I guess achieving the goal makes a task more rewarding.

  2. It is done.

    The waters calmed. The gull eyed the dog enviously. The sun slipped from behind a thin veil of haze.

    Glow in the dark jig on light tackle with a spot of power bait.

    One cast. One perch. My kung fu is strong.

    Time for a Guinness.

  3. You talk a good game. So let’s see a picture of that fish in your boat next to a beer can to gauge its real size.

  4. If I can actually see the fish the bow with its fishing attachment comes out of the case. As a teenager I had wasted too many hours trying to lure fish that I could see; these days visible fish have a very high probability of soon being dead fish (the down side being that the fish will have a ~6mm hole torn through it so it loses out in aesthetic quality over a lured fish).

    If you want real fish tales and you happen to be around Guam or the Northern Marianas Islands, take a small charter boat over a reef and throw in a hand line; you’ll get good sized tuna. If you go into deep water throw in a big line with plenty of sinkers and you can get fish about as long as you are tall. The only problem with fishing in that region is that you’re in open ocean so it can be extremely dangerous.

    For safer fishing trips visit a trout or salmon farm and pay the fee for fishing – it’s the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel.

  5. We can’t spear the fish here in MN unless we are a native, and then only on certain waters. The nearest reservation waters are just across the lake I’m on, but the native part does not apply.

  6. I went to the library yesterday at work, and picked up “the underwater world of trout” and “advanced bassin'”. they were both on DVD. i don’t have a tv (or VCR) so dvd is the only way I can watch anything (on my computer….the screen is small…ugh).

    i also got a book about cooking with herbs, which was written by a minnesota couple….

    get this: i went to the farmers market this morning, to by a small cilantro plant. i found ONE. i tried to get the ladies attention to buy it, but she was swooped up by some other lady.
    this lady then saw the cilantro plant….and bought it!! i was gonna buy it, but she did first. ugh!

    the kicker? as i walked away, somewhat disheartened (but also trying to “laugh it off”, i noticed that the book on herbs i picked up at the library was written by the couple who were selling that same cilantro i wanted to buy today!! WFT?

    anyhow, i planned on going fishing today, with my buddy andy. we went to his friend bill’s boat so he could check on the engine/starter/cables…. and we ended up staying for a couple of hours, on bills multi-million dollar yacht…and jen and i got a job cleaning it!

    so…. alas no fishing. but a good paying (part time) job, plenty of sun, a tall glass of crown royal on the rocks, and a new friend/connection.

    btw, i’m all about finding the best spots in lakes/rivers/etc…. even if they are hard to get to…. however, i had to get back to my moms to cut the grass for her…. which that was thursday? it’s now saturday…. the grass has yet to be mowed.

    yesterday my car wouldn’t turn off. really. i stopped, parked, turned it off, took out the key, shut and locked the door…..and the damn thing kept running…..

    so…. looks like i wont be headed to the CR dam anytime soon. 🙁

    your friend,


  7. yes, it did stop running…. my friend andy (who i was supposed to fish with today) came over and pulled some shit under the hood and made it stop. he was such a sweetheart (aka lifesaver).

    see you when?

  8. @asha: Wow, my guess would be that you have an old carburettor car and your fuel has too low an octane rating so you’re getting the diesel effect. I can’t think of how to stop such a beast except by taking out the air filter and stuffing a rag into the carburettor to prevent fuel from reaching the cylinders; if you have a manual choke you could engage it and that’s sometimes enough to kill the engine. Old diesel engines with mechanical injectors could do that as well, although rather rarely since the method of switching them off involves cutting the air supply.

  9. When I was 11, my brother and I had a similar problem with a smallmouth bass. He was 16 inches, which was huge for our area (I never saw another smallmouth that exceeded 12 inches). For a few months, we watched this guy decimate the local minnow population, but no matter the bait we used, he was on to us. On several occasions, I actually maneuvered bait into his mouth, and that bastard still wouldn’t bite. Eventually, I jumped into the water, and corralled the fish into a shallow area. There, my brother hit him with a log. I do feel bad now for having killed such a smart fish, but he did taste good.

  10. Asha: I need to get a couple of very full days of work done before I partake of the pleasure, so later in the week. I found an old stash of lures that we can divide up.

  11. “Catching fish isn’t the point. It’s the experience of fishing that matters.”

    Folks who claim this are usually the ones who never catch anything.

  12. Greg –

    But there isn’t a universal circumstance that will flip that switch. And honestly, I don’t think I have that one. While I can think of circumstances that might cause me to shoot a fish, I would never bash one – too messy and I don’t like prolonged suffering – that and I just like to shoot things (or cut them) far more than I like to beat on them…

    Although I suppose if I was out fishing with you (or anyone else) and a fish landed beside you and was chewing you leg off and I didn’t have a gun, I might decide to bash it. But that’s not so much the result of a fish bashing switch, as it is a “I like you and don’t want you to lose a leg” switch.

  13. I would never bash one – too messy and I don’t like prolonged suffering

    If it makes any difference, there was no suffering, and there was no mess. The fish just had a dent in his head. And I swear I’m not a paid spokesman for the National Fish Bashing Association… Well, not anymore.

  14. On the other hand perhaps you just want to go down by the lake and have a nice nap in the evening when the heat of the day breaks and a slight breeze pick up off the water. Go down by the lake for a nap and people will talk about how idle you are. Take a pole with you and toss the unbaited line into the water and observers will not be so quick to judge. You likely are simply resting up in case you have to expend energy to pull in the big one. Besides, fishing is both an activity and a sport.

    So you can catch that nap without looking idle.

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