Fishing as Fulfillment
The other day, I was at a coffee shop when a friend asked me why I liked fishing so much.
“It takes so much time,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem worth it.”
He’d just spent an hour and a half telling me why his life was so miserable and incomplete, and I wondered why my life didn’t seem to have so much missing from it. To him, his problems appeared bigger by comparison, and his opportunities smaller. While there were other things I could have pointed out, such as working hard at a loving and committed marriage, saving and investing money, or participating in a strong community of friends, he asked about fishing.
It’s easy to calculate the costs and inconvenience of fishing and begin to wonder if it’s worth it. I’ve decided at least a dozen times that my fishing gear would be better sold and invested into my retirement account. Over my life, I’ve even spent long periods not fishing. During that time, I let the mountains that fueled my imagination fade into mountains of spreadsheets and the wonder of pine-scented breezes descend into the stale air of antiseptic conference rooms. I’d even let the fiery heat of campfire French presses and riverside whiskey cool into lukewarm coffee pots between meetings. All the while, I knew there was something more. No matter how distant the wild was, there was always a longing for it.
We all know the longing as it was given to all beings born with a memory of the wild. It comes on the edge of an Indian summer wind or watching a truck with fishing racks heading in the opposite direction. And it’s essential to pay attention when it comes.
Whether we believe this earth has been provided from something more or emerged from something less, we did not earn it either way. It is a gift. This world has a gravity beyond anything we can make or accumulate ourselves. It’s felt in the land that came before us. Before the sidewalks and skyscrapers and manicured lawns. It’s a reminder that no matter how big or small we might feel, there is always something bigger or smaller. This perspective makes us human; the further we get from it, the less human we feel.
Catch and Release
When fishing, I’m in touch with the part of my soul that assesses perspective and can’t access it any other way. At least not accurately. The same is felt at the base of a mountain, looking up or bowing over a wildflower, looking down. We are meant to come to the wild to understand our lives better. In the wild, I’m less frightened of what’s happening in the news, with Covid, or my work. I care more for the environment and less for money. My problems seem smaller. My opportunities seem bigger.
There is no substitute for the wild – the vastness beyond imagination, the beauty beyond description, or the bolt of lightning in a slight twitch of the fly line. Why is the same beer more satisfying in front of a river than a tv? It’s the same reason making love with a partner is more satisfying than pornography. When in the wilderness, we’re a part of something bigger. It’s something other, a partner, and we all feel it no matter what we call it. When I make a first cast into a clear riffle of a mountain stream, feel the tug on my line, and hold a perfect creature in my palm before releasing it back into the current, I feel this something other like I’m a part of something bigger. It’s a purer joy. A feeling that the moment is complete. Perfect. And as I think about my life and all its imperfections, it somehow feels more complete too.
I tried explaining all this to my friend in the coffee shop. He nodded along. Maybe he understood where I was coming from, but at the end of my long defense, he asked…
“So, you just let the fish go?”
Roger W. Thompson is the nationally acclaimed author of We Stood Upon Stars and My Best Friend’s Funeral, as well as an avid fly-fisherman. His ability to write about fishing and adventure while connecting to the deepest meanings of the human experience has earned him the nickname “The River Bishop.” Roger lives with his wife and two teenage sons in his coastal hometown of Ventura, California, where they surf, skate, snowboard, and build furniture together. Roger will be writing an exclusive series of essays for RareWaters.com over the coming weeks and months. We hope they inspire and encourage you.