Casting Full Circle
My dad was a fisherman, so I remember the preparations of an amateur fisherman well. The worms in the fridge and a cornmeal mixture that dad used to make to entice the fish are etched in my memory from years ago.
Adam has taken the idea of fishing and made it into a practice. In this essay, he goes far beyond the sport of fishing into the mindful practice of fishing and conservation. Thank you, Adam, for this essay on fishing. I never could imagine that an essay on fishing would make me cry, but this one did!
Casting Full Circle, by Adam Aghion
I was probably around six years old the first time my parents took me fishing. My line spent more time in overhanging branches than it did in the water. No one in my family was particularly passionate about fishing, so there was no outside encouragement to keep at it aside from the typical "never give up" encouragement from my parents. Little did they know back then that fishing would soon develop into part of my identity. I was lucky enough to catch a small Yellow Perch that day. I remember feeling like I was holding a bar of gold in my hands when I held that fish. The truth is, even more than thirty years later I still feel that way every time I hold a fish. Although Yellow Perch are known for their beauty, with their dark vertical bars flanking yellow and green sides, with bright orange fins, it was more than the fish's looks that caught my eye. Up until then it was an absolutely foreign idea to connect so intimately with a wild animal. To see it up close, feel it in my hands, and even taste it after my mother cooked it and served it to me for dinner. It was quite literally as if a lightbulb above my head turned on.
Looking back on it now, I realize that at that moment I had entered the first stage in the evolution of fishing: learning. I wanted to read everything I could about fishing. Much to my parent's dismay, I talked endlessly about fishing. I quickly identified an older gentleman who worked at the local sporting goods store as my best source for information regarding locations to fish, times to fish, lures to use, and more. I never graduated from this stage. The learning stage is fundamental to all the other stages, and even now I learn a few new things every time I go fishing. For some, this stage ends quickly. They're either satisfied only to pick up the basics, or they simply get overwhelmed at how much information is out there, and they hit some threshold that they never cross. I, on the other hand, am still enjoying this stage and look forward to always learning more.
The next stage in the evolution of fishing is categorized by the success one experiences on the water. As a teenager I remember thinking to myself I would call the day a success if I could catch one fish. After a few successful outings, having caught at least one fish, my goals shifted to catching a certain number of fish; 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, etc. Then, my goal shifted to just seeing a certain new species. Once I found the right location, and time of year for my new target species I remember shifting my goal simply to get one bite from the target species. I remember it taking months and sometimes years piecing every part of the puzzle together just to get a bite from a new species. Naturally, over time my goal shifted to catching the new target species. My younger brother and I used to set goals and compete against each other every time we went fishing: biggest fish, most fish, smallest fish, first to catch a certain type of fish, fish caught on an unusual bait, etc. Even now as an adult I still find myself setting primary and secondary goals each time I go fishing. Similarly to the first stage of learning, I look forward to setting and achieving many more and many new fishing goals.
Of course I enjoyed fishing throughout my life, and obviously became very passionate about it, but if I'm being honest I will admit that at times it frustrated me too. Why wouldn't the fish bite some days? Why would they sometimes follow my lure aggressively and then turn away at the last second? Why could I catch fish consistently in one body of water, but then get skunked (catch nothing) in a different body of water doing the exact same thing? It wasn't until I graduated from college and decided to live far away from my original home state that I learned about the third stage in the evolution of fishing: enjoyment. I met an older gentleman who was retired, who usually fished 5 days a week. Year round his normal routine was to walk the shorelines of local reservoirs, rivers, and creeks, and catch a mixed bag of species. He too was an avid fisherman who learned continually, and set goals for himself, but there was something different about him. He was able to enjoy his time fishing no matter what. Despite setting goals for himself, his enjoyment of the day did not hinge on his successful accomplishment of his goals. Surely this ability upped the ante to the next level. It wasn't easy, but over the years I too have learned to enjoy my time fishing no matter what. Fishermen often say a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work, but how many of them are really still in a good mood after spending the whole day on the water and getting skunked? I know of at least two. Truly achieving this level happens when one honestly always enjoys fishing.
Enjoying something is nice, but sharing it with others elevates it to yet another level. For that reason I classify teaching as the fourth level in the evolution of fishing. For three summers I worked as a fishing instructor at a day camp. Monday through Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm for 8 weeks in a row bunks of approximately fifteen kids at a time would walk down to my little fishing shack to spend the next hour fishing. I had enough equipment for everyone; cane poles, plug casters, and spinning gear, all rigged with 8lb monofilament, foam bobbers, and tiny hooks. I spent the first few minutes teaching the kids about the equipment, how to be safe with it, how to cast, and even how to unhook a fish after a brief demonstration. Most of these kids had never caught a fish before. One loaf of bread or small can of corn was enough bait to catch Bluegill and other sunfish all day. Occasionally, we would even land 4-5lb Largemouth Bass on a live Bluegill as we were reeling it in. Without fail, each week some of the campers were so proud of their catch they would start crying. Before I knew it, I was crying too. It was incredible to witness and be a part of such a moment of triumph for a child. I will never forget that look of independence and pride in a child's eye when they caught their first fish.
The final stage in the evolution of fishing is Conservation. There are many different views about fishing in general, many of which are shaped by geographic rules and regulations, legal nuances, public perception, and more. I'm not very vocal about my views and beliefs, but I am very conscious of the responsibility that comes along with being an avid fisherman. We as fishermen have a duty to take care of the fish and our waterways. We should abide by the "Leave no trace" mentality, packing out everything we bring in and any additional trash we find while out in wild places. We should enjoy fishing responsibly, following all rules and regulations, and advocating for changes that benefit our wild places long term. Conservation needs to be emphasized every time fishing is discussed because it is critical to its future.
Regardless of where the lines are drawn between these stages, fishing has always been an opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture. Sometimes I think about how the maturation of one's interaction with fishing parallels the development of greater awareness and stewardship people progress through as they grow up. Children learn about the world around them. Young adults set goals for themselves and experience varying degrees of success and failure. Adults become more conscious of their limited time on Earth and make more of an effort to enjoy every moment. They teach their children and any receptive learner. In later stages of life, people devote themselves to conserving and sustaining their way of life for future generations. Taking a simpler perspective, I acknowledge that I have changed over time despite the fact that the fishing has remained largely unchanged. Perhaps my progression through these different stages of fishing is indicative of new perspectives I am capable of despite having experienced something before. These are just two examples of the reflective thoughts that are made possible by fishing and dedicated time in nature. In the end, each of these stages is a world unto its own, and a noble effort all by itself. But, when considered as individual pieces of a much larger puzzle, fishing takes on a higher purpose and a more significant role in a much broader story.
Adam Aghion is a successful Alliances Manager who is responsible for managing partner relationships in the Network Security industry. When he's not working, you can find him fishing on the water or hiking off trail deep into the woods. Adam loves taking his kids on adventures in the great outdoors and always welcomes the opportunity to introduce nature to others.