Severson Dells Notes: Something fishy
Don Miller, Education Director, Severson Dells Nature Center
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-12398123272608.jpg’, ‘Photo provided by Byron Forest Preserve’, ‘Jessica Camling is all smiles after her catch.‘);
I dont fish, although it seems as though I should. Im a middle-aged male, and a devoted river worshipper. Arent fish the heart of a river system? I thought I should do some self-analysis to figure out why I dont fish. Better yet, maybe Id find the answer I seek if I first understood what brings others to this obsession.
I have a friend, Gus. Most of Gus thoughts find themselves oozing out of the right side of his brain, the artsy lobes. His left hand, while holding a paint brush, can get the same result as a symphony conductor with a baton; only the outcome is visual music placed upon a canvas.
Gus has fished most of his life. He tells me a story of being 3 years old and remembering how he waited eagerly for his dad and big brothers to come home from a fishing adventure and dump their fishing basket at his feet. From the moment the catch of the day was released from their basket until they were reduced to filets, Gus would stare at these beautiful creatures in a hypnotic trance. He was hooked, from that day on.
Gus anticipated being old enough to go fishing. He loved the ritual of waiting for an early rise to go fishing with his Grandpa. Every evening before an outing was like Christmas Eve to him. He tells me these stories today with the excitement and passion of a young boy.
It comes as no surprise to me that Gus admits it is the true visual of the fishing experience that races his heart now, but its much more than that, too. It is the ritual, the tradition of his lifelong pursuit that returns him to the waters.
Like so many other things we love as adults, they seem to be linked to an exposure at an early age. Kids connect because some adult has guided their fascinations. I was fortunate my parents connected me to nature, but it certainly wasnt through a fishing line. The following are two of my accounts of early boyhood fishing experiences. (My Dad might have told a different account of these stories, but so it goes with fishing tales.)
When I was about the age of 7, my Dad took me to the Rock River in Rockton. I was getting nibbles on my bait, immediately after putting my line into the water. Some fish was eating my worm as fast as my Dad could impale my pre-fishing trip playmates on a hook. Dad finally casually advised me to give my pole as big of a yank as I could. So, I did, with all my might. Immediately, a carp launched out of the water aimed directly at me.
The line and the fish became wrapped tightly around my leg. The carp was flopping around like, well, like a fish out of water. Every time its flesh hit mine, Id let out a loud scream. I managed to kick over the tackle box, step on our lunch, and I drew the attention of everyone within a mile radius.
Dad eventually quit laughing long enough to free the horrified me from the terrified carp. The fish was more than happy to be tossed back into the muddy river. We went home early, ending my first fishing experience.
My next memory of fishing was when I was around 10 years old; my sister-in-laws brother was the ranger at Four Lakes Forest Preserve. He had invited my Dad and me out to fish there. (I have three brothers; to my knowledge, they never got invited to go fishing. I wonder what was up with that?)
It was a very hot August day, and the sun was beating down on us in the middle of this small lake as we sat in a rowboat. I have no idea what we were talking about, but I do remember the fish were not as hungry as the Rock River attack carp several years earlier.
Nothing was biting. It could have been the heat or having no water, or maybe it was just out of boredombut I got sick to my stomach. As I clung to the side of the boat, heaving whatever it was I had for breakfast overboard, the last words I heard on any fishing trip (because this one would be the last) were: Atta boy, dont get any in the boat!
It was looking quite possible that Im not a junkie on fishing today because of these negative experiences in my youth. But to be sure, I thought I would ask the advice of another friend, Jayla. I consider Jayla to be the Zen spiritual leader of all things ichthyologized, a true knower of all things wet and scaly.
Jayla tells me she was a paddler long before becoming a fisherperson. Here are her thoughts; Fishing is a damn fine recreation. It has all thats required of a damn fine recreation: a rich literature and history, the gear and tackle can be so well made and beautiful as to approach art, its done in beautiful places, it makes no rational sense and, therefore, can serve as a metaphor for all the other B.S. we do in life. (Ah, yes…obviously words inscribed on a stone tablet brought down from a mountaintop somewhere.)
A few years back, I took a couple of teenage boys canoeing. They fished from the bow and the mid-thwart while I paddled the canoe from the stern. They were seeking the beautiful smallies that make their home in the clear, clean waters of the Kishwaukee River. This essay is a result of one of those boys asking me, Why dont you fish?
As I watch my young friends, I realize they will never be any of those people who trash the river, clutter the banks or carelessly rip hooks from fish. They approach the art of fishing not to conquer the fish, but to be equal players in an ecosystem. They respect the natural order of things, and embrace and value the role of both fish and humans.
The great naturalist, Aldo Leopold, stated, It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relationship can exist without love, respect and admiration for the land. (In this case, water.) The joy of the catch, the release and every conversation with smallie in hand, was a great event to witness between these two boys. They spoke of fisherman Jimmy Houston and his sacrament of kissing the bass he catches before slipping them back into the water. [I admittedly have kissed a few amphibians in my time, hoping for that elusive princess, but all of this bass kissing stuff was news to me.] I feel there is hope for the river community because of these boys, and other boys and girls like them.
So, my search has led me to more reasons to fish than not to fish, but I think I still choose to be in the company of those who share my love for the rivers with only a paddle in my hands. At least for now.
Don Miller is education director at Severson Dells Nature Center, 8786 Montague Road, Rockford. For more about Severson Dells, visit seversondells.com.
from the April 15-21, 2009, issue
Print This Article