Why I Fish
I like to fish. I have had a series of hobbies (addictions, really) over the years but none quite as fun for me as fishing. I blame my father for this. One of my earliest memories is of him taking my sisters and me out in a boat to catch a bunch of Crappies. In my memory the fish were huge, slippery and a little frightening. In reality they probably were not, but the awe of hooking a fish and fighting it to the boat was a feeling I learned to like right away. If you fish you know what I mean.
I like to eat fish, but that’s not why I fish. I fish for some of the same reasons that I ride bicycles. Fishing allows me to escape, if only for a little while, the noise of traffic, the television, the smell of painted walls and carpeted floors. It allows me to connect with nature, even when I don’t catch fish. And catching fish is not easy, so I like the challenge of it. That’s right; it’s really difficult to catch fish. If you watch fishing shows on TV you start to think it’s easy, but those shows are made to fuel your addiction and to sell boats and fishing gear. Not catching fish doesn’t make for good TV. But the truth of it is that you can catch fish if you get good at it, and the pros who host fishing shows are really good at it.
I am not particularly good at fishing, but I have made some great catches throughout a lifetime of trying. I have lots of fishing stories, and I will happily tell them to you until you get tired of hearing them. I believe that even if you aren’t a good fisherman you will still catch fish if you fish frequently enough. But I am no longer interested in being lucky; I want to develop my skill so that I catch fish more often than not. If you talk to my wife about it she will attest that I have a stack of fishing books next to our bed about two feet high. I have learned more things than I have had time to apply in the field, but I still read everything I can.
After years of only dabbling in it I have gotten serious about ice fishing this year. Maybe it was the earlier than normal ice that formed on area lakes that fueled this, but I definitely have the bug this year. A few weeks ago I suggested to the Surly crew that we go ice fishing for a day and surprisingly they almost all wanted to go. We spent the day on lake Nokomis in Minneapolis and between us only caught one small Perch, but it was one of the funnest days we have had together in a while.
There is something fun about being on a frozen lake, drilling holes, clearing slush from the holes, wetting a line and waiting for a bite. It’s not something that should be fun but is. My years of living in Japan taught me to appreciate these moments of Zen: Fishing as a form of meditation, as a way of connecting with my creator and with my fellow humans, and hopefully with the creatures swimming below. I won’t lie that it’s also fun to drink beer with friends while ice fishing. Minnesota has a well established history of ice fishing culture that began with a group of guys heading out onto a frozen lake to drink together only to realize that it was possible to fish through the ice.
If you have never walked or driven out on a frozen lake before, the thought of doing so might scare the shit out of you. I know this because whenever friends from warmer climes visit us in the winter I take them out on the ice. It never fails to freak them out. I have never fallen through the ice though. I know people who have and every one of them told me that when they did fall through they never expected it. This is the scary part of ice fishing. Drilling a hole to discover you are standing on 14 inches of ice inspires confidence. This is thick enough to drive a car on. It is safe. I do it all the time so I know it’s safe. The cracking sounds you hear when you are on the ice are also scary, until you learn that the cracking is caused by the continuous freezing and thickening of the ice, not the creaking of the ice. Cracking is good, unless you hear it when you are on thin ice, which can happen with little or no warning. A friend of mine told me about the time he fell through. He was out on a very cold day and was set up on about 20 inches of ice. He wanted to set some tip-ups up on a point where Northern Pike and Muskie were often caught during the warm months so he starting walking toward it and fell through only 30 yards from where he had parked his car. It happened so fast he was up to his chest before he could even react. He lived to tell the tale but it really made him think. I am sure he learned a powerful lesson that day, but I sincerely hope that my living vicariously through his experience is as close as I will ever come to falling through the ice myself.
Hearing my friend’s story has made me more careful when riding my Pugsley or Moonlander on the lake. On a bike you can cover ground a lot faster than on foot, so it’s important to choose your path wisely. Stick to the car and snowmobile tracks and you’ll be fine. Veer off the beaten path and you’ll need to be ready for anything. The great thing about a Moonlander or Pugsley is that they will float and can potentially be used to pull yourself out if you do fall through. The one thing they won’t do is keep warm you up and dry you out after you emerge from the frigid water. I’m not much for giving advice though, so take my words with a grain of salt. If I ever fall through the ice myself I will be in a better position to tell you what to do and what not to do.
I like fishing because of the sense of wonder it inspires. I’m driven by the dream of catching a trophy fish (I don’t keep trophy fish, but this is the common nomenclature for such a fish, so I will use it here). When a fish strikes my lure it’s like opening a Christmas present. I never know what’s going to be at the end of my line when I reel it in, or if I will even be able to land the fish. Nothing gets my heart racing more than when a fish strikes my top water lure. I like working the lily pads with a soft plastic frog for this reason. It’s harder to catch bass this way but when one hits the frog the adrenaline rush is like nothing else I have experienced.
I like to fish with my son. Fishing together gives us father-son time and it allows me to pass down a tradition that I shared with my father (and still do on occasion). I want my son to learn to do things with his hands; things that don’t involve video games or texting his friends. And I want him to appreciate being outdoors and learning things in the real world. He has developed a real passion for fishing now and pushes me to take him out more often than I have time to do so. He and I are learning together how to be better at the sport, and he has even started to attempt making his own jigging spoons out of brass plate. Today’s youth have too many distractions and temptations to lead them astray, so if I can keep him fishing I feel like he will have a fighting chance when he enters adult life.
I fish because of my father. He bought a boat two years ago and soon after realized that he is getting too old to spend time using it. He gets very tired if he is in the boat for more than a couple of hours, so he asked me to take his grandchildren fishing in it. He has always enjoyed teaching kids how to fish and now he doesn’t have the energy to do it, so it’s my turn to help make his dream come true.
Fishing provides me a connection to water similar to the way mountain biking provides a connection to dirt. The whole reason I got hooked on mountain biking in the early 90’s was the rush I got from hopping on my bike and heading out to explore and get lost. I have no desire to get lost on a lake, either in a boat or on ice, but I enjoy unraveling the many mysteries of the underwater world where I fish. I have sonar electronics in the boat, and I recently invested in an underwater camera so that I can see what’s down there without having to dive in and see firsthand. I get a thrill from learning about the habitat and characteristics of fish. Using a camera to see how the fish react to particular baits or lures is one of the most interesting things I have discovered in a while. Using a variety of bait and lure colors, presentations and jigging motions all cause different reactions in different species of fish. Knowing these things helps me become a better fisherman, and knowing the behavioral patterns of fish helps me feel better connected to the fish and to nature. Before I was an avid fisherman I kept pretty much everything I caught. Now that I fish a lot I find myself harvesting fewer and fewer fish out of appreciation for how precious our fisheries are to myself and other avid fisherman who feel a similar level of reverence for the creatures that swim beneath the water.
It might seem strange to read about fishing on the Surly blog, but based on the number of avid fisherman I have met within the bicycle community, I’m guessing there are more than a few of you reading this who can relate. Within the team of 17 or so Surly employees alone there are seven or eight of us who love to fish. That’s roughly half of the number of us who like to ride our bikes and drink beer.