Fishing has always been a great source of pleasure for me. For as long as I can recall, the simplicity of casting a fly or throwing a spinner has made almost every day a little better.
However, it’s only been as an adult that I’ve realized the power of angling as therapy. Looking back through my life, there are many instances where a day – or a week – spent fishing has helped ease me through a rough patch.
One memory that sticks out is the role angling played in helping me deal with the death of my grandfather, Ora Ellis, in the spring of 1990.
After he passed away, my family travelled to southern Ontario for the funeral. When we returned home, my dad and I decided we needed to spend a day steelhead fishing on Lake Superior’s north shore. It was the peak of the run, so the timing was good, but steelhead fishing was also an activity we had both enjoyed with Ora several times over the years.
It was almost three decades ago, yet I can still recall how soothing the sound of the river and the smell of the cedars were to me. That day my father caught one of his largest rainbows ever – a fish that was magnificent in size and beauty. We both knew it was a special moment.
The joy of the experience helped ease our grief. Dad still has that fish on his living room wall and I think of that day every time I see it.
As a man, I have often sorted through various types of stress, be it family, loss of friendships, or otherwise, on the water. It hasn’t always fixed all the problems or removed all the pain, but the ability to move the focus from personal turmoil to simply catching a fish has been remarkably effective for me.
The beautiful places these fish live are effective stress relievers too. Much has been written about the healing nature of the wilderness, and I can only concur. The sound of songbirds, of wind in the trees, and the smell of the woods is natural therapy at its finest.
More recently, angling has helped me through the loss of a dear friend and angling companion. I was just beginning a long stretch of time to be spent on the water, fishing and guiding, when my buddy passed away unexpectedly last year. Another angling partner and I did some fishing together after the funeral. We talked about our mutual friend throughout our days on the water. At some points, it felt like he was in the boat with us.
Later on that year, I spent several days on the water by myself, something I’ve done regularly throughout my life. Without getting into detail, I spent that time alone having a quiet conversation with my friend. Those days helped me immensely, as I was allowed to grieve, be sad, and happy without worrying about how anyone else would react.
Angling is not a cure-all. That would be too easy and life is more complex than that. However, for me, angling has been like a friend who listens well. It has been a constant support and steady source of comfort. And for this I am extremely grateful.