Thirty-five percent of anglers cite this explanation, compared to only 3 percent who say they fish "to catch many fish." Dr. Peggy Stock, president of Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, goes fishing to relax, spend time with her husband and have fun.
But there is something more. "Fishing is like life," Stock suggests. "You never know what you're going to catch. I think it teaches you lessons in persistence and tenaciousness. You're not always going to get what you want when you want it, in fishing or in life."
Wise words — but if, like me, you're after the fishing as much as the fish, you'll triumph nearly every time. When I go fishing on my home waters — the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore — I am likely to see blue crabs swimming by in their comical, side-stepping way; spy a great blue heron patiently stalking its underwater prey; or bask in the sun alongside mallards, the male ducks gorgeous with their iridescent green heads, the females beautiful in their practical brown way.
I've also seen snapping turtles locked in a vise-like mating grasp, female carp lying exhausted in the mud from the effort of expelling eggs, snowy egrets snatching snacks of tiny fish — perhaps the carp's babies?
The cycle of life and death captivates me every time, reminding me how small and insignificant I am in the greater scheme of this Earth. The feeling is oddly comforting. It renders my own mortality much more natural and necessary, and less scary, than I ever could have imagined.
And the fish? Oh, yes, them. Sometimes I'll keep a fish, bring it home and clean it, and my family will enjoy an incomparable meal. More often, I'll carefully remove the hook from the critter's mouth and set it free. "You're okay now," I'll whisper, not putting too fine a point on whether I'm talking to the fish, or to myself.