The Zen of Fishing

The Zen of Fishing (<i>cont'd</i>)

If you hire a guide, make sure to tell him or her that you're interested in instruction, not just pulling in a mess of fish. Employees at tackle shops can often suggest good local guides and can even teach you enough for you to start fishing without one.

Remember, says Captain Richie Gaines: "Fishing is good no matter how good the catch is. The measure of how successful a person is fishing is whether they have a good time."

"The definition of fishing," says Richie Gaines, who leads guided trips on the Chesapeake Bay, "is a perpetual series of opportunities for hope," which would be exactly what a freshly-minted cancer patient — as well as pretty much anybody — is after on any given day of the week. If you think Gaines' definition sounds awfully high-minded for a blood sport, you are correct, I suppose. But something about this ancient activity moves people to wax philosophical, and to embrace it to satisfy a deep, unnamable yearning.

Many have described fishing as a way to reach for a world beyond our own. As Michael Checchio put it in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Stream" (Soho $23), having a fish hit your line feels "like taking the pulse of the planet." Scores of writers have explained that fishing touches, calms and even heals the human soul. "When the going gets rough," Ted Kerasote advised in his 1997 book, "Heart of Home"(Villard $23), "you can take Prozac or buy a fly rod."

You may think this is all just so much hooey. As a former non-fisherman, I counsel you: Don't knock it until you've tried it. "There's something about fishing," muses Louisiana-bayou-bred Gary Marx, now of Chevy Chase, Md., "that has inspired so many books comparing it to great art.

So when (NBA basketball coach) Phil Jackson talks about Zen and basketball, people laugh at him, and maybe there's a reason for that, but with fishing — there really is a Zen to it. You're not meditating, because you're doing something, but to me there is a rhythm to it that connects you to nature in a very special way."

Perhaps not all 47 million Americans who fish have a Zen experience when they throw a line in the water, but many come close. According to the American Sportfishing Association, the most common reason people fish is to relax.

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