My earliest fishing memory is from a time when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My mom took me to Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ. Branch Brook has a beautiful lake that is a great place to fish. But I did not toss my first cast into Branch Brook Lake itself. I cast my first line into a decorative fountain near the lake.
My mom had bought a small toy fishing rod and reel for me that came with little plastic fish to hook on the plastic hook. My mom dropped the plastic fish into the fountain and tried to guide me to hook them. I did not want to try to fish for them as much as scare the plastic fish out of the fountain by splashing the water with the rod.
I think it was really important to my mom that I develop an appreciation for fishing at an early age. I think she felt it was her duty. My dad was an avid fisherman. He was a machinist by trade and he worked to fish as much as to support his family. He would take fly fishing trips up to Maine with a buddy of his a few times a year. Back home in New Jersey he would fish both fresh and salt water most weekends for whatever was biting.
In reflecting on that day as an adult I realized I had fun fishing without hurting a fish. As I grew up, I did fish with hooks. While learning how to ‘catch and release’ I caused a fair amount of pain, suffering, and death to fish. At some point, I gave up fishing due to work or other interests.
Decades later I felt a strong desire to go fishing again. I missed the gear, the peace, the smell of a body of water, the solitude and the meditative stress releasing aspects of fishing. But I also was aware of the harm that some recreational fishing practices cause to the environment. I remembered the belly-up sunnies that I had ‘caught and released’ in my youth. Even well meaning fishing practices like ‘catch & release’ still bring stress and death to fish for many reasons. I read articles about the tons and tons of discarded fishing lure waste dumped in our waterways each year. I read about the environmental impact that state-run fisheries that produce the trout dumped into ponds and streams for recreational fishing has. So I asked myself, how to fish without causing harm? So I thought back to that day at a fishing toddler.
I bought a spinning rod and reel, a fly-fishing rod and reel, and a Tenkara rod. I used a pair of wire-cutters to snip the hooks of trout flies and needle nose pliers to remove the hooks from bass lures. And I went fishing without hooks.
I discovered the joy of KindFishing at a local pond. The same bluegill came time and again to mouth and spit out my fly. I laughed as other bluegills came out from hiding to see what was going on and to take their own attempts at the fly. A snapping turtle even swam over to see what was up. Was that helped by a lack of fear hormones in the water? I’m not a scientist so I don’t know for sure. But it was something new and wonderful.
The next week, I took our dog with me to Sandy Hook Bay and cast poppers and spinners while our dog swam nearby. I felt the bass hitting my lures and occasionally one would breach the surface after a strike. I found I did not miss the fight that comes with hooking a fish. Instead I noticed that I was getting to do more casting and experimenting with different hookless lures. With our dog also enjoying the water, I had no stress about accidently hurting him (or myself) with a hook when he wandered nearby.
After both Kind Fly Fishing and Kind Spin Fishing I found I was not going home disappointed in not having caught anything. In fact, that I had not set out to catch fish eliminated this metric from my thoughts and measurement of what made “a great day of fishing”. This allowed me to relax and focus my attention on the other important aspects of fishing that I previously took for granted.
Having discovered meditation about the same time as KindFishing, I realized that there are many similarities between the two practices.
My hope is that KindFishing will become a common and accepted part of the great sport of fishing.
Go fish. Do no harm.