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 fish for them as much as try to scare the plastic fish out of the fountain by splashing the water with the rod.
It was important to my mom that I develop an appreciation for fishing at an early age. My dad was an avid fisherman. He was a machinist by trade. He worked to fish as much he worked to support his family. Before I was born, dad would take fly fishing trips up to Maine a few times a year. Back home in New Jersey he would fish both fresh and salt water most weekends for whatever was biting.
A little history; my parents married about 7 years before I came along. My mom had a thyroid issue that prevented her from conceiving. After a few years of false hope with one doctor after another they hit pay dirt. Here I am.
All should have been right with the world. But life happens. When I was about one-and-a half, my dad developed a rare form of cancer in his throat and he died when I was 18 months old. That day in Branch Brook Park my mom was stepping up for my dad. to make sure that I got to do something she knew my dad would have wanted passed on to me.
In reflecting on that day as an adult I realized I had fun fishing without hurting a fish. As I got older, 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. I missed the meditative stress releasing aspects of fishing. I had also become aware of the harm that recreational fishing can cause to the environment.
I remembered the belly-up sunnies that I had 'caught and released' in my youth. I learned about the tons and tons of discarded fishing lure waste dumped in our waterways each year.
So 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. I used 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. Every now and then one would breach the surface and run with my line during a strike. I found I did not miss the fight that comes with hooking a fish.
I noticed that I was doing more casting, having more fun. I experimented with different hookless lures less concerned about how they would work. I found some that some lures are plain fun to cast. Our black lab, Indiana, decided some lures are plain fun to chase. I had no stress about hurting him with a hook as he played nearby.
After a day of KindFishing, I found I was not going home disappointed in not having caught anything. That I had not set out to catch fish eliminated this metric from my measurement of what made “a great day of fishing”. KindFishing let me relax and focus attention on other important aspects of fishing.
I am blessed that I have the opportunity to share the joy of fishing with others and in a more empathetic way.
My hope is that KindFishing will become a common and accepted part of the great sport of fishing.
Fish more. Do no harm.