Americans are busier than ever in their daily lives with work, family, errands, and so many other endeavors that keep us on the move. The value of a pastime that brings a quiet and still space into our minds is truly priceless. I have fished my entire life, and I began fly fishing at age 17. Fishing has always brought me inner peace and mental clarity like nothing else can. Whether you are an aspiring angler, a beginner, or have a lifetime of fishing experience - I know that you, too, find peace in the shelter of this sport.
My childhood was spent in the woods and on the waters with my parents in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. My mom and dad brought me up to know these places as my friends, and to find solace in their space. Reading water, paddling a canoe, putting a worm on a hook, wearing sunscreen, identifying tree and flower species, and fishing farm ponds, local creeks, and rivers – these were the languages of my youth. This “toolbox” they gave me is one that I have carried with me everywhere I’ve lived, studied, or traveled, and one that I add to as I go.
I attended boarding school within the Washington, D.C. beltway. There, I was the 1% - but not in the way that the media presently defines the term. I was one of just four students in the entire school who had a fishing pole! On a Saturday afternoon I could walk down the hill to the school pond with my box of jig heads and rubber worms, cast a line out, and reel in a bass or bluegill. Being able to take time to be quiet, watch the water, and focus only on fishing brought me peace amidst the pressures of boarding school life in an urban environment.
At the University of Virginia, I read the school newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, every day. During my first year, an advertisement caught my eye for “Free Fly Fishing Lessons” offered by the local fly shop in Charlottesville: The Albemarle Angler. I called the number in the ad that day to reserve my spot for a full-day guided lesson, and marked it down in my calendar. Weeks of eager anticipation went by, and the day finally arrived. I woke up early to a steady rain that is typical for springtime in the Southeastern US. I suited up in rubber boots and a waxed jacket to wait for the University bus line outside my dormitory. As I rode the bus out toward the fly shop, I remember being so excited and having no idea what to expect. As a side note, I always try to wipe the slate clean as far as expectations go when I’m trying a new sport or hobby, or traveling to a new place, so that nothing short of surprise and wonder define my experience. Whether it was because of the weather or because I am just plain blessed when it comes to fishing, only two of us showed up at the shop that day for our lesson. An older lady and I had the shop, the guide, and the waters we fished all to ourselves. We had a great day; we learned casting and knot tying basics, some go-to flies to use, and even had the pleasure of catching crappie and bluegill at a nearby private lake.
I have been hooked on fly fishing ever since. I began teaching casting workshops and taking friends out on the water. I made fish friends who connected me with new skill sets and new tools, such as my first fly tying kit. I went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Fisheries Biology, which opened a plethora of doors to fisheries professionals in all circles: science, angling, research, outreach, conservation, hospitality, media, and management. I even met my fiancé through our mutual love of angling. I have worked as a fisheries biologist in multiple states, a fishing guide for conventional and fly fishing, and a fishing operations manager for an outfitter. It has been a fishy life that I am grateful for and humbled by.
From extremely rural to urban, I have lived in many states and different types of communities. Wherever I am, I identify a go-to water that I can easily visit after work in the evening or early on a weekend morning for a “fish fix.” Where I grew up in Virginia, in high school, and in graduate school in Tennessee, I had a “therapy pond” that I could walk to and fish, even for 30 minutes, to regain internal balance and achieve a stillness in my mind. In Vermont, Wyoming, and West Virginia, I had small streams or reaches of river that were easily accessible, close to home, and just plain breathtakingly beautiful places to cast a fly, and let it drift with the current. For me, these places provide beauty, quiet, and a natural rhythm for my mind to focus on and return it to its natural resting place when life becomes too busy. The sensory experience of wading in flowing water or sitting on a dock, listening to it run over rocks or lap against a shoreline, and admiring the muted reflections of everything around it provides such a welcome reprieve from a busy day.
Recently, I worked as a fishing guide and children’s outdoor program coordinator for a private sporting club. I was able to give the gift of basic fly fishing techniques to people ages 6 to 82, and to see their eyes light up and their smile stretch wide as they caught their first fish on the fly. I learned that age matters very little when it comes down to the wonder of having a fish on the end of your line. I promise you, the 82 year-old man, whose arm I held to help him with balance, was just as ecstatic when he landed his first brown trout on the fly, as was his 9 year-old grandson. Another lesson in the therapeutic powers of fishing that I learned during this time is no matter how rambunctious a group of 6 year-olds might be, as soon as you put a fishing rod in their hand, teach them to cast, and task them with concentrating on their line, they will be more quiet and focused than ever.
If we take these lessons of bringing focus and wonder to others through fishing instruction, and translate it into the context of our own lives, it is easy to see how we can achieve inner peace and put aside worry, anxiety, or stress, if we give ourselves the opportunity. So give yourself the gift of time on the water with your fishing rod in hand. Find your therapy water – whether it is a local pond or a mountain stream – it is just around the corner, and you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of an inner peace as quiet as a glassy pond. For time is our most precious gift, and the least we can do is to carve out a piece of our day or week, and honor ourselves with the therapeutic experience of fishing.