Lifestyles have shifted in the past year, let’s be honest. So many of us are working from home, zoom calls are the new normal, and virtual school has become a thing. As a result, we find ourselves constantly plugged in and continually stimulated. Therefore, practicing mindfulness is more important now, than ever. How better to become present with the environment than going fishing? Go fly fishing.
The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton insists there’s so much more to be an angler than a technical knowledge of bait and tackle. For Walton, fishing is at once an environmental, social, and spiritual experience. Much like the year behind us, when Walton wrote the first publication of this book in 1653, England was in ruins from civil war and men against men. He chose to write about the value of spending time outside in nature and the value of fishing with friends. This remains relevant, and coupled with mindful meditation, fly fishing brings an awareness to our surroundings.
“In this world there are many ways to feed our bodies, but my opine is there are three ways to feed our souls…” says Kathy Daly from Edisto Island. “Spirituality, Passionate love for another person, and Fly fishing. Fishing is the only time in my life where all the noise stops, it’s just me, the saltwater, cool breezes and the fish.” My friend, this is mindfulness.
John Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” The idea is to bring attention to the body and mind as it is moment to moment, which can help with both physical and emotional pain. Therefore, fly fishing is the perfect channel to be fully present and aware. We cannot be overly reactive when fishing or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us, or the work we put in to come into the moment will fall apart. We can all be more mindful; we simply learn better how to practice it.
Practicing mindfulness gives anglers a moment to suspend judgment, unleash natural curiosity about fly fishing, and approach the experience with warmth and kindness—to ourselves and others. This is critical to keep in mind whether you’re learning how to cast a fly rod or teaching someone else.
In your next fly-fishing trip whether alone, with a partner or a guide, keep these mindfulness techniques in mind:
- Take your stance. Whether standing on the bow of the boat or poling from the platform, assume a position that gives you a stable, solid stance, not slacking or moving too much.
- Prepare. Have your rod ready, line pulled from the reel, and fly in hand with just enough fly line out of the guides to get distance in the first back-cast.
- Notice your body and what it’s doing. When looking for a redfish, be mindful of your legs and arms and fingers. Especially when you see the fish and start to cast, don’t lock your knees (okay, maybe lock your wrist) and let your arm move as if your elbow is going along a shelf, just like Lefty Kreh teaches. Your fingers shouldn’t be gripping too tight, and your feet need to be quiet, not too far apart. However, if you’re poling, definitely keep your stance wide and strong. Make small, accurate pushing steps with the pole vs overcompensating long pushes.
- Loosen up, but stay upright. Let your head rest comfortably on the natural curve of your spine.
- Look and listen. Unlike conventional meditation, practicing mindfulness when fishing requires you to take in the sounds of the environment and the movements of the water to find the fish, and in return, feel your soul come alive. By listening and looking simultaneously, you will likely target the fish before your guide/partner and will be casting before he or she has a chance to tell you what to do next.
- Prepare then Relax. Be in the moment without getting overly anxious. If your line is already prepared, and the fly is in your hand, you can go about casting in a relaxed yet prepared action. Oh, and don’t forget to breathe.
- Breathe. Notice the feelings in your body, and take that calm, yet passionate cast.
- Do it all over again. Recollect yourself whether you just caught a redfish or you missed an opportunity. Start from #1 and reestablish your posture, your breath, and begin to notice the environment around you. If you fail to take these steps, you may fail to be prepared for the exact moment an opportunity presents itself again. Being a good sportsman is also about being mindful. If you go away from these steps, recollect and come back to it again.
- It’s that simple. And, you’re probably already doing a lot of this… but beginning to notice will help you and the atmosphere all come together in the moment.
When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being. Fly fishing creates the same outcome, and hopefully recognizing this in your next outing will help you have a more meaningful experience.