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How Fishing Heals My Soul

Updated on October 11, 2015
View from the dock at Lake Kincaid in Illinois. Photo taken by the author.
View from the dock at Lake Kincaid in Illinois. Photo taken by the author.
The author's son at the family cabin on Little Rice Lake.
The author's son at the family cabin on Little Rice Lake.

For as long as I can remember, my family would visit Grand Rapids, Minnesota every summer and stay in a family cabin on Little Rice Lake. How did a middle class family from central Illinois end up purchasing a small cabin on an unheard of lake in Minnesota? Well, let me tell you.

The story goes that my grandparents, who had little to their name, wanted to take their kids, my father and aunt, somewhere fishing. They started out taking a drive up into Wisconsin. They searched around until they ended up all the way north into Superior/Duluth, right on the northwestern corner of Wisconsin. They asked the locals there where they could take their kids "to really catch some fish." The locals directed my grandparents to Guile Lake near Grand Rapids, MN. So for many years, my grandparents, father and aunt tent camped on Guile Lake in the summer. And boy was the fishing good. Large bluegill, crappie and bass inhabited that small lake. When they could afford it, they purchased a camper, and then upgraded to the small cabin on Little Rice Lake, across the road from Guile. This all happened before I was born. By the time I was born, my grandparents were staying up in their cabin six months out of the year. We would go up for two weeks every summer, stay in the cabin and fish morning, afternoon and evening.

Now, for a young girl, this was not exactly the ideal vacation. I spent many afternoons bored and wandering around the surrounding woods with a pack of neighborhood dogs, getting bit by the biggest mosquitoes you can imagine. My grandma, mother and I would go garage saling every Thursday and that was the highlight of the trip for me.

Fast forward to present day. I am 31 now and realize that I learned things during these trips that I didn't even realize I knew. When my husband and I visited the cabin for the last time a couple of years ago (my grandparents died and the cabin was sold), I realized that I really knew how to fish. I had one special bait that I knew would see lots of action. I knew to throw into the weeds and let my bait skim the tops of the weeds, and if it occasionally caught one, you were doing it right. I knew how to hook a worm, use pliers to get the hook out of a fishes mouth, where to hold the fish so you won't get poked by their fins, which fish to go for and what conditions were right for a good catch on certain lakes.

I also have realized that somewhere along the way, everything about fishing became a part of my soul, from the sound of the waves lapping against the boat to the call of the loon to its mate. The fishing world I grew up in did not consist of new, shiny bass boats, but of small john boats and trolling motors, boat cushions on wood benches and rowing through the weeds. My family did not grow Duck Dynasty beards, have all the latest equipment, or even wear the polarizing sunglasses, but they sure could make a catch, skin it up and fry it that evening for a delicious meal. (Though I never enjoyed the taste of fish after seeing it skinned as a young girl) The Minnesota locals came to respect the Illinois family that came to live for the summer, mainly because of their dedication and love of the sport.

I recently found out how my family discovered one of Minnesota's best fishing lakes that is not on the maps. Apparently, a man who was a neighbor of my grandparents at the cabin got in a fight with his girlfriend. Earlier in the day, the man had shown my grandpa a huge walleye he had caught "at a local lake." Which local lake, he would not say. But that night, his girlfriend paid my grandparents a visit and divulged a secret: directions to Sugar Lake, a local secret honey hole for walleye and bass. She told us "outsiders" this just to get back at her boyfriend! I couldn't believe my ears when I heard this story! I got to fish Sugar Lake before the cabin was sold. It was definitely worth keeping a secret! The bass we pulled out of that lake were numerous and large. We were the only people not from the area that had trekked down the dirt road into the boonies, with no signs to lead the way, to a small dock tucked away in the Minnesota pines.

All this being said, my husband and I have decided to continue the family tradition and take our son fishing and camping during the summer. We have our own small boat and poles, tackle inherited from my grandparents and some of our own. Though Illinois does not have near the size or quantity of fish Minnesota does, the joy of fishing still exists when we take our boat out on the local lakes. The waves still lap against the boat, the birds call from shore and I do manage to catch a few bass and crappie. My son is now learning how to cast, how fast to reel and what it feels like to have a fish on the line. There is something quite exhilarating about feeling that tug on the line and the ensuing battle between human and animal. Then the surprise of discovering what exactly is on the other line, whether it's a tiny bluegill or a huge bass. Everyone in the boat shares in the excitement of having one on the line and the success of netting it. It truly is a beautiful sport and one I would encourage anyone to try. Here are some of the best reasons that fishing is a great hobby:

Fishing is Great Because...

  • Little to no start-up cost. If you can find a friend with a fishing pole, all you have to do is borrow it and dig a worm to get started. If you don't want to borrow one, poles are really inexpensive at Walmart. You can buy a basic combo for twenty bucks.
  • It gets you out in nature. Sometimes people forget what it's like to be outside, especially if they have a 9 to 5 desk job. Studies have shown that people need the vitamin D from sunlight and the fresh air to be their healthiest. Being in nature is a natural mood lifter for those that struggle with anxiety or depression.
  • It forces you to slow down. Our society has become a fast-paced, sensory overloaded, go-go-go world, which is detrimental to our health and relationships. Fishing is not a fast paced sport and sometimes, unfortunately, you will get skunked (catch no fish). But this is not a bad thing. It teaches perseverance and patience, as well as restoring the ability to sit down and be still for awhile.
  • It is a great bonding activity for friends and family alike. For people who don't like to talk much, fishing is a great way to spend time with friends and family. I've seen people sit all day in a boat without a peep from either one of them, and I've seen people talk non-stop as they fish. Because your concentration is on fishing, you are not pressured to entertain each other. And when a fish is caught, a memory is made together. I have countless fish stories that have bonded me with people I may never see again.
  • It is a great survival skill. This is a bit of a stretch, but fishing may become necessary to survive if you find yourself stranded, lost, shipwrecked, or any number of crazy circumstances where you have to feed yourself. My husband and I intend to equip our son with as many survival skills as we can so that if he ever does find himself in a bad situation, he will know what to do.
  • There are lots of variations to try. There is fly fishing, saltwater vs. freshwater fishing, bow fishing, kite fishing, ice fishing, and more. If you don't enjoy one kind, try another!

Just A Little Fishing Humor.....

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