The Zen of Fishing

Leah Gage

© Copyright 2018 by Leah Gage

Photo of a lake through the trees.

Leah has many loves in life, but two of the biggest are fishing and writing. When she’s not doing either of those she’s probably bored.

I put my things on a flat spot on the ground and just stood there for a moment, taking in the scene. The sun was high in the sky and felt warm on my neck and shoulders. The pond was glassy calm, without a single ripple disturbing its surface. I was far enough in the woods that there wasn’t a human made sound to be heard. Birds were chirping in the distance and dragon flies were bouncing from reed to reed along the shore, searching for bugs to eat. It was serene and peaceful and everything that I’d needed for so long.

Growing up in my household was difficult. While there were plenty of good times, there were more bad ones. My father had ruptured several of his spinal discs when I was eight, and while he had always been a drinker and pot smoker, things only got worse after that. My mother was working second shift and my father, finding himself with not much to do since he was out of work, frequently passed out long before it was time for my sisters and me to go to bed. I often had to make sure my sisters, who are four and six years younger than me, were bathed and had brushed their teeth before I’d read them a story and put them to bed.

Eventually my father got a new job, and my mother found a position working first shift, but the damage had been done. I had already assumed the role of an adult, and I was often in a sort of limbo. I was still a kid, but wasn’t quite treated as one.

When my parents would have their friends over to party all night, it was still my job to take care of the little kids. Once the guests were gone and the house was quiet I’d sneak out of my room and down the stairs to clean up a little bit. I’d be as quiet as I could, so as not to wake my father, who was often passed out in an armchair in the living room. I’d finish my work by covering him with a blanket, kissing him on the forehead, shutting off the TV, and creeping back to my room.

Over the years this became a regular occurrence, but when I’d try to give my input I’d get yelled at. “You’re not the parent! Stop telling us how to raise your sisters!” is a phrase I’d often hear.

Being in limbo in this way was no fun. More times than I can count I’d see or hear something I shouldn’t have while my parents were partying, only to have them tell me afterwards not to tell anyone, and to keep it a secret. For example, one Saturday evening when I was seven, my father and I went to the local convenience store to rent a movie. After looking around for a bit he decided there was nothing of any interest. As we walked out of the store and back to the car he stopped. I watched as he peered in the windows of another car. He opened the door and took a video that the person had left on the seat as they’d gone in the store. He then got into our car and we started the short drive home. I asked him why he’d stolen the video. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he tried to justify the theft to me to no avail. When we pulled into the driveway he put the car in park and looked at me. I was scared and confused. My father had never done anything like that before, and I couldn’t figure out why he had now. He made me promise not to tell my mother, and as I walked into the house he backed out of the driveway and went back to the store to return the video. My mother asked where he was going. I lied and told her he’d forgotten something at the store. To this day I still haven’t told her the truth about it.

As you can imagine, all of this weighed very heavily on me growing up. Depression became an issue fairly early in my life, and I’d already attempted suicide and been sent to several psychiatrists by the age of fourteen. I was constantly fighting with my sisters and couldn’t talk to my parents without an overreaction. I felt unwanted and unloved and was convinced that they wouldn’t even notice I was gone, or might even be happy to be rid of me. Of course, they were so caught up in themselves they had no idea there was anything wrong with me, and simply assumed I was an ungrateful brat just looking for attention.

When I was eleven my parents bought their first house. It was exciting to know we weren’t going to move around as much, from rental to rental, but the house was half an hour from the lake I’d been around most of my life. During the summers we’d take day trips back to the lake, but they were never fishing trips. They were trips with the whole family crammed into the boat and my sisters and mother complaining every time I suggested that we stop to fish. Eventually I stopped even suggesting it.

As time went on the trips became fewer and farther between. My sisters were often out with friends, and I was usually working. Whenever I had a weekend off I’d ask if we could go to the lake, but the answer was almost always no. My parents had grown lazier with each passing year, and they spent most weekends in their pajamas in front of the TV, no matter how nice a day it was.

Through all of this it had never dawned on me to just go fishing by myself. Even if it had, I wouldn’t have known where to go. Most of the lake was surrounded by homes, and I doubt the people who owned those homes would’ve liked me tromping through their yards and standing on their docks. Because we’d spent years living on Mousam Lake we’d never really checked out anywhere else. I knew there were lakes everywhere, but hardly knew where to start.

The age of 19 was one of the toughest of my life. I had moved out of my parent’s home, and was living with my boyfriend and his dad. I had started my second semester of college, and was commuting an hour and fifteen minutes each way. I was also working part time at a doctor’s office as a secretary. It should’ve been a happy time, as I started my adult life out in the wide world, but it wasn’t. I hardly had time for any of the joys of life, and while I had many acquaintances, I didn’t really have any friends.

I was also having a hard time with my boyfriend. He put his friends, alcohol and drugs ahead of me, and I was usually left sitting in the apartment, watching TV alone as I waited for him to stumble in at all hours of the night. It was a very lonely.

In February, after attempting suicide a few more times (I still have the scars), I decided that something had to change. I took a leave of absence from school and found a psychiatrist. I had been to other psychiatrists throughout the years, but had never really found one I trusted. This time was different.

Although I don’t recall his name, I felt safe with him. Perhaps it was that he had a grandfatherly look about him. He was a short man of about five and a half feet, and was heavy set. He had short, balding, white hair, and glasses that glinted in the sunlight that came through his office window when he was reading. His voice was soft and deep and comforting. Here was someone I could finally tell everything and anything to with no judgement.

He thought it best for me to try some of the latest antidepressants and sleeping pills on the market, and ended up prescribing some very high doses, but I was finally starting to feel human again. But feeling human isn’t all there is to life; life needs to be lived as well. We talked about various interests and hobbies that had fallen by the wayside in an attempt to find something, anything that would bring some enjoyment back. After talking about the myriad of things I used to do, but now had no interest in, things still seemed hopeless. We knew there had to be something, but what?

During one of our sessions he delivered the news that he was to retire soon. I was devastated, but tried to hide it as best I could.

What are you going to do with all of this free time on your hands?” I asked as enthusiastically as I could muster.

My wife and I are buying a home in Minnesota. I’m planning on spending as much time as possible trout fishing.”

That sounds awesome!” I said. “I used to go fishing a lot. I’d love to go trout fishing in Minnesota. I hear there are some really big ones out there.”

I saw the light bulb flash, “Why don’t you go fishing anymore? Did something happen?”

I thought about this for a moment. Why didn’t I go fishing anymore? I didn’t really know the answer, but did my best to explain.

Once the idea had been planted though, I was determined. I collected my fishing pole and tackle box, along with a bucket, from my parent’s basement and headed to the nearest bait shop to get my license. I also purchased a few new lures and some worms. I was ready.

I thought long and hard about where to go. Where was there a lake or pond that had decent access on foot? And then it hit me. Down some trails, not far from my parent’s house, there was a pond that people often went 4-wheeling around. I wasn’t sure that my 1987 Mercury Sable was equipped to handle most of the trails, but if I could just find one wide enough, with no major boulders or trees in the way, I could make this work.

I found a trail that looked promising and proceeded to drive down it. I made my way very carefully and slowly down the winding path, all the while looking for a good spot to park and fish from. It was almost like a living video game, having to turn the wheel quickly all the way to the right to avoid hitting a tree, and then left to narrowly miss a boulder.

Eventually I found the perfect spot. There was a place off the trail, out of the way of anyone else who came through, to park and a footpath nearby that went down to the water. I put the car in park, shut it off and stepped out.

 I gathered my gear from the trunk and cautiously made my way to the water’s edge. I bent over and opened my tackle box. What should I start with? Worms? A lure shaped like a minnow, or a frog? I spotted one of the lures I’d purchased recently and picked it up to inspect it. It was barely an inch long, and was made to resemble a large, juicy fly. I tied it onto the fishing line as best I could. It had been so long since I’d tied anything with fishing line that I’d be lucky if my knots held. I gave it a firm tug and decided that it was as secure as it was going to get.

I raised the pole over my shoulder to cast, being mindful of nearby trees. I certainly didn’t want to get tangled before I’d even started. I cast the line into the water and slowly began to reel it in. The fly lure wasn’t heavy enough to carry the line much further than six feet out, but I didn’t care. I was fishing for the first time in nearly five years, and hadn’t felt this happy in ages.

Leah Gage lives in New Hampshire with her husband and beagle. She has a degree in culinary arts, which is now useless unless she writes a cookbook. She’s taken many a writing class, and does whatever she can to expand her writing knowledge and horizons. She has yet to be meaningfully published.

Contact Leah

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher