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A Fish Story – The Price of Growing a Conscience
A true story about love conflicting with conscious living.
I have a nephew, Liam, who was fourteen when we all found ourselves in quarantine in 2020. He took up fishing for the first time because he could no longer play hockey or baseball, his two favorite activities. Liam lives ninety minutes away from me during the school year but spends his summers at his family’s summer home, which is only fifteen minutes away. So when they arrived here for the summer, Liam asked me to go fishing.
I was thrilled to have a new activity to do with my nephew. Some women would call this male bonding, but guys don’t give it a name. It’s just something to do together. The only problem I foresaw after I agreed was that I hadn’t fished in nearly forty years. I had some catching up to do, and it began with getting myself a rod, reel, and some tackle.
I quickly discovered that the fishing world now employs more than one type of fishing reel. They added something called a baitcaster, unlike what I grew up with called a spinning reel. I was drawn to the baitcaster because it was new, adding a slightly new challenge because it’s a bit more complicated than a spinning reel. But boy, it can cast a lure a long distance with precision. Even practicing with it in my yard alone was a blast.
Now that I had the right equipment, Liam and I went fishing in a river near my house within minutes of his arrival. We were both excited. In the first twenty minutes that Liam and I fished, I remembered why I loved the sport as a boy and teenager. Few experiences match the connection with nature and the meditative practice of repeatedly casting a lure into the water and reeling it in. Except for an occasional comment between us, Liam and I communed with the wildlife, river, and tranquility. The only noise we created was the intermittent plunging of our lures into the water, which only added to the peacefulness of the meditation.
Because it was a hot, sweltering day, Liam lost interest after an hour of not catching anything. He preferred to go swimming than fish, which I fully understood. We agreed to try it again when the weather wasn’t so hot. However, in the short time we did fish, it occurred to me that my memory of correctly removing a hook from a fish after catching it was faint. So, in preparation for our next fishing excursion, I decided to watch some YouTube videos on how to do it properly.
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t keen on the idea of injuring a fish for sport. It wasn’t like we would be feeding our families with our catch. When Liam asked me to fish with him, my first concern was harming the fish due to hook removal. Still, my desire to please my nephew and have an opportunity to connect with him was my first motivation, at least until I watched some YouTube videos on how to remove a hook properly. Fear not, I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but I now had two opposing desires at odds—connecting with my beloved nephew versus not hurting the fish.
I’ve learned that when I’m struggling with this type of quandary, others must be struggling with it too. So I set off on a new investigation to discover what others were saying online about it. I wondered: What have people written about the subject? What trends are taking place because of this? And what solution exists for those who feel what I’m feeling?
At first, I discovered some articles about men fishing without hooks. Sounds absurd at first, I know, but then I read further. One man, who had been fishing his entire life and was now older, wrote that he respected the fish too much to harm them for no reason. This article brought to my attention the new trend (new to me) known as “catch-and-release fishing.” This is where fishermen catch fish solely for the thrill of hooking it, reeling it in, and discovering what they caught.
In contrast, when I was a boy, we fished to eat our catch. We only released what we caught if it was legally too small, not good eating, or was out of season. Nobody in those days fished purely to catch and release fish. Catch and release would have seemed ridiculous to people who fished back then.
Today, there are possibly more catch-and-release fishermen than those who intend to eat what they catch. The sport has changed. And this meets the root of my dilemma. Is it fair to the fish—and mother nature—to put holes and tears in a living being’s flesh simply for my sporting pleasure?
As someone who has grown to think more consciously because I investigated the afterlife, my answer is an emphatic no. I cannot consciously justify harming another living being for my amusement. Even as I say this, I’m aware of the bliss that comes with not thinking this way. As both a man who loves outdoor sporting and an uncle wanting to fish with his nephew, I secretly wish I didn’t have this quandary on my conscience.
So I asked myself, is there an alternative to fishing without a hook? Again, the articles I found touched upon this very subject. One writer, a man a little older than I, considered fly fishing without a hook. He tried it and discovered the fish still grabbed the hookless fly, causing his rod to bend until the fish realized it wasn’t real and spit it out. This is how this particular fisherman balances his lifelong passion with his new consciousness of doing no harm.
This led me to try it myself. I headed to the river, alone this time. I got five bites, pretty similar to what my new mentor in the article described. The fish grabbed my lure, bending my rod like I’d just caught a doozy of a fish. I reeled and reeled, and less than ten seconds later, the catch was over. I can only assume the fish realized my plastic lure wasn’t a live minnow at all and quickly spit it out. A brief moment of excitement for me, and no harm to the fish, although he might be a little embarrassed among his friends for mistaking a plastic minnow for a real one.
Was the experience the same as fishing with a hook? No, definitely not. I never saw any of the fish. I have no idea what kind of fish they were or how big they were. Heck, I couldn’t tell the difference between getting hung up on a weed and getting a bite. Yet I had the peaceful experience of being out in nature, casting my new baitcaster like a champion, watching a mother duck swim by with her ten ducklings, and swatting some mosquitos. I’ll admit that my do-no-harm consciousness ceases when it comes to mosquitos.
I know all the arguments against my concerns because I fished for the first twenty years of my life. “The fish don’t feel the pain,” they say. Well, sorry, studies have proven this argument wrong. “They heal after pulling out the hook,” others will tell you. Again, the sophistication of researchers today teaches us that many—if not most—fish caught and released end up dying, not right away but in the coming days. Finally, “They’re just fish, second-rate species,” is the attitude of some. Oh boy, it’s that type of thinking that gets us humans in all sorts of trouble. Let’s not even go there.
I soon began talking to my male friends about the topic. I start the conversation by saying, “So, I’ve been fishing without a hook...” I enjoy seeing the looks on their faces as they wrap their minds around the concept's what, how, and why. Interestingly, I’ve already had two guys admit at the end of our talk, “Well if I could fish without a hook, I’d do that. It’s the primary reason I don’t fish.”
I realize that many guys would never raise the subject among other guys for macho reasons, but my friends don’t question my masculinity. They might question my sanity, especially when I tell them I’m fishing without a hook, but if my guy friends decided not to like me anymore due to my fishing story, it would only be because I made them think too much. Most guys don’t want to think too deeply. “Let’s just keep it light, man,” is our motto.
As mentioned, catch-and-release fishing wasn’t a sport years ago, yet now it’s the only kind of fishing some people do. Many young people who fish wouldn’t know how to clean a fish if they had to, and they have no plan to learn about it. They’re satisfied with posting a photo of their six-pound, large-mouth bass on social media. Nonetheless, my research reveals a clear trend of fishermen wanting to do less harm.
I found videos of young guys and gals fishing without hooks in preparation for a tournament. Their reason mainly is that they want the big fish to still be there for the tournament, but it also shows that even they realize that releasing them after removing the hook might result in their demise.
I also found videos teaching viewers how to hold a fish properly while removing a hook to avoid further harm. “Hold its body gently,” they instruct. “Never hold it up by the mouth or gills, as that can injure the fish.” One article teaches that it’s better for the fish if you never take it out of the water. If you must hold it, put your hand in the water so your human oils don’t get on the fish. A lifelong fisherman wrote this. I’ve also found videos online teaching viewers how to change a lure with triple hooks to single hooks, once again a strong sign of an increased effort to do less harm to the fish—a positive sign. And many of these videos are created by young men and women in their teens, twenties, and thirties.
Call me an optimist, but these videos and articles teach people how to treat the fish they catch with greater care and compassion. It’s all in response to this catch-and-release fishing trend that started at some point in the last forty years. I look forward to the day when someone invents a fishing lure that doesn’t harm fish at all. It’ll happen, I’m sure of it. They already sell hooks without barbs, and many articles and videos teach people how to remove or crimp the barbs from their current hooks. Studies have also shown that circle hooks do less harm than j-hooks. There’s a reason all these studies are taking place and these articles and videos are being published. I find these caring attitudes toward nature encouraging and a positive statement about humanity.
Naturally, hooks that do less harm are not the same as a humane contraption that allows people to catch a fish and then release it unharmed. I wanted to invent one, and my friend, Michael, said I should call it “The Fish-ka-Bob.” He’s a clever one. Harmless hooks will come one day in the future. Of course, other studies have shown that fish deal with long-lasting stress merely from being hooked and pulled out of the water. I guess the answer to that issue will come long after harmless hooks are the norm, which is probably so far off in the future that I’ll have experienced a lifetime or two as a fish myself. Progress is slow, but it’s steady.
So what’s all this have to do with the subjects of my work, given that my work is about life after death? Well, I keep saying that the more you learn about the afterlife, the more spiritually minded you’ll become. This means you’ll recognize that we’re not a superior species; we’re simply one of the species of equal value here on this beautiful earth. Mother Nature depends upon us all living in harmony, not destroying each other for the mere sport of it. I won’t expound. You either get it or you don’t, but I guess most people reading this get it.
In the end, fishing with a hookless lure is a way to hang out with my nephew while taking in the blessings of nature’s charm, all during the meditative practice of casting and reeling, and doing so without going against my desire of doing-no-harm to these gorgeous living beings we call fish. My nephew’s cool with it, so that’s great in my world, although I think my hookless lures leaked a little air out of the fishing experience for him. You just can’t match the excitement and joy of someone in your group catching a record-breaking fish. Such is the forfeit for growing a conscience.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Happy Friday!
PS, Before I close, let me be clear that I’m not against fishing and have no judgment of anyone who fishes in the traditional sense. This is MY story and not a statement about other men and women who love to fish. Admittedly, I’m a bit envious of them. Likewise, I have no intention of influencing my nephew to stop fishing in the catch-and-release method. Why should I ruin his fun? He’s got his own journey to take. Yet, like everything we do, young people witness our example and decide for themselves what they do with it. That’s their free will and part of the adventurous journey of living a human life.
Bob Olson is the host of Afterlife TV, author of two books, Answers About The Afterlife and The Magic Mala, and creator of the directory of psychics and mediums, BestPsychicDirectory.com. His newest venture is Bob Olson Connect, where you can read Bob’s articles before they become books.
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