Reel Time: The Zen of fishing

The ancient word and concept of Zen have been co-opted to refer to things as diverse as a nail salon and a burger bar. The term comes from (massively oversimplified) a form of Eastern Meditation that stresses mindfulness and meditation but for our purposes, we’ll use the commonly accepted definition “absorption.” How you might ask does an ancient Chinese concept apply to fishing? Let me explain.

Over the years we’ve all noticed that there are more anglers on the water and, in many cases, there appears to be fewer fish to go around. When fish are present, say redfish, they are spookier and harder to approach. Over the years I’ve written about staking out holes on the flats and letting the fish come to you. More and more I’m reminded that this is a good way to find and entice fish as well as making the fishing day more relaxing. It’s amazing what you can notice when you slow down and become absorbed in the experience rather than running from place to place.

Reel Time The Zen of Fishing
This redfish fell for a stealthy, Zen-like approach on a flat in Tampa Bay. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

I was reminded of this principle during the past month on a trip to the mountains of North Georgia. Over the years I have trout fished a “trophy” trout stream at Smithgall Woods State Park near Helen. The stream, Dukes Creek, is managed by the State of Georgia and anglers in limited numbers are only allowed to fish there three days a week. The park is also an excellent place to bike and during my most recent trip there I did an afternoon of biking on a day when anglers weren’t on the water. Several times I parked the bike near the stream and just sat next to a tree and observed. It only took about five minutes for the section of stream I was sitting by, seemingly devoid of fish when I arrived, to suddenly come alive as smaller and then larger trout swirled into view, taking up stations at the edges of the eddies and along undercut banks. Any other day I would have probably waded into the stream slowly but not mindfully. Then and there I resolved to change my fishing procedure both in Georgia and in the home waters around Anna Maria Island.

Here’s a way of incorporating this principal when fishing local waters. When you find an area you intend to fish be methodical about covering the region. First anchor your boat at least a hundred yards from where you intend to fish. Then try a combination of slow wading and standing in place motionlessly where you have a good view of the flat. It’s critical to make as little noise as possible so don’t rattle the anchor chain or bang around in the boat. Take your time getting to the area you intend to fish. Move slowly to avoid pushing a wake and a pressure wave. When casting start by working the near side of a hole and pay special attention to the ends that generally feature deeper water over grass. Although they tend to be harder to fish, partly cloudy days are generally better than bluebird skies. If it clouds up stand still and wait for a patch of sunshine to light up the flats. Remember fish move around and just because you don’t find them on a particular tide doesn’t mean they won’t show up.

There are no sure things as far as I know but fish or not I’m guessing you will be more relaxed at the end of the day and more insightful. Turn the ancient art form of Zen into a well-reasoned outing. The worst-case scenario? You’ll burn less fuel!

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