Fishing – the great stress reliever

Prolog: This story is fictional, and sarcastic. While it does contain some facts of reference and it describes attributes and personality traits of persons from my actual life, the chain of events themselves did not occur, at least not in the order presented. Some of the individual scenes and conversations did happen at some point in my life. The birth of this story is because a friend asked me why is fishing considered relaxing. Oh you poor city girl!

“Whiiirrrllllll” punctured the morning calm. A dink followed by a plop echoed over the water as first the sinker and then the bobber stuck the water a short 25′ from the lake shore. A cascading ring of circles emanated from where the sinker pierced the water and another from the location marking the spot the falling weight pulled the red/white plastic sphere from the air and into contact with the otherwise nearly flat lake’s surface.

I slowly rewind a short amount of fishing line and placed the 7′ fiberglass rod with it’s attached spinner wheel in a forked holder I had previously stuck up right in the soft ground surrounding the green oasis of Monroe Lake. I settled back into my folding director’s chair. Nearby my Dad lit a cigarette as he watch his line.

Monroe Lake, a 10,750 acre water reserve, is nestled in the rolling hills of Southern Indiana just southeast of Bloomington. A part of the previous tribal area of the Miami Indian Tribe, the lake was built in the 1960s as part of a flood control project to protect parts of the East Fork of the White River and the surrounding farm lands. The lake, the largest in the State of Indiana, has portions located in three different counties (Monroe, Brown and Jackson) and also uniquely is part and partial to three State Recreation areas: Hardin Ridge, Paynetown, and Fairfax. With numerous camping areas surrounding it’s shores, 9 main boat launch ramps and all the associated support amenities for enjoying this outdoors recreation haven, Monroe Lake, previously known as Monroe Reservoir and still often so referred to by long time visitors, is an attraction that draws 1,000s of visitors every year.

The day had begun when I had ventured from my snug bed two hours before sunrise, sauntered down to the kitchen where I flipped the red button on the coffee maker from Off position to the On position. To maximize my morning efficiency, I had prepared the set-up the night before. As I watched, a black miracle concoction of wake me up and getting me going juice started flowing down from the container holding the coffee grounds thanks to boiling hot water flowing in the top. I pondered the name on the side, “Automatic Coffee Brewer”. I thus had to ask the question, just how automatic is it? The night before, like 100s of other nights before, I had to remove the plastic oval coffee grounds holder. Discard the previous morning’s remnants, rinse it out, retrieve and install a new woven cotton filter; remove the can containing the ground coffee from it’s hiding place in the cabinet, measure out an appropriate dosage of fresh coffee; then install the entire collection back into the coffee brewer. Next, I removed the plastic handled glass container that would, in the morning, receive the brewed coffee, step to the sink where I could rinse it out, fill it up with cold fresh water and return to dump the water into the top of the coffee machine, finally returning the coffee vessel to it’s place under the ground-coffee-holding container. I thus pondered, if this is considered ‘Automatic’ I would certainly hate to have to own a fully manual unit. Whatever, I say to myself, you can ponder the great mysteries of life, or at least the mysteries of Madison Avenue marketing, or you can go take a shower and get ready for the day. The third option that traversed my mind as I headed back down the hallway was to return to bed, but alas, I had made a promise to go fishing this freaking early, so to the shower I veered. Up ticked my stress level just a bit.

A dismissal short 20 minutes later I exited my bedroom: showered, shaved, dressed and ready to tackle the day in front of me. Well, showered, shaved and dressed anyway. To the Automatic Coffee Brewer I returned, this time carrying a ceramic coffee mug, which proudly displayed a yellow deer on a black background that appears to be jumping along with the words, “Nothing Runs Like a Deere”. The mug was a gift from the local John Deere Equipment dealer following my purchase of a riding lawn mower and assorted utility attachments including a rota-tiller for breaking up the soil in anticipation of the spring garden planting, a harrowing disk to break up chucks of soil & smooth out the surface and a 2 wheel cart to be used to haul assorted materials and supplies around my yard and garden. All beautifully color matched and logo-ed with John Deere and the famous jump deer. As I stared at the coffee mug I remembered the saleslady when she offered it to me. “Here, would you like a free coffee mug?” Considering that I had just spent more then the cost of most used cars on a device that will be parked in my garage all but about 20 weekends a year, what part of ‘free’ fit in that sentence? I got a ‘free’ coffee mug, her family got a ‘free’ vacation in Florida thanks to the commissions on my purchase. Whatever. I pour the pitch black liquid into the cup. And, as my glaze sweeps towards the little window over the kitchen sink – pitch black is another sight, as in it is Pitch Black Outside. Why again am I up at this time of the day? Oh, yea – fishing. To relieve my stress.

“The fishing is best just when the sun is coming up,” my Dad had emphasized the previous day when he asked me to accompany him. “You know I don’t like fishing.” “Yea, but it is very relaxing and calming and lately you have been up tight and tense. It will do you good,” had been the lead up conversation. Considering my general disdain of fishing which I compare to going to a doctor’s office for a shot (any shot, me and needles agreed long ago to not like each other), I am not 100% sure with regard to the positioning of “best”. Then there is perspective: best for the fisherman vs best for the fish. After all, this could be the end of the line (literally as well as functionally) for a fish that had only briefly before been asleep, woke up and decided to go looking for a meal prior to beginning a day filled with swimming with his or her’s fellow fish, playing fish games and singing fish songs. Little did this fish consider that at the fish school later that day, during roll call to see who was present and who was not, that there would be no response to “Bueller?”

I considered a breakfast of Eggs, Bacon and Pancakes, but time was not permissible. While he would have no problem with being late for nearly every appointment and schedule in his life, I was certain of one thing, Dad would arrive promptly for this meeting. Fishing would not be delayed. I guessed that while his alarm clock may have been programmed to awaken him only slightly sooner then mine, he was likely sitting at the dining room table sipping on coffee from his ‘automatic coffee brewer’ and smoking a cigarette before the alarm indicated the scheduled time to rise. While in the US Marine Corps, I am expressly positive he was not late for his appointed rounds and schedules, however, following his honorable service to our county, he was a little less punctual – except when it involved fishing. Cold cereal with a bit of milk it would have to be. My companion was scheduled to be here in 20 minutes. But expected to the here much sooner.

While in the process of obtaining a bowl from one cabinet and reaching for the cabinet door hiding my stash of processed and prepared dry cereals, the ‘dog door’ I had cut into the kitchen door thru which access to the rear porch and yard was possible, was pushed open as Bubba returned from the back yard where he had traveled for his morning body functions. While Bubba would have enjoyed indoor facilities as much as I certainly enjoyed mine, I greatly enjoyed that he at least had the ability to exit and enter the house without me having to open and close the door for him approximately 100 times a day. My eyes meet Bubba’s and I am certain his thought was much the same as mine, “why the heck are we up?” It was either that or he was thinking “What? Cereal? How about Bacon, Eggs and Pancakes for a much more balanced and nutritious breakfast? And thus my ability to score some bacon for my breakfast.” Or both.

I often pondered how great it would be to actually converse with my dog. But I was equally in belief that often it may better that I can not as I have a high degree of certainty many of the conversations would involve food, namely beef and pork, and then going for a ride. Right now, food then going back to freaking bed. Which was exactly what he would do whilst I however, drove toward my appointed place along the water’s edge in search of an elusive aquatic animal, commonly called – a fish.

As I poured my selected cereal in the bowl, the kitchen window suddenly filled with sunlight like brightness, which quickly faded as Dad’s pickup had turned from the county road into the driveway where he parked next to my truck. Bubba, knowing by the sound of the approaching vehicle, that one of his favorite people had arrived, turned and exited the dog door onto the back porch and then, since the back porch was enclosed, via a second dog door into the fenced back yard area and arrived at the gate which allowed access to the driveway long before Dad could could exit his truck and make it 10 feet to the gate. With waging tail and panting mouth, the Collie-Shepard mix canine waited for the love, petting and attention he would soon be receiving. Bacon, or the lack there of, was no longer on his mind. It would, however, return.

As I was about to consume my 3rd bite of cereal, the back door opened and following the dog, Dad entered and asked the question, “You ain’t finished breakfast yet?” I, at this juncture had two choices: (1) ask the otherwise obvious question, “What does it look like?” or (2) I could lie. I knew from past experience that stupid answers to what I considered stupid questions was not the way to deal with the ex-Marine standing before me. I learned the same thing from Army Drill Instructors also. Must be a military thing. So I lied. “I would have been ready sooner but I was fixing the mutt some bacon.” This earned me ‘The Look’ from Bubba that was either in reference to me calling him a mutt or questioning ‘if I fixed him bacon, where was it?’ Or both.

I was well familiar with ‘The Look’. When Bubba had came into my life, he knew no such expression. He only knew the love and admiration that a dog can and does have for his master. One of obedience and loyalty. A look of I will do anything and everything for you. A look of I will give my life to protect you. And then the girlfriend got a hold of him. And from her, he learned the art of using glaring eyes, a slightly cocked eyebrow and barely noticeably tilt of the head to question and challenge my decisions, or at least those decisions that were contrary to her desires, of which most were. And now, my dog used the same mannerisms to express himself to me.

Dad, calmly and with perfect flatness in his voice looked at Bubba and muttered, “I don’t see or smell any bacon, do you?” I added, in vain, that Bubba was so good at eating bacon that he also ate the smell. Dad, not seeming to buy that remark, walked to the cabinet, retrieved a coffee mug with “Ford” embellished on the side and poured himself a cup of coffee from the non-Automatic Coffee Brewer. The Ford cup was a ‘free’ gift from my truck dealer, immediately following my agreeing to send Ford Motor Credit a monthly check for many $100s each month for several years. Once again, free was less free then it appeared. Maybe I do have a lot of stress in my life. A dog that gives me ‘The Look’ and a cabinet full of free gifts that somehow substantially reduced my bank account balance.

I, desiring to change the course of the conversation asked, “are you ready to go fishing?” This, and I really, really should have known better to ask the question, earned me ‘The Look’ from him and the response, “What do you think?” Apparently, I don’t think or the question would never have been spoken. So I tried, “How’s the weather?” Which earned the retort, “Well if you were ready to go when I got here, we would be on the road and you would know about the weather yourself.” Ok, time line summary: the trip to preselected fishing location will take 20 minutes, it will require another 20 minutes to transport from the truck to lake shore our collection of gear and 10 minutes to prepare and cast the first baited hook of the day into the water for about 50 minutes total and yet it is nearly an hour and a half prior to sunrise, ‘when the fishing is best’. “What the heck is your hurry?” was the question I dared not ask as I continued to eat. Yep, less stress already.

A few more bites and my breakfast was finished, I rinsed out the bowl, placing it in the sink, turned and voiced, “I am ready when you are”. Dad, now sitting at the table with a cigarette in one hand and the other scratching the top of a dog’s head, his coffee cup sitting nearby still nearly full, looked at me and questioned matter of factually, “Can I finish my coffee first?” “No you may not. You must immediately pour it out and get in the truck so we can leave” was another statement that I dared not utter. Another notch up crept my stress level. Please remind me again, how does fishing relax you?

Finally, Dad snuffed out the last of his cigarette, drank his remaining coffee and as he slowly stand stood up, he stated, “Well, Bubba, I guess it is time to go fishing.” Bubba, thankfully unable to actually talk, did not respond, “you go fishing, I am going back to bed – and still with out my bacon for breakfast.” Out the back door, thru the porch, out the porch door, across 30 feet of yard to the gate to the driveway we traveled with Bubba close by. At the gate, the dog stopped and watched as Dad and I entered my truck and started off on our journey. Initially, I assumed that Bubba looked forlorn at being left behind, but I later contemplated that by the time we were at the end of the 150′ driveway, he was at the end of my bed. Not, as he belonged on the dog bed Beside my bed, but On my bed. I had long ago noticed that often there was a dimple in the blankets on the bed that was not there when I left in the morning.

Finally, here I sit on the bank of Monroe Lake, a fishing pole with a baited hook on it cast into the water as the sky towards the east is turning from a brilliant red to a intense yellow as the sun crests above the trees to begin it’s day long journey across the sky before descending to the west. I settle in waiting for the red & white plastic bobber to bounce up and down indicating a fish has shown interest in the bait on the hook and was checking it out. I was secretly hoping that all the fish this morning were hungry for something, anything, other then Red Worm, a portion of which was now impaled on the sharp, pointy, curved piece of metal at the end of my line. The more the fish wanted to eat Red Worm, the more fish I might catch. The more fish I catch, the more I had to clean. The more I had to clean, the more my stress level was going UP not down. But, fishing is relaxing – or so I had been informed.

Off in the distance, a male tree-frog starts his love song cadence hoping to find true love. As first one frog sings his song of romance, then another and another and another join in so that soon, the morning air was filled with the sound of many. The sound was almost relaxing, almost.

A sound that contains no relaxing qualities soon fill my ears. Although completely inaudible to human ears, the signal had already be dispatched by scout mosquitoes to all the other nearby mosquitoes, “breakfast is served”. And with that, a steady stream of the pesky little critters began a relentless attack. A few of the advance party descend toward unprotected arms in an attempt to obtain a meal of my precious blood. It is not that my blood is especially valuable, but I have a special, you might even say personal, attachment to it. Others attempt the direct assault on the delicate, thinly skinned ears. Now comes the choice of all choices – swing at the microscopic winged pest in the immediate vicinity of my head in an attempt to end it’s short life even sooner and at the same time smack myself in the head or let the little varmint have a free meal. Neither repeatedly hitting myself or letting the mosquitoes have a free meal on my ears is appealing to me. So I again I question, how is fishing relaxing?

I apply another coating of Mosquito Repellent to arms, neck and ears. As I look at the squeeze bottle in my hand, it clearly states, “New and Improved Formula”. Ok, if this is the improved formula, I can only guess the old formula was really crappy because this formula does not appear to be overly effective. Why, I question, is Mosquito Repellent not rated like sun screen – the higher the number, the higher the repelling. And, if so, and assuming a similar rating to the SPF system, do they make a MRF 100 or maybe 150? All I can say at this point is that it is a good thing fishing is relaxing or I would be very uptight.

As I watch my bobber rest on the surface of the water a short distance away, following the being out of bed much sooner in the day then I desired and with numerous coats of the ‘New and Improved Formula’ keeping my ears safe from being nibbled on, I start to almost drift off to sleep. About half awake and only half aware of events surrounding me, Dad suddenly and loudly yells, “Hey, you got a bite. Are you going to catch that fish or let it get away?” “If I have a true choice, I am going to let it get away” was the answer I did not respond with. I grabbed the pole from it’s holder, snapped sharply back on it and could tell that I had now hooked a fish of some breed and I briskly started cracking the handle to bring in the line. I was now the proud owned of a 8” bluegill. Well, owner anyway. I look at it and say, “Kinda small, I think I should throw it back to let it get bigger.” Out of the corner of my eye I can see I am getting ‘The Look’, so I calmly pick up a fish stringer, attach the fish to one of clips and drop the fish into the water’s edge, secure in the knowledge that it is not going anywhere thanks to the metal chain that will anchor it to the shore. Yep, stress is definitely going away.

Rebaited and relaunched, my hook, sinker and bobber are again in the waters of the lake at my feet. About 2 hours later, it only seemed like 2 days, Dad was the owner of 1 Bluegill while I was the captor of 4 total. The good part of this, is lacking his luck at landing a large collection of fish, I could likely talk him into taking mine home so he could clean them, and cook them and eat them. All of which are three activities I have no desire to partake in. It was relaxing enough catching them, or so I was lead to believe.

Packed up and ready to head home, my stress level at no measurable level less then the prior day in which it had been proclaimed, fishing is “relaxing and calming”, I was opening my truck door when up pulled a green and white Ford Bronco with 6” high lettering on the front fender announcing “Ranger” and the emblem of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on the door. “Morning Gentlemen” the man stated as he got out of his truck. “Catch anything?” was the prelude to the question he really wanted to ask, and soon would, which was “Can I see your fishing licenses?” Of course, I had taken all the required steps to be legal in the eyes of the law and was able to produce my folded paper DNR officially issued fishing license that cost me a mere $17.00 and allowed me to take all the fish I wanted for an entire year, respective of daily bag limits, for free. Again, somehow free comes with a fee.

Yes, fishing does reduce my stress. Not fishing, however, reduces it more.

Post log: This story is in honor of my Dad, Ancil A. Carter, as he now rests in peace, a man who would have fished everyday of his life if he could have, but instead worked 10-12 hours a day, 5 and 6 days a week to feed his family because that was his obligation. He was a part of a generation that put Obligation before Recreation.

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