The art of bait fishing

Illustration by Davis Connelley
Illustration by Davis Connelley

There is an art to bait fishing: the art of patience and the art of relaxing. It is not just the ability but the desire to sit by a river and listen to the water, the ducks and the pika. There’s nothing like putting a squiggling, wriggling, dirt-covered worm on a hook to get you in touch with the simple things in life. What I love most about bait fishing is how it simplifies everything. Once you are all weighted and baited and rigged-up and waiting, your world shrinks and crystallizes. For a time, there is nothing but you and the water. You don’t worry about your problems because you’re too busy watching your bobber, and in the time you watch your bobber, you often find that your problems have sorted themselves out.

Bait fishing can be some of the most enjoyable fishing in the world. It requires very little skill, but a great deal of patience and a comfort with yourself. People, used to distractions, find that not having them has become distressing to many people’s psyche. When was the last time you came home from work and sat in your house without any distractions from your own thoughts and feelings? No T.V., no phone, no computer, no music, no NPR, no internet? Bait fishing is about being with yourself, without distraction and without filter. It is every bit as centering as the deepest of meditations, and I find it far more helpful for solving my problems, providing you are properly equipped.

The most important thing you need for bait fishing is the proper frame of mind. You must be prepared to sit still for hours with no fish, with not even a nibble, and still enjoy your time. Of course, you must bring a fishing rod, and hooks and baits and weights. But you also need a spot with a good rock or stick or tree trunk to wedge your rod in so a big fish doesn’t pull your rod out to the middle of the river. You need a suitable backrest or seat (ideally both), and finally, you need a hat.

You should always bring a hat with you on fishing trips, as it has multiple uses for any fisherman, one of my absolute favorites being its talent for shielding your face from the sun. When the bait fishing is slow and I’ve been up since five in the morning, I’ll clip a little bell to the end of my rod to let me know if a fish bites. I’ll keep my rod in place by putting a heavy rock on the end of it. I’ll kick back and relax, use my backpack as a pillow and tip my hat forward over my eyes. The sun will shine down on my body, so there’s no need for a blanket. I feel a warmth and an inner peace that the Dalai Lama himself would be envious of. And I slip into a peaceful, dreamless sleep…

I wake up a little later and check my bait. No bell ringing and nothing has been moved. No bites, but that’s okay. Bait fishing is not really about fishing anyway. It’s about listening. Listening to the water and listening to the peace and quiet that comes from the simple but irrevocable knowledge that the river will always flow. The river has been there since long before you were born, and it will be there long after you die. Even when you leave it, it will be there when you come back.