What Fishing Does to Your Brain

by | Sep 19, 2023 | 34 comments

My fishing memory is punctuated by a few landmark moments, with all other trips, preparations and the accompanying research lined up in between. These keystones have served as pivot points, as markers to capitalize the endeavors and then move on. Catching my first trout on a dry fly defined the culmination of significant effort. But the fish was not the reward as much as the work required to get there. Failure and struggle preceded learning, refinement and finally, a fish. In my mind’s eye, I can see that trout dangling at the end of a fishing line and a Royal Wulff. But in my heart, I can feel the collection of all the experiences it took to get there.

It’s the journey, not the destination. We hear this all the time, and we understand the concept to be true, but we’re consumed by the experience, obsessed with the fish, and it’s easy to lose the big picture. All anglers want to return to the water. We wish to fish, but we’re land based, office based and family based. Our chance to make the next cast is often distant enough to be frustrating, so we fill in the time with more planning and dreaming of what may come.

I fish often enough that I could easily slip into satisfaction and disinterest if I didn’t keep the game fresh. “How do you go out there and do the same thing every day?” That’s a frequent question from non-anglers or hobbyists who wet a line once in a while. But my fishing is never the same. It’s a daily adjustment to my approach on waters and tactics that I’m familiar with, accompanied by a never ending curiosity about that which I know little.

READ: Troutbitten | Perspective, from the Salt to the Limestone
READ: Troutbitten | A Fish Out of Freshwater
READ: Troutbitten | Surf and Salt — LBI 2019
READ: Troutbitten | Lessons From the Salt — Strike Zone, Sensitivity and Persistence

As I’ve mentioned recently, my latest curiosity is the pursuit of striped bass in the salt. And because the nearest salt is five hours away, I’ve done far more planning than doing. For six years, I’ve cast into the surf on family vacations, becoming more curious and more drawn into the possibilities with each shift at dawn and dusk. Over the years, fooling fluke with bucktails has become my preparation — good practice for the inevitable return to meet the fall run of stripers on the east coast. Because my time is painfully limited, I’ve kept my approach simple, restricting myself to just two options: bucktails, and jerk -shad soft plastics on a ball jig. This self-imposed limitation has taken stubborn discipline. But if I allowed myself to open to an entire world of plugs and lures, I would spend more money, learn less about the important things and be more frustrated.

Yes, I do this on a spinning rod. And while I’m sure I’ll cast a fly in the salt one day, the areas I’m drawn to most come with rough waves and frequent winds that make presenting a fly an unwelcome challenge, especially in these early stages.

I love the beaches. I don’t want a boat. I’m a surfcaster.

That’s the first time I’ve written that. It’s the first time I’ve really felt it. Because last week gave me one of those keystone moments where I finally went from pursuing something to doing it.

I returned alone to my favorite beach, an undeveloped island section where a fisherman can truly be alone. And for two days, I fished — endlessly walking and wading through sea foam. High winds that preceded the coming hurricane stirred the ocean into a monster that I’d never before seen. I fought it for half the trip, fishing through tides and into the darkness while I managed a few fluke. The waves grew with the wind. I thought of quitting early. I argued with myself that I should be satisfied with all that I’d learned. Instead, I decided to explore the bayside of the island, and that was a good decision.

So, for the latter half of my second day, I waded waist deep in the bay. Wind pushed violently still, but I turned my back and leaned into it. The choppy surface ran south, and I eventually realized that the water below was moving north toward the inlet, miles away. Casting south, then, and retrieving with the current, kept my bucktail clean and the presentation doable, with a low rod angle and a little extra weight.

I sat on the bayside lip sometime in the early evening and took stock of the situation. This was easily the heaviest wind I’d ever experienced with a fishing rod in hand. And I was more lost in the newness and mystery of things than I’d been for years. I loved every second of it. This was the feeling I’d come for. This is was what I was chasing.

I caught a couple fluke and bluefish, and I had just enough action to keep me hopeful. The first striper was a surprise. However small, it was my first, and it added another memory. I explored a few sections through the evening and then drove south to one more spot that looked promising on the map.

With the wind ripping along the coastline, I found a small cove, bordered by thick trees. At high tide, I could wade knee deep a few feet offshore until the sand slid into an unseen abyss. A pair of egrets swam nearby, against the northern rocks. And across the bay, the sun neared the horizon as I stepped in. I swear the wind bowed gracefully for a moment, as I lined up my first cast. A small fluke agreed. And as I released it, I thought this was a nice ending to my trip. I knew I would fish until dark and then drive the long miles home, and I felt satisfied with the effort, pleased to have followed through.

Then, two casts later, I hooked a striper.

It’s all so new. That’s what I remember. What fish was this? A big fluke? An unwanted stingray? I saw it splash on the surface, but against the blackwater of sun and choppy waves, the shape was too unfamiliar to make out. A heavy surge against my rod emphasized the size as something a trout fisherman simply isn’t ready for. I’d swapped out to my lighter rod when I moved bayside, and the weight against that graphite — combined with the peeling drag from my reel — was simply unexpected. I recovered and regained ground on the fish. And when it was twenty feet away, I pulled it to the surface enough to see the tail and a dorsal fin. Striper!

Twenty-six inches and a little over seven pounds. That means nothing to the veterans of this game — just a larger schoolie in the back bay. But for me, it’s another keystone in my fishing life. That striper will drive me for a long time. It will give me confidence that I’m on the right path. It will inspire miles of travel, days of thought and months of planning.

Fishing captivates us because it provides two of the three things we need to be happy — something to work on and something to look forward to. What’s the third key to happiness? Someone to love. And for the angler, we’d be wise to find someone who loves us back, enough to care about and listen to our fishing stories.

I’m thankful for all of this.

Fish hard, friends.

 

** NOTE ** If you are an east coast surfcaster, please get in touch. The salt is a mystery to me, and I’ll take all the guidance I can get.

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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34 Comments

  1. Dom,

    This is one of my favorite articles of the 1000 or so you have written. I also love the discovery inherent in my passion for fly fishing. It keeps my brain healthier and always returns me to my business and family better than I left.

    Reply
    • Right on, Mike. I think this is what draws a lot of us in for good.

      Reply
    • Same here i have a 2 year okd at home and the last few years haven’t been smooth. I picked upa fly rod second hand from a coworker during the pandemic hadn’t fished in over a decade. The sport soured after my dad abandoned the family and was estranged from me as it was one of thw activities me and my father could bond over. But in the stillness of a gorge throwing that fly rod out for the first time i had alot of time for contemplation and self analysis. Was i any good not at all it was like watvhing my daughter try to learn to walk. But i felt rejuvenated when i started my long drive home and had rekindled something inside of me. The worst day fishing is still better then the best day at work. Sadly i didn’t get out a single time this year because of other responsibilities but there is always next year right. I have a long winter ahead of me in the rockies tying flies infront of the fireplace while keeping my daughter out of my fly tieing supplies lol.

      Reply
        • Love your writing and joy of discovery. Spent 63 years chasing stripers (stripahs) where I’m from. Don’t know your locale, but suggest you find a really good charter captain to show your where to fish from shore. Feel free to contact me.

          Reply
    • I’m a fresh water guy who got into fly fishing mid life and ocean fishing later in life. I go on the party boats not the surf. Would like to try it someday. I like u keep it simple, but add something new yearly. Sometimes it works sometimes it don’t. Fun is in the fishing. Love your articlr.

      Reply
  2. Excellent article.
    I’m a bait caster, surf fisherman, and fly fisherman…
    I’m not prejudiced against any fish, or technique.
    Heck I’ll probably even give tenkara a try at some point.
    Every day fishing is a Blessing!

    Reply
  3. I really loved the article especially since I can relate to the story and the message.
    The three elements of fishing that make us happy are so real and are part of who we are.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. In my younger days we used to make what were called suicide runs to the coast….leave super early, drive multiple hours, hit the surf hard, then drive back late at night. it would wreck you for 2d afterwards but it was worth it. the only people who could ever understand why someone would want to that were certain fishermen…the real ones if you know what i mean

    Reply
  5. Cracking fish mate. Trophy fish come in all shapes and sizes, and the real trophy is often the knowledge that gets you there.

    Reply
  6. Domenick – Another fine piece of penmanship from you. Should you ever decide to do a New England vacation, there are plenty of opportunities to fly fish for stripers, blues & false albacore from Cape Cod and the islands to the Maine coast. Tight lines.

    Reply
  7. I love the article. Angling is addictive. My Dad took me when I was 4 years old. I’ve been hooked ever since. From fly fishing to deep sea fishing. If it has a hook I’ve tried them all. I’m older now and MS has slowed me down so panfish is more my speed these days, but they are still the best days and the ones that drive me. Nothing like the water and fresh air and nature and picking just the right lure just presentation. Fish on! Gotta go!

    Reply
  8. I am, therefore I fish.
    I fish, therefore I am.

    What a nice article.
    Thank you.

    I’m in my 70’s & fished most of my life…
    But, I’ve never gotten over the simple pleasures of casting a worm to catch a bluegill.

    Some people just don’t get it.

    Reply
  9. My father taught me to flyfish when I was 7 years old. I broke his Bamboo fly rod when I was 9. My.dad and fishing buddy died 10 years ago of a heart attack when we were both fishing for Grayling in Alaska. I am now 79 and still flyfish almost weekly.
    I have caught King Salmon weighing 72lbs 8 ozs, Tarpon 108 pounds and Rainbow Trout 19lbs 9ozs. I am not sure how to put a worm on a hook?

    If the fish doesn’t like flies…He just ain’t worth eating!

    Reply
  10. Great article, and comments, cant put it in words the way some of you did so brilliantly but could relate, from blue gills to Marlin and tuna, from boats, rivers, ponds, on shore, off shore saltwater and fresh water. Now trolling in a boat with downriggers, but never gotten a striper, Hope someday.

    Reply
  11. Bruh,

    I didn’t know I needed this but thank you. I’m a new angler with many of the same frustrations. This is the epitome of my work, life, and family balance roller coaster right now.

    Reply
      • Have you been to Cape Cod yet? Best striper fishing!! I took up fly fishing for stripers and just love it – at 71 and a newbie I get lots of encouragement from everyone I meet.

        Reply
  12. So much of this speaks to me but that last paragraph, REALLY hit home.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Great Read….

    Reply
  14. Loved the article and I love hearing fishing stories. To me this is passion and a very valuable skill that I thank God I fell in love with many years ago. Thanks again for this true fishing story .

    Reply
  15. Hey Dom, Great to see you catching striper fever. Be careful, it can be addicting as fishing for trout! The adrenalin rush of casting to 20lb stripers blitzing the surf is unforgettable. Last two spring and fall seasons have been fantastic. Hopefully you can free up a long weekend some time and catch them at the peak of their run past the NJ coast. Feel free to reach out with any Qs. John

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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