Go fish: Nature’s therapy
Fond childhood memories, desire to unwind, connect: Each spurs avid anglers to spread the love of their sport.
Tom More Smith cherishes a lifetime of fishing with his dad, his kids and grandson.
COURTESY OF TOM MORE SMITH
Casting for Recovery attendee Stephanie Jackson (left) celebrates a rainbow trout with angler and guide Jake Darling from Winged Reel at a recent retreat for women who have recovered from or who have breast cancer.
JUSTIN DOBSON/CASTING FOR RECOVERY
Winged Reel guide Wes McElroy (from left), Regina McBride and Megan Howard Nellen take it slow and steady as they enter the water to go fly-fishing at a Casting for Recovery retreat.
JUSTIN DOBSON/CASTING FOR RECOVERY
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By Mary Welch - For the AJC

RECREATION

A few years back, two of Tom More Smith’s children gave him a piece of paper with five words on it: “I’ll go fishing with you.

“It was the best birthday present ever,” he recalls. “I don’t need a thing, but fishing with my kids is special. My grandson, Will, is my fishing buddy. He and I are thick as thieves. We’ll play hooky and go fishing. It’s a very special bond.”


Growing up in Illinois, Smith’s junior high school friends fished and he was curious. Not surprisingly, for someone who grew up to be a finance professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, he went to his town’s library, studied “Field and Stream” magazines, then asked his dad to take him fishing.

“My dad took me out, and we didn’t know what we were doing. But then we really started enjoying it and we would go fly fishing in Madison, Wisconsin, or down to southern Illinois for smallmouth bass during spring break. When I had a teaching job I would arrange my schedule so we could go fishing every Tuesday. I look back now and I cherish that experience I had with my dad.”

His father, Frank Smith, in fact, is coming soon for Smith’s son’s high school graduation, and three generations will, indeed, go fishing.

Politician Kwanza Hall had a similar experience growing up. His parents divorced when he was around 8, and his father took him and his brother “all over the state looking for fishing holes. I didn’t see him during the week, but those weekends were a different life than growing up in southwest Atlanta. We had fishing dungarees with hooks already in them.”

Echoing Smith, Hall’s fishing weekends were “the best memories of my life. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

Exactly what is so great about fishing? You sit and sit and sit, sometimes in cold water, with the hot sun beaming down on you, swatting away bugs, waiting to catch something you’ll probably just throw back. Why is one of the most vivid images of the 1960s (and still today) Andy and Opie going fishing in Mayberry?

Bonding, whether family, friends or strangers, seems to play a big part.

“My dad, my brother and I would just talk,” Hall says.

“We’d bring our friends and camp out. Sometimes he had to chastise us about something, but we always made up.”

Smith, who likens the water’s calming nature to being in church, says the father-son talks with his dad were “never super deep. We talked about movies, what we were reading, what we had for breakfast. You don’t even have to talk, you’re just in the moment.”

With his grandson, he cherishes standing in the front of his bass boat pointing things out to the 10-year-old. “I want him to have the experience, and I’m thrilled.”

The commonality of fishing extends to others. “You could go out on a ramp and there’s other fisherman,” says Smith.

“They’ll tell you where they had good luck or bad. Fishermen enjoy the same thing.

We’re all incredibly aware of the natural resources and try to do a good job protecting the environment.”

Healing waters

That kind of community can have therapeutic benefits.

Bonding and fishing can also help a person’s physical and mental health. Casting for Recovery provides healing outdoor retreats that include a half-day of fly-fishing in North Georgia for women who have recovered from or who have breast cancer. The physical act of casting helps with the restrictions placed on the women’s arm movements after surgery or other treatments.

Pre-COVID-19, they had about around 100 women applying for the 14 slots, which are randomly chosen.

This year, it was about half.

They also hold a fall retreat for women with stage 4 breast cancer.

“It’s wonderful to see the women out there,” CfR co-program director Beverly Booth says. “Those with stage 1 to 3 talk about concerns paying insurance and keeping their job. Those with stage 4 have different concerns, such as telling their children and dealing with the end of their life. But they all enjoy the peace and quiet. It’s a weekend away from worries.

They don’t think about cancer when they’re on the water.”

Megan Howard Nellen, who is “obsessed” with fishing, has worked for and volunteered for CfR. “The weekend is the beautiful harmony of people coming together and being responsive to the needs of these women. They are nurtured but also stretch themselves by learning about fly-fishing.”

The last day is spent fishing with guides on the river.

“It’s amazing the laughter, the screams of joy and the emotion on their faces,” Howard Nellen says. “You can hear them take deep breaths.

“These retreats are transformational.

Then there’s the obvious thrill of holding a rainbow trout.”

Having a moment

For many, like Rodney Tumlin, a retired school teacher who organized school fishing clubs, the joy of fishing is the surrounding nature.

“There’s the whole aesthetics to it,” he says. “There’s a saying that trout don’t live in ugly places. Wherever you’re fishing, you’re surrounded by beauty.”

Keith Weaver, fisheries biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, fondly recalls fishing with his grandfather and “enjoying every moment.

There’s a lot of intangibles with fishing: The joy of catching a fish. The excitement of your rod bending and you reeling it in. Just being there and not in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”

Howard Nellen, an educational consultant who was taught to fish by her pastor, mentions checking out mentally.

“Fly fishing is a sport where — even if you are distracted and stressed about everything around you — you have to focus. In this age of distraction and feeling frantic and overwhelmed, when I have my feet in the water, the only thing I’m thinking of is how appreciative I am to be in that moment. It’s spiritually cathartic.”

Hall says while it’s important to learn about the different lures and what fish want, there is one overriding lesson: Patience. “Well, you’ll learn that for sure,” he laughs.

Low cost

Fishing can be expensive, but it certainly doesn’t need to be.

“We have a lot of inexpensive rods and reels, and you can start conventional fishing for around $50,” says Rob Smith, an employee at The Fish Hawk on Miami Circle in Atlanta, which opened in 1974.

And it doesn’t cost a lot to cast your line. Yes, it is expensive to rent (or buy) a boat and travel to different lakes and streams, but that’s not necessary, Weaver says. A Georgia fishing license costs $15 annually; $5 for one day (extra $10 for trout fishing).

“There are a lot of parks right in your backyard. You can go fishing in Piedmont Park,” Weaver says. “We want people to get out and enjoy fishing. Everyone hears about fishing on the Hooch or Lake Lanier, but there are streams, ponds and lakes all over metro Atlanta.”

The department’s Gateway program works with cities and counties to teach and encourage kids to fish and, hopefully, develop a lifelong love of the sport and its benefits.

“I think every child deserves to have that type of experience in their life,” says Hall.

MORE DETAILS FISHING RESOURCES

■ The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (gooutdoorsgeorgia.com) has several beneficial websites, all linked from georgiawildlife.com.

■ Find more on Casting for Recovery at castingforrecovery.org.