There was a time in my life when I fished or hunted nearly every day. Bass season turned to duck season; ice-fished yellow perch melted into open-water crappies. There was never a lapse in action or an empty spot in the freezer. Bacon-wrapped venison, braised mallards, walleye tacos and freshly fried panfish were just the beginning. Our neighborhood fish fries became legendary. Sleep suffered.
My addictive pursuits were immediately noticeable to my wife. For some reason she married me anyway, probably figuring it was better to lose me to the water than a watering hole. At least I’d always come home just after dark.
A trait I often blame on tournament fishing – the feeling of constantly looking for the big score – I always try to learn more and do better; get closer each day afield. Sometimes it feels like I’m pitching a perfect game: a fish on every cast, or ducks decoying in our pockets. But, more often, the result is a dose of humility.
About the time I moved to Lake St. Clair, things nearly got out of hand. Living just steps away from the lake offered temptations like never before. At the time, my business was expanding along with the transforming world of marketing. Everyone was on path toward this new life of being busier than ever.
While cell phones and email kept us more connected, even allowing me to work on the lake, the minute-by-minute communication led to obligations like never before. Where did the time go when hours faded away in the hazy summer sun over a glass-smooth Lake Erie?
To compensate, I’d work as fast as possible in the morning, hoping to sneak out late in the day for a quick hunt or a few casts. Weeknight tournaments kept the competitive juices flowing, adding relevance to what felt like addiction.
It was here that I began to recognize the impact time in the outdoors had on my overall psyche. As long as I gave myself a possibility of the pursuit, the rest of my life came into focus, albeit a bit rushed. Stuck behind my computer, I’d check the weather for any signs of encouragement. Maybe the thunderstorms would hold off, and we’d have the tournament after all. Maybe a little snow squall would come in and drop a flight of ducks in the marsh. Maybe the ice would hold just one more day.
Wake up, deal with the world, chase something. Go to bed dreaming of that pursuit or, more often, how to do it better the next time. There’s always a next time. Always a bigger score.
I moved to Florida at the age of 41, determined to get away from the congestion and hustle of the North, and settle into a life of endless fishing opportunities. One goal was to purposely reflect on my career’s impact on my well-being and put the wheels in motion toward less stress. Another was to begin to include my wife more in the seemingly secret society I so often joined.
Through two brief years, we’ve done a bunch of that; catching everything from speckled trout to scallops, with a few blue crabs and a sailfish thrown in. Yet, in what looks like a perfect setup on paper, I find myself in a mid-life crisis.
There’s still a group of people who put things like fishing before nearly everything else. I was once among that group. But, while I now try to keep a healthy balance between being an obsessed outdoorsman and an upstanding member of society, I wonder where I’m headed. Have I begun to put things on the back burner that, at one time, took up the whole stove?
Whatever happened to asking a lady on the dock what time it was, because I didn’t carry a cell phone or a watch? Why do I now find a clock on my wrist, in my pocket, and on the display of every fish-finder on my boat?
How have I, and no doubt millions of others just like me, allowed the instant-everything mentality to seep in to what was once a sacred pastime? Why is it okay to forget a few bags of plastics on the workbench, or a new rod I wanted to test, as long as I didn’t forget my cell phone or a laptop when packing up for an afternoon on the water?
There was a time, for all of us, when fishing was what fishing’s supposed to be.
I hope to revisit it soon.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)