My childhood started off in much the same way as most other middle class kids growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. We’d giggle while running through the grass barefoot during the summer months, catch fireflies in a Mason jar, jump through the sprinklers, anxiously await the sound of the ice cream truck headed down the street… and spend as much time with our grandparents as possible.
I was fortunate enough to have an awesome grandmother and grandfather who loved the outdoors and had a summer house in the upper peninsula of Michigan on Stanley Lake. An avid hunter and fisherman, Albert Johnson (AKA my grandfather) knew how to whittle a whistle out of a cherry branch, smoke a musky in a tin can and make the best dang raspberry jelly known to mankind.
At the tender young age of 4, I became Grandpa Johnson’s official “fishing partner” and had no reservations about jumping into the 16-foot aluminum boat for an adventure with the coolest man on the planet (aside from my Dad of course). Grandpa would teach me how to properly bait my hook with wiggly earthworms so I’d catch a nice bluegill, or show me which Rapala lures were best when trolling for musky, or demonstrate how to use a Hula Popper around the lily pads at the North end of the lake for bass. Then, after fishing for a few hours, we’d take our picnic lunches and head to an island in the middle of the lake to eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while discussing what we caught that day and how excited we were because Grams was going cook up a mean fish fry when we returned.
Troubled Teen Years
Fast-forward a few years. I somehow turned into a moody, troubled teen that just wanted to hide in her room, listen to depressing Depeche Mode songs on cassette tape and cry. I got involved with a somewhat narcissistic boyfriend who preferred to go to the tanning spa several times a week and flex his muscles in front of all his guy friends than spend time with me (admittedly, I probably wasn’t the best company). Then I got braces, the boyfriend cheated on me, I grew even more socially awkward and ended up as the primary bashing target of a select group of female high school bullies. Awesome huh? Surely college life would be better!
Ummm… yeah. When I went off to college, I suddenly had this overwhelming need to be perfect. Get perfect grades, have perfect hair, be the perfect weight, embody the perfect sorority girl, be the perfect daughter and do all the perfectly right things. Since I neglected to realize that perfection wasn’t possible, I developed a DANDY of an eating disorder, ended up at having to drop out of college for a semester, got put into a treatment facility and felt so useless that I pretty much wanted to take a long walk off a short pier – never to be seen or heard from again. I had completely convinced myself (and the rest of the world) that I had about as much value as a Canadian penny lying on the floor of my white Ford Escort GT.
Finding Healing in Reeling
After I was finally deemed “healthy” by the docs and had packed a few pounds back on, I’d go visit Grandma and Grandpa at the lake, drop a fishing line in the water and somehow the royally screwed up world seemed right again. And it was… for a time anyway.
Until I graduated from college, got married, moved to Florida, started fishing a few saltwater tournaments, got cheated on again, got divorced, found a new boyfriend from Miami, fished when I could in between, moved to Miami with boyfriend, ended up finding out boyfriend from Miami was gay after dating him for 3 years, broke up with boyfriend, moved back to Fort Myers… AND DECIDED IT WAS SERIOUSLY TIME TO JUST FISH MY BUTT OFF!
Trust me, there were more than a few unhealthy, totally self-destructive thoughts that went through my mind after 20 years of making bad decisions, but the best choice I ever made was to channel all that anger and sadness into one thing… fishing.
Because when I was on the water, nothing else mattered. I felt empowered, happy (although sometimes humbled by the ones that got away), and just plain thrilled to be in the great outdoors – a place where no one cared much about the size of your jeans, if your hair was perfect or if you carried a Louis Vuitton purse. Stress melted away into the sea and fishing took me back to those days I spent with Grandpa in the aluminum boat out on Stanley Lake catching bluegill (or bass, perch, walleye or musky). No worries, other than making sure Grams knew what time we would be coming home with the catch of the day
So when people ask me, “how did you get so passionate about fishing?” I usually just smile and say, “because a bluegill saved my life.”