PAT NEAL: A crazy way to stay sane

They say we live in an age of disinformation. I can think of no greater example of this modern-day dilemma than a recent reoccurring theory based on a media-driven campaign to lure a potentially vulnerable demographic with a history of self-abuse and poor self-image down a garden path of self-destructive behavior that has no possible positive outcome.

Why would any one of the myriad internationally recognized mental health professionals, life coaches and gurus promote a path of unproven beliefs and half-baked therapies for a problem for which there may be no actual cure? That’s crazy!

Follow the money. As usual, if something sounds too good to be true, someone is probably making a fortune off it.

I can think of no better example of this timeless theme than a thread of recent news articles that claim fishing is good for your mental health. That’s crazy!

While certain outdoor activities like biking, hiking and camping might be good for your mental health, fishing is not.

Proponents of this outlandish claim say that relaxation and stress relief are the main benefits people get from recreational fishing.

As a steelhead fishing guide with over 30 years of experience, I can tell you, that’s crazy.

It begins with the fishing gear.

Do you know the difference between a fishing pole and a fishing rod? About a thousand dollars. And you are going to need more than one.

In fact, once you go overboard steelhead fishing, you are fed the delusion you need a different fishing rod for every day of the week even if you don’t go fishing.

One person’s hoarding disorder is another’s fishing tackle collection.

Hoarding fishing tackle is a symptom, or more like a cry for help, because once you find something that catches fish, it quits catching fish and along comes something else that catches more fish.

Of course, you have to buy it.

Maybe you fish with lures. How do you know you are buying the right one? That’s easy. You want to buy the one that’s not in the tackle store. It’s sold out because it catches fish.

So, you have to ask the tackle store for lures they don’t have anymore. They’ll think you’re crazy!

Or maybe you fish with flies. You use expensive, colorful feathers and fur of rare birds and mammals to tie a fly to catch a fish. So you can turn it loose? That’s crazy!

Over the years, I’ve seen how badly this can go.

It usually starts with that first fishing trip. People are so happy to get away from their dead-end jobs, abusive relationships and the constant stress of their consumer-driven, indebted lives. They are happy just to be out on the river.

Then they catch a fish. That changes everything. They want to catch another fish, then another in a never-ending cycle of increasing stress, drama and unrealistic expectations.

For example, the angler is usually surprised and delighted to catch that first steelhead. That’s when it’s my job as a responsible professional to advise they never go fishing again.

They seldom listen. Instead, they catch more fish until they are confident of their ability — which lasts until the inevitable slump. What worked before does not work anymore.

The luckless angler settles into a cycle of depression, anger and blame.

As a guide, I provide blame insurance. They can blame me for everything, but that is often not enough.

Then one lucky day, they catch another fish — which launches the whole degrading cycle again.

Why do people put themselves through all this? Because they think fishing is good for their mental health. That’s crazy!


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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