Balsam Lake: Fishing is a Game of Passive Concentration and Focus


I am sitting at my laptop trying to recollect my thoughts of my visit to Balsam Lake. I find it really hard to decide what to record and what to leave. Every thought, every moment, every spot was so full of the beauties of nature and so rich and meaningful that it is very difficult for me to drop and crop my thoughts and feelings about the place.

It was a beautiful cottage equipped with loads of facilities. Every cottage in this area reaches down to Balsam Lake waters. There were lush green lawns in front and back of the cottage. The huts and cottages are spread in the thick forest surrounding the huge lake. After our arrival the owner of the cottage took us for a ride on his boat. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the speedboat. The weather was pleasantly cool. In the evening we sat round the wood-fire and sang some old classic songs on the rhythm of the acoustic guitar. The children enjoyed roasting marshmallows on the fire.

Balsam Lake is located in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. This beautiful resort, which is over two hours’ drive from Mississauga, is full of varieties of natural attractions. The lake is famous for fishing and that’s what turned out to be the most interesting part of my trip. Fishing has never been my hobby. It was the first time I held a fishing rod and cast the line in the water. My son, Yaz, does fishing as a passion and hobby. He has elaborate fishing equipment. Yaz helped and guided me in the techniques of catching fish. Although I did not catch many fish but I enjoyed the game. What I learned in fishing is the attitude of patience, concentration and focusing your thoughts on what you are doing. You take into consideration several factors before you decide to throw the fishing line. You need to look at the water, the breeze, the sun, the movements of fish and the overall atmosphere. You also have to discover the most favorable spot where you could find the kind of fish you aim to catch.

The fishing at Balsam reminded me what I learned during my Zazen exercises in Japan. Zazen is the meditational practice in Zen Buddhism. It teaches concentration and control of thoughts. To achieve life’s goals one needs to concentrate with all heart and mind on what one is doing. This applies to all our activities that we do every day. One needs to concentrate on the game and visualize that there is a fish in the hook at the end of the line in water. I discovered on that day that fishing is not a game of trying and working harder and faster, but rather, a state of stepping back with gentle and passive focus. Do not go to the things but rather let the things come to you. Let me explain why I relate this to Zazen.

When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him.
He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting—
And the need to win drains him of power.

(Chuang Tzu : 19:4, p. 158)

The best part of the day was that the sky was completely overcast. There was a cold breeze blowing across the lake with non-stop drizzle. The speed of rain kept increasing as the evening was approaching. But what surprised me most was the energy that was building in both of us every moment of the day. The game was becoming more and more interesting. The concentration and focus improved every time we got something as a reward or reinforcement. A very good thing of the day was that there were no boats that day. Because of the rain, there was a total hush everywhere and that was a plus point for fishing that day. Both the fishermen were standing in the rain with total concentration, focus and passive attitude.

In the game of fishing, the fisherman throws the fishing line with a bait to entice the fish. It is called “Luring the fish”. The fish, using its sight and sense of smell, rushes towards the bait where it gets hooked up. But fish is not a fool and dull-headed creature. It has brains and it thinks, too. The lake was full of fish but not many fish got trapped by the bait. It is advisable to move from one spot to another nearby spot in case you do not get positive results. As I moved from my spot to another spot, I felt a jerk in the fishing line. As per instructions given to me, I pulled the line a little and low! There was a big fish. But being a novice as I was in this game, I did not know what to do next. Before I could start rolling the thread, the fish gave a powerful jerk to the hook and freeing itself, jumped back into the water. O, my God! I lost my catch. It was going to be the first catch of my life. I shouted at Yaz who was fishing nearby. He came running with his bigger and longer fishing rod. As he cast the bait, the fish came again and got hooked. But this time, the fisherman was not a novice. There was a long struggle. The fish moved around pulling the line with it. It wasn’t easy to get it out of the water. Yaz was shouting at me to turn on the video camera to catch the adventurous moment.

I threw away my fishing rod, opened my cell phone camera but couldn’t put the video camera on. Nevertheless, I took some still shots of the struggle between the catcher and the caught. The fish moved to all directions trying to free itself. Finally it went down into the wooden dock extending into the lake. But the catcher kept his grip hard on the fishing rod and line. His focus and concentration never wavered for a single moment. The catcher lay on the platform, bent down pulling the line with both hands almost into the water. Finally the catcher succeeded in pulling the fish out. It was a medium-sized fish but was strong enough to give a real tough time to the catcher. What a great enjoyable moment! I had never thought that fishing involved all this struggle and effort.

Thanks Balsam for teaching me how to concentrate and focus.

Mumtaz Shah