AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


Gone Fishing

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Gone Fishing.

In today’s world, this is a phrase that has lost much of its traditional meaning. Pause for a moment, reflect and think about those words. Gone Fishing. From the frame of today’s nearly perfectly connected world, those words do not mean much. Think back 20 or more years, and it’s a phrase packed with a whole different implication. It means: I am not available. Those who are old movie aficionados may recognize and understand the full meaning of Gone Fishing. I don’t recall the exact movie (perhaps it was  To Kill a Mockingbird), but someone is in urgent need of the town’s attorney. They seek him out at his office and find a sign on his door “…. Gone Fishing.” In the pre-cellphone era – in the pre-internet era – that was a phrase that literally meant I am not reachable until my return. You don’t know where I am, I didn’t tell you where I am and you can’t call me. 

How many of us have taken time, even a few hours, where we have Gone Fishing? Many neurosurgeons may feel this way about the operating room. It is one of the last/only excuses/retreats for not being connected to the health care team for near immediate access,  but not fully disconnected – the pager or cellphone may ring and someone in the OR will answer it. Seemingly, you never can get away, you can never unplug.

Fishing can offer that unconnected, unplugged getaway. It does not matter what type of fishing may interest you: 

  • Fly fishing
  • Live bait fishing
  • Lure fishing
  • Hot dog on a cane pole with a child (preferably your own) fishing
  • Deep sea fishing

One of the best reasons to take up fishing (though there are many), is that it offers the rare chance to tell the world, “I have Gone Fishing. Don’t bother contacting me, I’m not available.”

Twice a year, I make my way out to the Lake Erie tributaries of northeast Ohio in search of steelhead trout with one of my interventional neuoradiology colleagues, Tom, and one of my neurology colleagues, Bob – the two who introduced me to fly fishing. It has been interesting to observe the three of us over the years. The first time we went out together, over 15 years ago, we left our cellphones in our cars, but now Tom brings his work-issued iPhone and keeps it connected – a missed opportunity, in my view. Bob and I choose to take advantage of these days and leave the phones, and our professional world, in the car.

Taking this socially acceptable chance to disconnect is not the only reason that becoming an angler is attractive. Similar to medicine in its broad scope, fishing can offer every personality type something. To satisfy your neurosurgical craving for an adrenaline rush, why not try fly fishing for trophy trout or ocean fishing for tarpon, giant tuna or sailfish? It will never get old fighting a 300 lb. fish up to the side of the boat. If you are interested in biology (and who amongst us isn’t?), take the angle of deep learning to the biology of your quarry or to which favorite foods the fish seek throughout the year. This knowledge will maximize your chances of landing that trophy fish. Those who are more artistic, or have a craftsman side to them, may wish to learn and master the art of fly tying. For those not in the know, fly tying is about using bits of hair, feather, yarn and other material to craft a realistic lure at which a sight-hunting predator will strike. Imagine the double thrill of landing a trout on a fly you created! This proves you fooled one of nature’s craftiest predators. It’s right up there with clipping your first aneurysm.

Finally, none of us will be performing neurosurgery forever. Sooner or later, we will slow our practices and jump or transition into the next chapters of our lives. Fishing offers a wonderful pastime in our retirement that allows us to stay connected to nature and biology, spend time with dear friends and unplug from the increasingly connected world in which we live. Clear a day or more in your schedule soon, hire a guide and take to a nearby stream, lake or ocean and reconnect with nature and disconnect from your pager.

Tight lines, my friends.


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Russell Hardy | September 10, 2019 at 8:52 am

The rivers between Cleveland and Erie are collectively known as Steelhead Alley. I try to get out a couple of times each Fall. I’d urge interested anglers to try them sometime.
Chagrin Outfitters in Chagrin Falls can arrange guides for those unfamiliar with these rivers, plus can sell flies and whatever else you need to land a steelhead.
While you’re in the shop, I’d suggest visitors look at the walls of the shop, which just happen to have a few of my paintings for sale. A good souvenir of your trip to Northeast Ohio.