Fishing with First Responders: Christine Lapeer

11 mins read

When I was a kid, our weeks through the summer were spent waiting to head up north on Friday, after my dad came home from work. We’d pack our stuff into the family van and make for the lake. I’ve spent days of my life trolling Lake Erie with a Johnson’s Silver Minnow for the big one. Now, it’s my distinct privilege to take my own boy out on the water – this time in a Sportspal canoe. We’re only into a few sunfish so far, but my bet is that we’re not far from his first good fish.

Christine Lapeer is somebody I met online (@mindfulfishing) who is taking the exciting world of fishing to first responders.

Christine of Mindful Fishing

Christine has started Mindful Fishing, a program that seeks to connect first responders with occupational stress injuries to angling experiences.

Canada is full of epic wilderness. It’s no wonder people like Christine are pulled toward the pines. Of the trailheads and waterways, however, looms an ever-present threat. Winter is coming. Christine compared her own struggle with an occupational stress injury with ‘surviving the winter’. Poetic and true.

I typed out a few questions to Christine after a brief discussion on Instagram. I bumped into her program organically – I saw it mentioned on an Ontario angling page. The first thing I wanted to know was how this program came about.

Fishing with First Responders – how did Mindful Fishing get started?

Mindful Fishing officially became a program almost 3 years ago. While off work, undergoing treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Injury, I knew I needed something to help me survive the winter.

I loved open water fishing, so I enrolled in an Ice Fishing event with Ontario Women Anglers. I was so nervous heading up there to meet all new people and try something completely foreign to me. However, my second day on the ice, once I got the hang of my fish finder, I noticed myself relaxing. In fact, I didn’t think about ANYTHING for 8 hours.

I tell you, it was MAGIC.

I decided this was going to be my therapy and way to practice mindfulness. I know as a mental health clinician that all these other treatments (medication, therapy, Ketamine, ECT, etc) work, but to actually heal the brain we need to give it a break from thinking. We need to be present in the moment and just “be.” Fishing was the first time I feel I actually accomplished that.

I made it my mission to make sure this therapy was going to be sustainable and it could be done anywhere, any day, and within financial reason.

I fished every day for a year and also conducted research in the form of literature review and my own practice to develop what is now Mindful Fishing.

One thing I can personally confirm – there’s a quality about fishing that is truly transcendent. So long as you approach the outing with the aim of ‘going fishing’ and not ‘catching fish’, there are all kinds of opportunities to practice mindfulness.

On the way to the pond, I try not to listen to the radio. Instead, it’s an opportunity to talk with my kid. All the same, it’s a moment to roll the window down and enjoy the morning for what it is; a moment in time that we can breathe in fresh air, play with cool gear, get outside and most importantly in my opinion, get away from screens.

So, why fishing with first responders?

Fishing is a perfect form of therapy.

It allows us to stimulate all our senses while keeping us grounded and present in the moment. This can be achieved easily by either; watching nature, listening to loons or the splash of waves, you can view and appreciate the fish and it’s beautiful colours, you can smell the fresh air and focus closely on your electronics or even just the sight of your bobber as it slips beneath.

There is mystery in fishing, excitement in not knowing what memory you’ll pull up from below. It connects us to that other world.

Fishing can be done in many different ways, according to different budgets and has many rewards – always striving for that bigger fish, catching a new species or feeding a fish fry to your family. It’s therapy that can be done alone, with your family or partner and can be done year round.

To heal, we need to feed that reward centre of our brains to get that dopamine surge – feed the dopinaminergic centre of our brains. This can be done by constantly setting new goals or striving for new things within fishing.

The possibilities are endless.

I’ve written a lot (link to a recent Crackyl article) about how dopamine is used in our brains to drive our motivation. It’s literally the process our bodies naturally use to push us forward. Christine is spot on here – dopamine is what we produce when we think we’re on the right path. That’s a direct quote from this short video below. Take a minute to hear out Huberman on the Joe Rogan podcast in the short video clip below.

Andrew Huberman with a quick breakdown of our neurochemical relationship with dopamine.

Sounds good, what’s it cost?

Currently there is no cost. We host two fundraising events a year and otherwise rely on donations or the generous Fishing community. We work with some local plastic bait companies that donate. Ultimately, our mind set is: We’re going fishing anyway, might as well come along!

I’m keenly interested in this program. I really want to see it develop. I believe in the vision Christine has for fishing as a means to help first responders heal. From here, I wanted to know where she thought the program would go with a little more time and effort.

What’s next for Mindful Fishing?

One of the main goals of Mindful Fishing is to prove it’s worth as a form of therapy. Although we all know it has therapeutic benefit, we don’t necessarily have the data and research to put a value to it.

Veterans and people with physical disabilities have access to a free Fishing license in Ontario.

I would like to see that extended to all persons with a disability (invisible like PTSI/PTSD).

I would also like to see Piscatorial Therapy (Fishing Therapy) prescribed by mental health professionals just like forest therapy and access to National Parks are currently prescribed. This will help enable more funding for what I consider to be one of the most versatile forms of therapy out there.

But for now, we are happy to just easily take any First Responder Fishing and exposing them to being present in nature. The more volunteers we have,  the more we can get out.

Mindful Fishing – a brand new program for first responders.

First of all, I want to acknowledge Christine’s use of the term Post Traumatic Stress Injury. I was introduced to that phrase in an interview I conducted for an article on CanPraxis, a Canadian equestrian therapy provider. Identifying an occupational stress injury as an injury allows us to attach this invisible affliction to our people the same way we would a sprained ankle. You just can’t see the splint.

I think there’s a real argument for allowing people with diagnosed occupational stress injuries access to fishing licenses the same way we do for veterans or people with physical disabilities. Truthfully, I didn’t know that access to National Parks was something that could be prescribed – I think that’s really, really cool. I would have to assume that Piscatorial Therapy (there’s my new word for the week!) is a blossoming field and, given the appropriate spokespeople and successful grass roots approach, I can see this being adopted widely.

Fishing has offered my family a lineage of memories and growth. For anyone, fishing offers the chance to build confidence and slow down. For anglers interested in volunteering, people trying to access the program or mental health professionals looking for more information, find Mindful Fishing on Instagram or Facebook.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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