An Outdoor View: Strange fishing indeed

For some reason, this column doesn’t seem as crazy now as it did when I wrote it for the Clarion in 2006. — LP

“I was sittin’ on the top step dreamin’ a bit,

When from outa nowhere that leghorn hit…”

—“Fishin’ for Chickens,”

Hobo Jim

In my ongoing exploration of the outermost edges of fishing, it’s fitting that I write about the chicken (Gallus domesticus).

The links between the chicken and angling are many and diverse. Chicken feathers have been used as fly-tying materials for centuries and continue to be used to this day. Chicken livers make good catfish bait. Crab fishermen bait their traps with chicken necks. Luhr Jensen and Sons, the Oregon-based tackle-manufacturing firm, got its start in a chicken coop.

And then there’s chicken fishing, the zenith of the long relationship between fishing and chickens. I first became aware of chicken fishing at a party a few years back, when Hobo Jim sang “Fishin’ for Chickens.” The song is about a young lad whose grandfather teaches him how to fish for chickens by baiting a hook with corn kernels. The lyrics indicate that there is little sport involved, and no intentional catch-and-release. The old man is obviously a meat fisherman.

I thought no more about chicken fishing until years later, when I bumbled into a disturbing Web page (www.conknet.com/~b_bull/special/chickenfishing.html). Titled “Angling for chickens, the new off-season sport,” it contained photos of a man with a fly rod who was obviously stalking chickens.

At first I thought it was a joke, but the author went into too much detail. He was far more instructive than needed for eliciting a laugh. For example, one photo showed a kneeling angler holding a hen by its feet, admiring it as a normal angler would a trophy trout. The caption: “A nice three pound barred rock hen landed on three weight tackle. Spawning (egg-laying) females aggressively strike terrestrial imitations in sizes 14-18.”

Another photo showed the stealthily crouched angler stripping line while a chicken approached his fly. The caption: “Barred Rocks, true to their name, often conceal themselves by laying near ledge outcroppings in dappled light. Normally for close-in work the angler should cast from behind the bird, but the low angled light conditions of December permit the angler to approach his target with the sun to his back.”

Unlike the meat fishermen in Hobo Jim’s song, the author encourages a “no-kill ethic,” and supports catch-and-release to ensure sustainability of the brood and to increase the stock’s wariness.

Some readers may scoffingly cluck, but at the risk of laying an egg, I predict that chicken fishing will become a popular sport. Chickens are good eating. Their feathers are useful. They give a good accounting of themselves on appropriate tackle. They have trophy value.

Chicken fishing would take pressure off crowded streams and provide year-round angling opportunities. Ruffled feathers among the various chicken user-groups would be minimal. Everyone would have a backyard “fishery.” Skunked days would become as scarce as hen’s teeth.

The chickens would benefit. What would be better, to suffer a brief life in a crowded coop until being trucked to a slaughterhouse, or to live as a high-strutting, free-range bird? With luck, you might even end up on an angler’s wall.

I think I’m onto something here. Hobo Jim’s “Fishin’ for Chickens” is available on a CD, and “Chicken Soup for the Fisherman’s Soul” is on the bookstands. Hunters have taken an interest in chickens, as evidenced by the popularity of the computer game, “Chicken Hunter: License to Grill.” There’s money in this thing, and I’m not talking chicken feed.

I could go on, but men in white uniforms are banging on my door.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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