An Outdoor View: Why we fish

Author’s note: The Clarion first published this column in 1996. Lots of things have changed since then, but the reasons we fish remain the same. — LP

Brace yourselves, fellow anglers. It won’t be long before the sniveling “antis” tire of wagging their fingers at hunters and come after us. In preparation for the inevitable war of words, I dredged deeply into the literature of fishing for answers to the question, “Why the heck do we fish, anyhow?” Here’s a sampling of my somewhat mixed bag.

■ ■ ■

“They say you don’t really have to be crazy to be a fisherman, but it helps. Well, a dyed-in-the-wool dry-fly addict is somebody that even fishermen think is crazy.”

— Corey Ford, “You Can Always Tell a Fisherman”

■ ■ ■

“I became a philosopher at age twelve, after a scant six years of fishing. One evening at supper I looked up from my plate and announced, ‘I fish; therefore, I am.’ Perhaps awed by this evidence of precocity in a young boy, my stepfather turned to my mother and asked, ‘Is there any more gravy?’”

— Patrick F. McManus, “I Fish, Therefore, I Am”

■ ■ ■

“I hauled in a fat perch, which fought little and promptly froze into a finny letter ‘C’ shape on the ice. I found out that the sport in ice fishing is in the contest of staying alive until it was time to quit.”

— Steve Smith, “Stiff Waters”

■ ■ ■

“A recent survey showed that roughly two-thirds of all fishermen never eat fish. This should surprise nobody. Fish is brain food. People who eat fish have large, well-developed brains. People with large, well-developed brains don’t fish. It’s that simple.”

— Ed Zern, “How To Dispose of Dead Fish”

■ ■ ■

“… men fish for trout for reasons which can only be defined in terms of romanticism. This being the case, it is not surprising that the methods of trout fishing incorporate both practical measures and those designed to be ritually symbolic of the proper degree of devoutness.”

— Harold F. Blaisdell, “The Philosophical Fisherman”

■ ■ ■

“My own theory is that each of us needs to feel dominant somewhere, sometime, and at least once in awhile; on the soccer field, at the office, over a chess board, or off the stern of a charter boat. And, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this need.”

— Paul Quinnett, “Pavlov’s Trout”

■ ■ ■

“Blue water fishing is not about chasing new technology or hiding new secret techniques or about the destination. It’s about the pleasure and reward in getting to the destination. It’s about the wind in your face in Tahiti, the cold mornings in Madeira, the early morning fog in Palm Beach. It’s about desire, tenacity, passion and belief in yourself and your team. Simply put, it’s about manly men doing manly things all around the world.”

— Capt. Tred Barta, “For the Record”

■ ■ ■

“One of the more yeasty experiences in Life is to occupy a tiny rented rowboat with eight other guys, knee-deep in beer cans, with a blinding Coleman lamp hanging out of the boat, at 2 a.m., with the lamp hissing like Fu Manchu about to strike and every mosquito in the Western Hemisphere descending on you in the middle of Cedar Lake.”

— Jean Shepherd, “Hairy Gertz and the Forty-Seven Crappies”

■ ■ ■

“The rain turned to sleet as we set up our gear, bracing ourselves to the heave, and my fingers turned numb mounting the frozen herring bait. But none of us cared. This was the end of a long journey. The ultimate flatfish were out there. Platoons and regiments of them. The rain and the wind could do their worst.”

— Clive Gammon, “Pushed to the Icy Brink”

■ ■ ■

“I was always nuts about fishing. Don’t ask me why — I don’t know. I don’t even want to know.”

— Ron Rau, “Doing It for Money”

■ ■ ■

“I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; … .”

— Robert Traver, “Testament of a Fisherman”

■ ■ ■

“Real fish are not the ultimate fish, no matter how big — we are convinced that deep down there swims something bigger.”

— Gene Hill, “Ice Fishing”

Les Palmer can be reached at

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