Anglers are forever being asked by non-anglers, “Why do you fish?” They ask it in the tone of voice they might use when picking up a dead mouse, as though it were some disfigurement or character flaw. We anglers have a hard time answering the question, because we cannot fathom how another homo sapiens could ask it. Why fish? Why breathe? Many writers in the fish-lit genre have attempted to explain what it is about fishing that makes someone who is otherwise presumed sane to leave a warm bed at 3 a.m. and drive a hundred miles in the rain in order to stand hip-deep in an ice-cold stream and wave a slender stick with a line attached and a tiny bit of fur and feathers wrapped around a hook at its end. What about that does not appeal to you?
On the bookshelves of my home and my camp sit dozens of books on angling, including the volume from which I sort of “borrowed” the title of this rumination, Sparse Grey Hackle’s Fishless Days, Angling Nights, which is pretty much the most wonderful title ever for a book about fishing. I wish I’d thought of it. In virtually every single one of these books, fiction or non-fiction (Wait — can any book about fishing be totally non-fiction? Just asking.) the author feels compelled to have a go at that question. I do not understand why. Anyone reading the book is already on board — it’s a perfect example of preaching to the choir. Only anglers open books on angling; if one such book is found under the Christmas tree for the angler in the house, it’s a sure bet the gift-giver never parted the covers and said, “Oh, Franklin will like this — it’s all about dead-drifting nymphs in chalk streams.”
So even though the reader needs no James Babb or Lefty Kreh or Roderick L. Haig-Brown to explain why he, the reader, fishes, Dear Reader will get said explanation anyway, gratis, along with the tips on dead-drifting nymphs in chalk streams. But we like to read them anyway, as affirmations of our particular brand of insanity. Some of them trend toward the metaphysical:
I still don’t know why I fish or why other men fish, except we like it and it makes us think and feel. (Roderick L. Haig-Brown)
As with a faint star in the night’s sky, one can better understand fishing’s allure by looking around it, off to the side, not right at it. (Holly Morris)
Many men go fishing their entire lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.
(Henry David Thoreau)
Some of them are quite funny:
Fishing, with me, has always been an excuse to drink in the daytime.
Calling Fly Fishing a hobby is like calling Brain Surgery a job. (Paul Schullery)
[Quotes gleaned from a la BIFF’s website]
As a hobbyist photographer I subscribe to the old aphorism, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I occasionally have to field another existential question after I tell someone that I am a catch-and-release angler: Why don’t you eat the fish you catch? Well, time was when I ate every fish I caught. Then one day I caught a brook trout in Pond X (or maybe Pond Y?) that was the biggest brook trout I had ever caught. I kept it. I laid it on the grass and measured it. And I realized that the dead fish on the grass, its beauty fading, had been a much more magnificent animal when it was alive and thrashing in my net. I took the fish to Lewiston where it was mounted by the legendary David Footer; it now hangs on my office wall, daily confirming my C&R credo.
Spring is coming! I will fish. Don’t ask why.