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Just Fish

Just Fish

May 12, 2020

Jay Nicholas


There’s a lesson Covid-19 can teach us as anglers.


We fish. We fish with flies, and worms, and big heavy poles and finely hand-crafted bamboo rods and sticks; and some of us fish with just string and hooks and a bug stuck on the hook.


And if we’re lucky, we just fish.


When we are young, it is all good. And we all have fun, no matter how we fish. We don’t notice that we fish with different tackle. Some of us are taught by wise mentors, fathers, brothers, moms. Some of us learn to fish on our own, with no coach or instructor. All of us have fun while we fish, and we all try to learn how to fish better, how to catch more fish, and this searching evolves and grows as we do.


This is me, in about 1955 at the age of about 6 – fifty-five years ago. I was having fun fishing with a level wind reel and something sort of like Power Bait and a Wob-L-Rite spoon. I remember almost catching a very large trout. The key word is “almost. I suppose most people would agree that it is OK for a child to fish for trout (probably hatchery trout) with bait and a spoon. But why then, would some folks decide that a grown person who fishes with bait and hardware isn’t “sporting” enough? Why indeed.


As we learn more about how to fish, we notice that some people fish differently than we do. Some of us have more money than others, and the rods, reels, line and hooks we buy reveal something about us. Where we live. How much money we can spend on tackle. Maybe we fish for fun, maybe we fish for food, or maybe it’s something in between.


As we get older, we notice how we fish and we notice how other people fish, and some of us, very naturally, gravitate to hang out with others who fish as we do.


Sadly, we grow apart. Our friends fish as we do, and we know we can trust our friends, and we make up ideas and stories about people who fish differently than we do.


And this all happens so gradually and innocently that none of us realize how we have drifted into tribes of people who fish as we do, thinking of people who fish differently than we fish are somehow not as good as we are.  


We’re tenacious in our beliefs. We make lists of grievances about those anglers who fish differently than we do. When we’re not making lists we’re debating, and tut-tutting about how “those people” who fish differently are such and such, so and so, and …………..


Well how do we feel now that the world is set upon by Covid-19?


Where’s our passion for debating and judging other anglers for their choice of how to fish?


Those of us who fish and are young might be impatient. Some of us are out on the river, lake, ocean, or estuary as I write, fishing with bait or lures or flies, oblivious of people like me. While you’re fishing, I’m sitting home, voluntarily self-quarantined, scared frankly, to mingle with other people and risk this deadly virus.


For any of us who can fish today, aren’t we all simply thrilled to be able to fish?


Isn’t that enough?


Two fine hatchery spring Chinook, perfect for the barbecue.


I’m not suggesting that we cease talking about whether our favorite fishing methods are consistent with sustaining fish populations and fishing, because the business of conserving the waters where we fish and the species that we pursue is more important today than ever before.


Here’s what I think we should be doing: Protecting the opportunity to fish. Protecting the fish. Encouraging young people to fish, and teaching them to respect the fish. Growing the sport with people who can have fun together – all of us – not just some of us.


And how will we do this?


How do we do something that hasn’t come naturally, apparently?


We need civility. We need patience and respect. We need to remember the thrill we had, each of us, the very first time we went fishing. We need to get over feeling that our own way to fish is superior, somehow, to the way that other people fish.


The challenge, the very serious challenge, is for all of us to work together on conserving the fisheries we so dearly enjoy.


And when we’re fishing, we should just fish.

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