Cell-phone fishing

John Voelker, under the pen name Robert Trever, wrote “Testament of a Fisherman.” The now-famous essay contains his reasons for fishing, among which is this: … “because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters” …


That was half a century ago. Today there is no mercy on any waters.

One of the things I used to like about going fishing or hunting was that it meant getting away from the telephones. Nowadays, there’s no getting away. I don’t have a cell phone, but everyone I know does, which means there’s always at least one within aggravation distance.

Cell phones have opened up all sorts of opportunities for inconsiderate behavior. I’ve been in places quiet enough to hear my heart beat, and had someone’s cell phone shatter the stillness. On the Kenai River, where space along the shoreline in late July is scarce, I’ve seen anglers stop fishing and talk on cell phones for several minutes without moving from their fishing spots. Rudeness has become the norm.

Before cell coverage became so vast, when the fish weren’t biting, charter-boat skippers would use their VHF radios for talking with other skippers. The trouble with this was that everyone for miles around could listen in. If they didn’t employ code words, secrets were let out of the bag. Today, with cell coverage almost everywhere, skippers can talk on their cell phones in privacy. Now that they can talk freely, they talk more.

Some of these skippers talk a lot more. Their typical conversations go something like this:

“Hey, how you doin’?”

“Doin’ good. How about you?”

“Not good. We got into a bunch of sharks and had to move twice. Now we’re on that same hump we were on yesterday. We’ve got a couple of nice halibut in the box, and we’ve turned loose a couple dozen small ones. You doin’ any good?”

“We’re trolling off Pogi, trying for a silver or two before the tide turns. We had one on, and lost it. Nothing but pinks, so far. I might see you out there in an hour or so. Did you ever figure out what was wrong with your chartplotter?”

“Nah. It’s working again. I came close to throwin’ it overboard yesterday.”

“Who you bettin’ on in the game tonight?”

“The Mariners, who else?”

“Hey, I gotta go. We’ve got one on. Talk to you later. Bye.”

Some skippers, seemingly operating on the theory that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, are almost constantly in motion, looking for better fishing. They can’t sit still. If they call someone and hear that he’s catching fish, they pull in their gear and go, even if it’s a 10-mile run to get there.

To my way of thinking, charter-boat skippers should use cell phones only in an emergency, and leave them turned off the rest of the time. They’d have more time to think about what they could be doing to get some fish in the boat. When they aren’t doing that, they should be spending time with their clients. As for the clients, they should be asked to turn off their cell phones before boarding the boat.

You’ve no doubt said, or heard it said, “It’s so noisy, I can’t hear myself think.” The present plague of cell phones might explain why so little thought nowadays seems clear.

The best story I ever heard about cell phones came from Homer charter-boat captain Gary Dennis. While two of his clients were trying to reel in very large halibut, Gary was busily trying to get their lines uncrossed. At the worst possible moment, his cell phone rang. He threw it overboard.

Gary passed away in 2000. I like to think he’s in a better place. A place with no cell phones.

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