Author's note: The following column first appeared in the Clarion on Jan. 5, 2001, but it's as timely now as ever.
I once thought there were only three possible reasons to go fishing: food, fun and money. I've since learned of a few others.
Take fishing for food, the most noble of motives. We may say we fish for food, but man does not live by fish alone. Even if we did, we'd be better off buying our fish at a store, if eating fish were our only goal. The most menial job today pays enough to buy more food than we could catch in a subsistence gill-net. What's more, without the campfire camaraderie, the story telling and the other fun parts, subsistence fishing would lose much of its attraction.
Whatever our motives, we who fish have much in common. We like the freedom of being outdoors. We take great pleasure in watching wildlife. We relish the satisfaction that comes from having the luck or skill to catch fish. We are amazed at the things that happen while we're fishing. We enjoy the camaraderie. We are awed by the irrepressible spirit of fish. We marvel at the mystery of it all.
In "Testament of a Fisherman," Robert Traver wrote, "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; ."
Traver would hate fishing for sockeye salmon at the Russian River. Yet, thousands of other anglers love that place. Traver writes of trout. Yet, many anglers prefer doing battle with giant tuna, marlin and great white sharks.
To many of us, fishing comes close to religion. In Ray Troll's great book, "Shocking Fish Tales," Brad Matsen said it well in his essay, "The Church of How's-The-Fishing."
Matsen wrote: "A salmon fisherman in Southeast Alaska dragging out his tackle to clean it a month before the weather's good enough to fish is up to something more than just rushing the season. He is engaged in invocation, visualization, and preparation for an act of hope and regeneration. Such profound implications can be drawn because fishing is largely an act of faith, a gesture to luck and mystery that otherwise elude us during the more tedious and routine hours of our days. When we lower line, hook, and bait into the dark, unknown sea, we are engaged in an act of believing. The mere participation in such an act of uncertainty invigorates our spirits and allows us to surrender to the wisdom of the ages, nature, God, or whatever. Quite simply fishing feels good to the soul."
For the past few summers, I've had grandchildren coming to visit and, of course, we go fishing. I try to give them a taste of several kinds. I'm invariably surprised by what they like. Last August, I took my 16-year-old granddaughter, Jenny Palmer, for a six-day cruise on Prince William Sound. She pulled in silver salmon until her arms ached. She caught her first king salmon, first rockfish, first lingcod and first halibut. She saw her first humpback and killer whales. The third morning of this adventure, we were eating breakfast, and I asked Jenny what she had liked most about the trip.
She thought for a moment and said, "The whales."
I nodded. That's what I had expected. The whales had been an exciting, spectacular sight, even for me.
But then she said, "No, when that halibut splattered us with blood. That was the funnest part."
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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