Why We Fish

The matter of why we fish is something I’ve pondered far more often during the last ten years of my life, far more than ever during the first sixty.

For a very long time, I fished. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but whenever I could manage it, I fished quite a lot. The act of fishing, without ever wondering why, was enough. My curiosity was confined to the matters immediately at hand. Where to go. What tackle to purchase, what species to target. Learning how to borax eggs.

Some of us live in Oregon. Some of us live in Alabama, Montana, Texas and New Jersey. We may fish the ocean or a back-yard mitigation pond in a Florida retirement community. The environment around our waters might be second growth fir trees, old growth cedar giants, blackberries, or a neatly mowed lawn.

As I write this, some of us will be waving a bamboo rod around our heads, casting flies smaller than a match-head on two-pound test tippets. Some of us will be trolling blue-water rods thick as a broom handle, rigged with 200-poound test leader and four-pound skipjack tuna for bait. Some of us will be stringing up an off-the-rack fish pole purchased complete with reel, line, a few hooks and a bobber -for the first time ever.


Photo caption. I was fishing for pacific black rockfish with. Tenkara rod, no reel, a line of about fifteen feet long, and a rod of about 12 feet in length. Fun? Yaaaaaaaaaa.

Are we having fun – each and every one of us? I’d say yes. Are some of having more fun because of the gear we fish? I’d say no; I’d say heck no. Does our gear matter? Are we better human beings for the gear we choose? Again, I’d say not. We should treat each other as comrades, fellow anglers.

It is an unfortunate aspect of being human, that we can fall into the habit of tribalism, and come to think that people who fish as we do, people who fish just the same way that we do, are good, are righteous, are respectable, are welcome and trusted. People who don’t – who don’t fish just as we do – are therefore not good, and subject to our scorn and distrust.

I’m 71 years old this year. When I was less than 10, I lowered a jig line by hand into the waters of the Bosporus in Istanbul, turkey. I worked that hand line up and down, up and down, finally feeling the tug that meant I had a fish. Six inches, no more, that’s how big those fish were. I was thrilled. Totally thrilled. In August, 7 months ago, I lowered an anchovy over the side of a dory boat, 25 miles offshore from Pacific City. An albacore zoomed out from under the boat, ate the bait, and the fight was on. Thrilled I was. Totally and unreservedly thrilled, just as I was catching six-inch fish over a half century ago.

I ask you this. Is hand-line fishing a sport reserved for and acceptable only when it is conducted by children?

I say it is not.

I can assure you that I would enjoy hand-line fishing today, tomorrow, or next week, as much as I enjoyed pursuing king salmon with fly rod in hand last October.

A mere two three, and four seasons ago, I was hand line fishing. Where? About a mile off the beach west of Pacific City, Oregon. My Quarry - Pacific Black Rockfish, mostly, but with a little silver salmon action thrown into the mix.

Our dory captain, John Harrell, chided me: “Common Jay, how can you sell fly rod and reels when you’re proving that it can be done with a line?”

“Just can’t seem to help myself, John,” I replied.

Photo caption. Whether by fly rod, level wind, spin reel, or hand-line, I love to fish. It is that simple. 

This is why we fish: no matter how we fish, no matter our age or the kind of rod we fish and what bauble we tie on the end of our line, at the end of the day, we fish because we love it, we fish because we must.

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