Fisherman Casts Out a Line of Malarkey

Do men fish for fish?

Obviously not. Men fish to avoid doing something else, most probably yardwork.

We fishermen have no interest in catching fish and even less in providing food for the table. Anyone who reads Izaak Walton between the lines understands perfectly well that a fisherman will do his darndest not to catch the thing he is fishing for.

In the beginning, of course, fish were so abundant that it took great skill to avoid catching them. Prehistoric Man-- Boobus piscatoris rex-- never got the hang of it afd fished as if he really meant business. When fish spawned, he clubbed and shot and speared to his heart's content. But that was in the Pleistocene, or Pre-Yardwork, Era, when receding glaciers raked North America free of charge.

Glacial deposits led to a lot of yardwork for Modern Man. He now had to begin "angling" to avoid catching fish. Otherwise, he was home by noon onSaturday and available for other things.

To help delay his success at fishing on weekends, Man invented the fishhook.

It was designed to snag into rocks and logs so he could spend much of the day trying to wrest it free. Fish became confused and angry and moved to a better neighborhood.

Under the guise of improvement, artificial baits opened a whole new world of failure to the fisherman.

Anglers devised bits of feather and thread to merely resemble an actual insect that might appeal to a fish. Soon, they were hammering out artificial frogs . . . frogs that had no arms or legs and wore plastic hula skirts and big red lipsticky mouths that popped or gurgled, lest even the most nearsighted fish think for a moment that it was a real frog.

Then came artificial worms with little propellers and red beads in front of them. Rubber and plastic night crawlers appeared in such unlikely colors as purple and chartreuse. Spoons the color of barber poles, speckled chunks of pork, spinners that looked like helicopters all began plying waters in the name of fishing.

Men made bobbers so their baits would float and sinkers so they wouldn't. Then they made bobbers that sank and sinkers that floated. Fewer and fewer fish were caught, and, of course, the anglers were delighted.

They began using rods and put reels on them. The reels spooled out line so fast that they created grandiose clumps of knots, which took hours to unravel, fueling the craze toward fishlessness.

Congress and legislatures, sensing the popularity of fishless fishing, unleashed whole new vistas of legal entanglements for fishermen.

Limits of fish allowed by law were reduced methodically, licenses were introduced, then stamps for individual species. Seasons were shortened to protect fish when they were most likely to be caught, successful baits and methods were banned and certain varieties could hardly be caught at all without a jury trial.

Fishermen loved it, and they re-elected those who spared them catching fish.

To refine the charade, they no longer talked about the fish they had caught but, rather, began boasting about the big ones that got away.

This was nearly their undoing. The embellishments became so extreme that the whole matter of fishing was beginning to smell a bit, well, fishy.

But the fisherman once again has triumphed. The state-of-the-art angler today no longer need worry about catching fish. In the interests of enlightened conservation (he says) he now catches fish and releases them back into the natural habitat.

Fishing clubs and conservation groups give their members arm patches, medallions and trophies for throwing back fish.

Tournaments, the sole purpose of which is to throw back fish, are now held throughout the land.

The onus to catch fish is now permanently removed from the fisherman. Whether he actually catches them or not is really superfluous. If he catches them, he is duty-bound to throw them back anyway.

This has a considerable positive effect on the subliminal id of the angler. He no longer is compelled to tell tall tales about the one that got away. He can actually boast that he caught the fool thing and threw it back . . . for the sake of posterity, of course. Whether he did or not, in sum, is irrelevant.

In any event, the yard looks about the same.

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