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One of mankind’s oldest pastimes, fishing is a unique intersection between leisure and adventure activities today. Being a fisherman encompasses both fighting marlin on a deep-sea voyage and kicking back with family at the local lake.
In a society obsessed with technological advancement, it’s something of a novelty that such a primal activity is still such a booming recreational industry. So, what is it? Why do we still feel the need to outwit game fish when one can hardly throw a rock without hitting a grocery store?
While I’m hardly the one to answer complex questions of anthropology, I would theorize there are at least five considerations that keep us casting.
- Fishing fulfills primal instincts telling us to acquire food
- It’s a uniquely individualistic challenge
- It fills our need for time spent in nature
- For all its individualism, it creates a community in which we can cultivate expertise
- It’s just plain fun!
THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECT
If you were to ask historians and anthropologists, the first answer you would likely get to why fishing has endured as a popular hobby is that it carries intrinsic ties to our basic nature.
Essentially, way back when were making cave drawings and dragging our women back home by their hair, we had fish roasting on the fire. There are even some species of monkeys that have been observed in the wild fishing. It would seem that despite all our smartphones and commercial food production, we still want to know we could survive if we had to.
A sub-note to that is the disparity of gender in the angling industry. Men are the majority, though that has been changing in recent times. It’s not a huge leap to recall that women historically have been caretakers and men have been the ones running around with spears.
And before anyone gets up in arms, I’m a woman who fishes and I can confirm that there are just fewer women. Go try to buy a women’s pair of waders and you will understand.
THE THRILL OF THE CHASE… ERR, CAST
Fishing is in a class all its own in the sense that it’s something which is truly based on only the skill of the individual and his own equipment. That is rarer than you might think. There is something innately fulfilling about pitting yourself – with no outside assistance – against a piece of nature and prevailing.
It’s becoming almost unheard-of in today’s world and therefore has only grown in value as society has grown up around it. Catching a monster bass eventually comes down to you vs. the fish and the outcome is uncertain, lending the sport a need for skill. What’s the old saying? Oh yeah, “It’s called fishing, not catching.”
IT’S NOT JUST TREE-HUGGERS THAT COMMUNE WITH NATURE
While many can nay-say about fanatical care for nature, it is a necessary part of life on the planet and should be protected. Studies have shown that being outdoors for a minimal part of your day can combat all manner of mental health issues and degenerative diseases.
If you are clinically depressed, it’s likely that sun exposure and outdoor activities will be part of your prescribed treatment by your health care provider.
The bottom line in our overly sedentary culture is that we should be getting outside more. Fishing is the perfect way to do that for many people. Being in the out-of-doors goes beyond getting vitamin D and personal enjoyment.
THE SOCIAL ASPECT
Despite the fact that most people fish either alone or with only one or two others, the fishing community is international and quite tightly knit. I can go into any bait shop in the world and hear strangers swapping stories and lies. Exaggerations are expected and even applauded for the creativity that goes into their invention.
Fishing is very singular in that it spans all ages, genders, and levels of physical ability. My grandmother at eighty-six can have the same level of enjoyment and success as I can, and very few activities can lay claim to such a phenomenon.
Fishing, by its nature, generates shared skill sets, conversations, memories of camaraderie, and that “we’re all in the same boat” sort of mentality. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are the differences, such as the heated debate between the man fishing with a cane pole in the bayou for tomorrow’s potluck and the highly refined fly fisherman who ties his own and wouldn’t dream of keeping his catch.
However, both can agree that they share a deep enjoyment of their time on the water and respect for their prey. The very fact that you’re here reading this article proves the depth of the specific community that fishing engenders.
THAT UNDEFINED SOMETHING
I have to say though, that I’ve saved the best for last, except that I can’t tell you what it is. Now, you can quantify how much our ancestors influence our habits, and I can tell you all the right stories. I can even give you the facts and figures of how fishing is good for our sanity, but that doesn’t cover it, not really.
Somehow, between the lines of quantifiable facts and figures are the memories of my dad taking me out to the local lake and showing me how to put a worm on a hook. There’s the story of the time my great-grandfather lost his hat and had to use a paper lunch bag while on the lake.
There’s even the time my great-grandmother caught enough crappie to feed the whole family reunion! More presently, I have been privileged to meet one of the best fly fishermen in the world and gotten to learn my cast from her… in Ireland.
Fishing is just one of those things that is just enjoyable to those who do it, and if you don’t like it, you must lack that inexplicable thing. I can’t explain it all, but that innate need to take the occasional jaunt to the lake, to knock off early and head to the river is there for a lot of us.
The bottom line is that they’re still selling signs that say “Gone Fishin” for a reason. I aim to make sure those keep selling. Because that’s what it’s about isn’t it? Passing this on. I look forward to the day my grandkids can tell their teachers outlandish stories about that time their grandma went deep sea fishing and fell in!
So, here’s to you my fellow anglers and all your collective memories and much-exaggerated tales of the one that got away. Your community helps pay my bills, but more than that your conservation helps keep our waterways and shorelines in good working order for the next generation.