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“Many men go fishing all their lives never knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
– Henry David Thoreau

“Angling, the cruellest, the coldest, and the stupidest of pretended sports! They may talk about the beauties of Nature, but the angler merely thinks about his dish of fish.... No angler can be a good man!” So said Lord Byron(1) in one of his more coherent moments, contributing to an opinion that has been around for aeons.

And what about Plutarch? Back around AD 100 his take on angling was that it is “ ... a filthy, base, illiberal employment, having neither perspicacity or wit in it.”(2)

No wonder then that still today there are those few bewildered souls to whom fishing means less than nothing and for whom flyfishing is merely that same nothingness taken to a point beyond obsession. Subversive ideas these, especially when they find a home in the minds of lovers and wives. And they imperil the very fabric of our known universe, seditiously empowering the anti-blood brigade, who, having buried fox hunting, falconry and all other good, manly indulgences, will sooner or later turn the full fury of their gimlet gaze toward angling and its apologists.

But before we all rush out to divest ourselves of our fishing kit to put distance between the slur and our reputations, we should remember the context. Politically-correct thinking changes faster than a moulting duck and Byron was nothing if not a poncified, snobbed-out, wannabe crypto-intellectual. Plutarch was merely fulminating because Antonius not only caught more fish than he, but also got to shack up with Cleopatra, the Dolly Parton pinup of the Roman era.

As for the anti-blood-sport brigade, they are the worst hypocrites of all. The limp hands they wring together in outrage are as often as not shod in gloves of exquisite chamois and they stomp their picket lines in shoes of the finest Spanish leather. Where do they think that calf skin comes from?

Byron, Plutarch and our womenfolk nottwithstanding, we anglers stand firmly on the moral high ground. Indeed we do and I can prove it. We might ponder, for instance, that as far back as four million years ago our Australopithecine predecessors were going to the well for water and while there, naturally enough, they picked up a brace of fresh trout for afternoon tea. That’s what civilised them.

Early theologies and philosophical systems germinated and flourished, obedient to the energies embodied within primal elements such as earth, wind, fire and water. Today these natural constituents still underpin virtually all human belief systems. The symbolism of fishing occurs again and again in holy texts. The Bible is riddled with references to angling, as are the texts of all the world religions. If they are to be believed, it would seem that a proclivity for fishing goes hand-in-glove with spiritual leadership. Krishna, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus all employed angling idiom to get their nearer-my-God-to-thee messages across.

What alchemy turned those simple truths into holier-than-thou? Back in the days before the veneer between the meat-eating monkey and his intellectual environment had become such an anachronism, pretty much everything was based on a very real and close relationship with the natural world and its fundamental forces. The ancients held that human lives and social patterns could not evolve except in harmony with these elemental constraints. A great deal of
that seems to be lost and the little that remains is rapidly vanishing from the consciousness of the urban animal. In practical terms, so-called modern society has come a long way, but to this day those primal sensitivities sustain the imagery and the icons of our spiritual wellbeing. They are lodged deep within the subconscious.

Angling continues to burgeon in popularity in a seemingly direct correlation with the increasingly artificial complexity of the modern metropolitan reality. As we become ever more isolated from that natural world around us, losing the effects of Nature’s beneficence within our daily lives, we are impelled to seek out a point of contact between our inner selves and the rhythms of our planet (He leadeth us beside still waters).

And that goes some way towards explaining the obsessive partiality of modern humankind for angling. Earth, wind, fire and water – the four elements have been shot to hell in a bucket. The earth is all carved up, eroding away and daily turning more toxic. The air is barely breathable in most places and pyromania is considered seriously antisocial. But here and there, in isolated pockets and in faint tracings in the mountains, you can still find sweet, unsullied waters. It is all that is left us and our fishing is no more than an intuitive reaching for a taste of the infinite in the leisure moments of otherwise care-laden lives, a going to the well for water, or such as might remain of it in a civilisation that wrecks its best fishing with cavalier abandon.

If the notion seems fanciful, consider only that without water there can be no life. It is a prerequisite for living and where you find pure, clean water, there too, by happy coincidence, you find fish.

#1 Lord Byron - Don Juan, Canto XIII, circa 1819-24
#2 Plutarch AD 50-100. From The Lives of The Noble Greeks and Romans.


This is another of the chapters from BITCH-CREEK NYMPHING & THE MILLENNIUM BUG (isbn 978 062 039 5236, published by GONZO FISH'N). More than one reader has asked, "What, Wolf, is the damn book about?"

"About 270 pages" I tell'm. Sure, it's about fishing... but only in the same way that life is about breathing. It's there at the core of everything, but not in such a way that anybody actually spends a great deal of time focussed on it as if it were the lynchpin of all being.

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The following comments are for "Going To The Well"


For what it's worth, your grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence mechanics are excellent.

On the other hand, you've managed- in less than 1000 words- to suggest that 'womenfolk' (your word) not only don't understand fishing, but are actively working against it. You also took the time to sling mud at Byron, suggest that anyone who is against blood-sports is both a) Wealthy and b) Limp-wristed (something you want to talk about here? Along with the 'poncing' comment on Byron...) , and (mother of God!) glorify fox-hunting.

Speaking as a limp-wristed, poncing, wannabe crypto-intellectual...I'm fine with fishing. But I don't think I've been invited to your party...

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: February 15, 2009 )

Distinctly left of Right

Thank you for your comment and for the time it took to make. And you're so right. If I had this writing thing down pat, really wrapped, I should have managed at least all that, and more, in less than 500 words. I shall work on economy. It's tough though ~I have such a fondness for the adjectival.

I am surprised at you Beckett. Really! Have you never heard of satire, or parody, or the playful pricking of bubbles of pretension? Clearly, were it 500 or 1000 words, my failure is entire. In writing this, were my tongue any further in my cheek it would have been falling out of my ear.

Nontheless, not only are you invited to the party, Beckett Grey... but you should brang your little sister, Dorian, along too... It'll be fun. I'll present my discourse on ANGLING - The Last Bastion of Species Chauvinism.

P.S. Not only do anglers of female persuassion have a legitimate stake in angling, they are seminal to its Order. The first modern reference to fly-fishing comes from Dame Juliana Berners, Prioress of St AlBans. Her Treatyse on FFyshinge with an Angyle, (from the Boke of St Albans 1496). It was lifted in its entirety and reappeared in Walton's Ye ompleat Angler, about 90 years after Berners was dead and buried, in one of the most astounding cases of literary plagiarism ever docummented.

Incidentally the Boke of St Albans is masterful, a chronicle of the extent to which self-absorbtion and self-imporatance is gender-blind, a true equal-oportunity in absurdity.
No es importante.

( Posted by: Surlyghillie [Member] On: February 15, 2009 )

Oops... make that "are gender blind".

( Posted by: SURLYGHILLIE [Member] On: February 16, 2009 )

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