The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

March 28, 2014

Fishermen don't seem to outgrow the lure of angling

Point Blank column

A flick of the wrist, an almost imperceptible splash and a seductive battle between angler and prey begins.

The lure of angling is a constant and pleasurable part of childhood. Some things we never seem to outgrow, or even want to.

My old fold-out tackle box was a sacred shrine containing aquatic treasures of all shapes and sizes: flatfish, two-piece minnows, sonic lures, shiners and spinners.

Top-water lures went into one tray and the sinking, dancing, spinning and diving devices gathered their treble hooks in an exclusive corner of the gadget collection where lesser lures would hardly dare even to show their shiny fish-like faces.

And yet, since there are so many of us fishermen, most people would place us all in the same aquatic caldron, thinking that we’re like all other Americans. But that simply isn’t true. The thing that separates the majority of successful anglers from their counterparts is iron-clad efficiency, or the initiative to do whatever is necessary to put fish in the cooler.

Theoretically, this languid diversion should appeal to no one over the emotional age of 12. Instead, fishing continues to attract business leaders, politicians, intellectuals, and writers to an extraordinary degree. In part, of course, it is the season, which is the passion of poets as well as fishermen. “Spring is the mischief in me,” quipped Robert Frost, America’s renowned nature rhymester on the subject. The celebrated bard would have approved of the angler’s rite of passage on the crystal springtide streams.

Fishing automatically summons thoughts of balmy lyrical days, when minutes like dragonflies hover motionless over the water, and pileated woodpeckers drum on old oaks and pines.

Perhaps more important are the benefits derived from angling’s lack of speed, and the measured rhythms of wind and ripple. Unlike any other outdoor sport, fishing allows the mind to unreel and stretch itself, to revive after the sluggish doldrums of winter’s arctic hold.

With luck and time and endurance, the angler gets the long-awaited result. Out of dark water, the fish flashes to the surface like a new idea — and in that instant the pastime justifies its glorious history.

History’s most prominent fisherman was, of course, St. Peter, who later turned to netting souls. In the years A.D., angling was seen as something more than a mere coaxing of cold-blooded vertebrates from water.

It was to some degree a metaphor for life. We can all agree that there is something in angling that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit, a pure serenity of mind.

That something persists today, and it remains one of angling’s surest lures. Its name is failure. No matter how fine his equipment, no matter how limitless his patience, it is the angler who is cast most often in the company of fish.

The odds, as always, still favor the quarry; yet for the true fisherman that very failure is a kind of triumph. His sport lacks the compulsive pursuit of hunting or the dizzying zest of mountain climbing.

But it grants something else — a philosophy that lured such beleaguered politicians as Franklin Roosevelt, Hoover, Eisenhower and Kennedy. And it is that philosophy that underlies great American novels as diverse as Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea, in which the angler’s prize catch is finally reclaimed by an unseen power.

And in many parts of the United States, nature has begun to reclaim its own property — often with the necessary assist from concerned people and governments, and at an enormous price.

The reclamation is often underwritten by America’s more than 30 million anglers; the $140 million they pay in license and permit fees is used to support conservation programs.

Yet even if the streams revive, even if trout, muskellunge and bass thrive tomorrow as they did in the early days of angling in America, a fisherman’s luck will remain random and capricious.

For most anglers, that will be all right. In the end, they do not gear up for the sole purpose of bringing back a haul of walleyed pike or edible perch.

They go out in the spirit and essence of the action at hand: the charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

Hope remains the best bait of the angler and of the rest of us as well: for in the end we are all in the same boat.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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