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Thoughts on fish and fishing

I consider myself a charter member of a dying breed. The number of recreational anglers who follow the pursuit of men like Izaak Walton, Theodore Gordon and Norman Maclean has been declining for decades. That famed angler Grover Cleveland once said,

In these sad and ominous days of mad fortune chasing, every patriotic, thoughtful citizen, whether he fishes or not, should lament that we have not among our countrymen more fishermen.

As true today as it was over 200 years ago.

The decade between 1996 and 2006 saw a decline of four million anglers anglers in the U.S. overall. A mere 6.8 million of us sought the elusive trout in 2006 out of a population of more than 300,000,000 souls and 25 million fishermen. More anglers now seek catfish or bass rather than trout. Catfish!

While I lament the decline in our singular addiction, it really comes as no surprise. We live in a world that craves instant gratification. Standing knee-deep in cold water awaiting the attention of an animal with a brain the size of your fingernail cannot hold the interest of someone in dire need of an updated FaceBook page, attending to a languishing Twitter account or a reading a text message from our significant other.

Fish no longer even come from the stream or the sea. We now produce 70 million tons of our worldwide fish protein by aquaculture, approaching the 80 million tons of fish caught in the open sea. It is inevitable that we would rather have our fish sanitized and packaged in styrofoam than stand for hours cold, wet and bored in a mountain stream, perhaps without seeing so much as a stray fin. We now have the ability to alter DNA to produce larger, more nutritious fish and having the ability to do so means that we will. Farmed fish are an important source of protein for populations around the world and will be even more so in the future. I could go on about the purity and aesthetics of fishing, particularly flyfishing for wild trout. I could grieve for coming generations that will never know that our rivers once contained species that had been in these waters for 10,000 years and did not come from concrete raceways, or streams thousands of miles away, but the reality is that the trend will continue. As the numbers of fishermen continue to decline, the number of dollars dedicated to recreational angling will also decline and more funding will go to producing artificial fish to feed more and more gaping mouths.

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau

“There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.”  – Steven Wright

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