Catching fish vs. conquering them: an internal debate
my guess, this guy wouldn't know a fishing rod from a dipstick.
I'm probably most likely to side with your man Nick. Then again, the whole universe of personal experience being an outdoorsman lies beyond my ken--not to mention vast libraries of acquired human knowledge, as far as that goes. Also, I'm the type upon whom most poetry and even non-silly song lyrics are completely lost.
For me, being outdoors and doing the outdoors-y sorts of things on occasion nevertheless *does* slap me with an ungraspable sense of ... something? smallness? insignificance? gratitude? awe? I dunno. Something beyond the capacity of our word-buckets to contain...
Anyhoo. Before I get lost in the woods of my own ramble: Keep 'em coming. Even the stuff that's beyond my own narrow world gives me something to think about.
I catch and release the mighty Spotted Bay Bass (10 inches, typically) in San Diego Bay. When I fish from the riprap on shore, I leave the hook barbed. There is nothing like the sickening feeling of watching a fish slip the hook and land between the rocks above the tide line. Yes, the crabs will eat it. They are the same crabs the bass would happily eat in other circumstances. But I did it-and that makes the difference.
I’m casting (sorry!) my vote for writing about whatever moves you.
Enough with the fishing stuff already. I do not understand the obsession with participating in an activity that obviously causes pain, no matter how careful you are in removing the barb. There are many other activities you could engage in that would exercise your mind, your body and your reflexes. If you want to participate in fly fishing, well ... it's a free country, but I think this may be the last time I read one of your columns that is about fly fishing.
Otherwise, I really enjoy reading Slack Tide. JVL was right about that.
I used to fish quite a bit. Surf casting along the beaches of Cape Cod. Banging for Stripers past the 3rd breaker. Exhilarating to get a fatty and bring him all the way in.
I will say that usually during the longer fights I would become concerned for the fish. How much panic in him. His adrenaline rush the exact opposite of mine. Sometimes I would actually get a bit weepy.
We would eat him. A big Fatty on the Weber grill, 45 minutes out of the ocean absolutely delicious.
I'm not a hunter or fisherman, but I think Nick has a good point. (And not just because we share the best name. Okay, partly because we share the best name.) Cruelty to animals for the sake of being cruel is morally reprehensible, and we should likewise not be indifferent to any suffering we cause. But the joy one gets in successfully reeling in a catch can outweigh the temporary distress of an animal that will soon forget the experience.
This is a very thoughtful essay about a topic very, very close to my life. Although I'm not a fly fisherman, I am an avid Walleye/Bass fisherman. And I probably release over 90% of the fish I catch, even the fine eating Walleye and Perch. But, I didn't even know this was an issue, like at all, until a recent accident Twitter feud shed some light on it for me. I tagged a couple of great writer I follow with a picture of the giant Flathead Catfish I'd finally landed (my son and I had been chasing 40lb+ Flats for years). Some of them responded with typical encouragement, "Nice catch." But a couple of people attacked with vigor. I trolled them, hard. I just didn't (and frankly, still don't) see their point. It is laughable to me, to think we live in world that allows factory farmed animals to be treated they way we treat them, and the hunting of whales, and a million other crimes against the animal kingdom, and somebody has a hard time with me spending a few precious moments with a wild fish, 90% of the time released unharmed (and in this, Catfish are MUCH hardier than trout). Of course, I recognize those other crimes to absolve me of my "torture" of fish. But again, my conservation dollars make more fish!
I don't know, when I'm fishing, it is all about the hunt. Am I offering the right presentation at the right time to catch the species I'm targeting? It is purity of thought and mission. The rest of my life is very complicated, fishing is not (well, it is... but it singular).
Finally, I once had a Shortnose Redhorse (sucker) throw my hook directly into my thumb. I still don't understand how he did it. In the moment, I think I said just about the coolest thing I can imagine a person saying, "Hmpf, that's the BIGGEST one I'm gonna hook all day."
I wagered that I would see a Taj Mahal ditty after reading this fine essay, but no. The great Greg Brown instead! What a very pleasant surprise. Your musical tastes are surpassed only by your writing & fishing skills. Thank you, Matt.
I get it. It is just like how I feel if I finish the New York Times Mini-Crossword Puzzle in under a minute. An inexplicable sense of mastery. And no animals or fish are harmed in the production of this feeling. Well, except my husband who disapproves of the time wasted on all games.
So you don't have to engage in self-flagellation. From the look of the comments, you're getting plenty of it already.
I always find your essays thoughtful. , some less comfortable than others. I suppose there are lots of ifs, ands, or buts that are part of justifying fishing and hunting as sport (and not, as you distinguish, for survival). To me – I am not a hunter and never have been; I have enjoyed fishing at various times in my life but haven’t fished, now, for many years – if you derive pleasure from killing animals or causing them pain, there is an empty place in your soul.
In recent decades, scientists who study animal behavior have reached some fundamental conclusions. Animals experience pain. For whatever reason, we used to think that animals don’t feel pain, as humans do. As a dog lover, I never understood this rationalization. It seemed like nonsense. Now we know scientifically, it is.
Also important are studies of animal ethology, particularly communication and intelligence. It has become clear that man is no longer the only tool-using animal capable of language. Many animals – bees, whales, octopi, apes – have rich communicative lives and are capable of learning about and transforming their environments.
It seems to me that people who reflect on why they enjoy killing as sport – or require multiple experiences of causing animals pain, as Mr. Chatham did – and merely come to the conclusion that they’re “just happy when… (they are and) don’t need any reason other than that”, don’t have a consistent moral framework for evaluating their actions. Some killing, some level of causing pain, is acceptable regardless of the experience of the sensate being on the receiving end.
You wonder how animals, in their almost infinite worlds, see us. I suppose judging from anecdotal evidence of animals attacking humans, it must be that they see us generally as threats or sources of food for survival. However, animals are probably not killing us just for the fun of it. They also haven’t developed a whole industry of equipment for preying in us and have not become civilized enough, yet, to see the fun in it.
We should be focusing more on promoting an understanding of the value of life and respect for it, rather than honing skills and moral attitudes that find outlets for killing acceptable.
Although I’ve never been deeply into fishing (although I’ve done some of the catch-and-keep type over the years), I am a bird hunter. For years before the kids were born, I was out every weekend during the season - pheasants, mostly, but occasionally ducks and geese as well. What I discovered over the years is that my frustrations over an empty game bag at the end of the day have diminished, and that I rarely feel as alive and in tune with my surroundings as I do when I am out in a field, watching a dog cast for scent, and hoping we see a pheasant flush. I also realized that I see landscapes differently now - I see them from the perspective of their feathered and furry inhabitants, which gives me a deeper appreciation of the land around me. That’s what keeps me going back out into the fields - not the prospect of a couple of pounds of meat that is tougher than store-bought chicken, and likely full of teeth-breaking steel pellets.
Thanks again for sharing, Matt. I love your thought-provoking writing.
This reminds me of the Peter Singer thought experiment: you are walking along a lake and see a child drowning, and further you are the only one who can help. However, to get there in time you’ll have to go straight into the water, ruining your $200 shoes. Are you morally obligated to save the child?
Everyone who isn’t a Donald Trump level sociopath (can’t you just see him here - “I like kids who aren’t drowning”) would say yes. This implies based on pure logic that we should be giving 100% of our discretionary income to charities that can save lives at around that cost. Our ethical machinery doesn’t see if this way - we value lives we can see right in front of us orders of magnitude higher than “statistical lives” for lack of a better term.
I think I’m rambling now - I’ll leave it to readers to draw the conclusions.
I have no problem with people who hunt or fish. I had a friend who was an ornithologist at a university and spent the fall hunting birds. His Thanksgiving dinners were a melange of species.
For myself, I used to fish, but fishing after catching (and releasing) a decent sized northern pike in the BWCA and wondering why I was bothering him on such a beautiful day.
I understand Cutchin's comment about the thrill of stalking which is why I took up bird photography. I don't put a greater moral value on it than stalking with a lure or a shotgun. It's just something I enjoy.
But I'm not sure about Cutchin's comment that a fly fisher is just a person with a rod. Yes, we should always have some humility in face of our insignificance in the cosmos. Nonetheless, we still feel the thrill of a successful hunt (even with a camera), which is why most of us do it.
I am glad that you are at least thinking about the morality of killing animals but, unless you are a vegetarian, it is hard to argue the the fish processed my Mrs. Paul met a better end than if you had killed and eaten the fish that you caught. Hunting, wounding, but not killing an animal is unconscionable but I would argue that a deer shot by a rifle in the wild probably feels a lot less stress than an animal waiting its turn outside of a slaughterhouse.
I have no problem with fishermen that keep the fish or that throw them back. I grew up with the first, and became the second. Tempest, meet teapot.
Re Greta Thunberg, ridicule her all you want, but at least she gives a damn.