I was having a discussion with a friend about the ways that we’ve seen the sport and the industry change over the years, and there’s seemingly now, more than ever, a push to make fishing “cool.”
Now, ‘cool,’ might be the most ambiguous word in the english language, so I’ll try to clarify: There seems to be a push to illustrate the sport in a certain light where how you look, dress and approach the sport… matters.
If ‘cool,’ is anything, it’s a look, a style and an approach. Without the right glasses, nostalgic band t-shirt, haircut or certain amount of stubble, you could never hope to be ‘cool.’
It got me thinking about the sport and why I love it, and likely why many of us do… And the foremost reason that I came up with was that, because on the water, you don’t have to be anything that you’re not.
I’ll be upfront for the sake of honesty and journalistic integrity here… in high school I was cut from the baseball team. Twice. I didn’t even dare try out for football, and the only basketball games that I played in were held on my driveway with the neighborhood gang and chalk lines drawn to mark the 3-point range. I was on the bowling team, okay? The bowling team did not make cuts.
I was in Honor Society, took A.P. classes and walked our golden retriever every night. Get the picture? ‘Cool,’ I was not.
But once the Upstate New York snow melted in late April, I’d fish every night that I could get a ride to the water. When I turned 16 and got an Uncle’s hand-me-down Chevy Beretta (if you don’t know what that car is, please refrain from telling me so), it was: “Home from school, rods in the back, down to the water.” And it’s probably worth noting here… these weren’t epic adventures to “River-Runs-Through-it” rivers…
I fished primarily in two places. The first was a small creek that ran behind a factory in a nearby town. Sauquoit Creek is never more than 12 feet wide or 7 feet feet deep, but it had enough water to hold stocked trout.
The second place was a golf course pond that was stocked with largemouth bass. Again, the pond was about 100 yards long and 30 yards wide, and if there was a fish in there that weighed more than four pounds, I never caught it. But I loved both places.
When you’re a teenager, high school is either the greatest place in the world, or one of the more difficult ones, and for me it was usually the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I had a handful of friends, and I’m grateful to still be close to most of them to this day, but I wasn’t up for Homecoming King or playing quarterback on the football team… not by a long shot.
On the water, wearing an old pair of swim trunks and sandals, you didn’t have to be anything other than exactly who you were.
You could take in the peace and quiet, admire a few fish if you were lucky, and learn about them slowly over the years and the seasons as you experimented with different baits and approaches during different times of the year.
The best part about the water was for me, and still is, that you can be absolutely who you are. And if you spend enough time there, you’ll even start to become that person everywhere else.
Almost every fisherman that I’ve been lucky to meet from Maine down to the Florida Keys, out to California and up to Seattle has had one thing in common: They were genuinely and unapologetically authentic.
And I think that’s because — while the water teaches us many things, perhaps the most important thing is that pretending to be anything other than exactly who you are won’t make any difference at all.