Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 18

May 2 - 8 , 2002

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Fishing Is the Greatest Sport of All...
If You’re a Sporting Fisherman

Fishermen constitute a separate class or sub-race among the inhabitants of the earth.
—Grover Cleveland, 1837-1908

Well said, Mr. President. Fishermen are a breed apart from others on this earth of ours. They come in so many different and sometimes peculiar assortments that the only thing they have in common is fishing for fish.

If you get right down to it, some don’t even fish for fish. They fish to get away from it all. Such was the ploy of Thomas Alva Edison, who sometimes when mulling over an idea fished — if you’d call it that — on a pier near his New Jersey laboratory. There was no bait on his hook.

The ingenious inventor figured passersby would respect the wishing for solitude of one who was fishing, thus leaving him alone as his mind whirled amidst such thoughts as a light bulb, gramophone. moving pictures and the like. It apparently worked, seeing that so many of his ideas are logged in the patent office.

Diverse Species
Fishing is about a lot of things. Some fish to get away from telephones, wives, kids, in-laws or other people — even themselves. Others fish because they like boats or the water. Some seek challenges, relaxation, camaraderie. Others just want to pursue a healthy outdoor sport. Still others seek prize money for tagged fish or in tournaments.

Some release what they catch; others catch to save the expense of going to the market; still others — perhaps they number the most among the fraternity of anglers — fish because they appreciate the taste of fresh fish, not to mention the satisfaction of having caught what’s on the platter. They like their bragging rights.

Two of a Kind
This week, let’s take a gander at the bragger and those who fish for monetary considerations. They simply have to catch fish; they have to catch them to eat, to win prizes or to satisfy some inner macho rumblings. No fish? No dinner or other sufficient rewards to make the trip worthwhile. I pity them. Perhaps they belong on the golf course or possibly the Parcheesi board.

Nothing wrong with tournament fishing, mind you, nor with fishing to put food on the table. But when the financial or culinary rewards — or even the must-catch attitude — become all important, something is lost in the greatest sport of all.

Fishing is meant to be an experience. If it involved only catching, then perhaps catching would be a more appropriate name for the game of taking rod ’n’ reel and heading for the water. In fishing just being there would be par on a golf course. Catching a fish would be a birdie, and reeling in a big fish would be a hole in one. Get my drift?

Pro Bass is a Money Game
Obviously Ray Scott does. He’s the guru of bass tournament-fishing, the former Alabama insurance man who formed BASS, the biggest and best–known fishing club in the world. The tournament trail he started is the richest in all the world of fishing. It has made millionaires of some who fish, among them Scott himself. It’s a cast-for-cash routine.

In pro bass’n, the angler who weighs in the heaviest catch of fish in a tournament can win $100,000 or more; endorsements and personal appearances can double actual winnings. And there’s the fame and glory.

So these guys get out on the water and cast every second they can; the only interruption is when they move the boat to a different location to try for bigger or more fish. Just one cast can bring the much-sought snollygaster that can tip the scales in the right direction. It can mean the difference of many thousands of dollars.

So pro bass fishermen head out loaded for bear. Their rods are stout, the line is heavy, the hooks sharp and sturdy. They don’t want to play around. The name of the game is winning — winning money, lots of it.

In most instances, the poor fish that smacks the bait never knows what happened. It’s virtually yanked from the water with all that heavy tackle and the strong and determined arms of the fisherman. Not infrequently it lands on the deck, endures quite a pounding as it flops around, then ends up in a live well where it will stay until the weigh-in, after which it is released miles, sometimes many miles, from where it was caught.

Usually the fish does recover, but at this time of year bass are on spawning beds. Their catch leaves their nests unguarded, vulnerable to fish of other species that gulp down their eggs or perhaps the fry. But that probability didn’t deter the 350 or so pros who fished the Potomac River last week (Tennessean Chad Baker won $51,000). Money counts.

So Ray Scott, the fellow who started it all, I see in Gene Mueller’s column in the Washington Times, suggests that maybe the time has come for the pros to add a little finesse to their sport. Maybe something like using four-pound test line. For the benefit of those not familiar with angling, line of that test is figured to break when more than four pounds of resistance comes at the other end.

Methinks the pros will consider this something akin to smallpox. It’s not on their agenda. Catching, not scrapping — giving the fish a fair fighting chance — is the name of the game. So let’s call it catching, not fishing. Only fish landed count.

The Sport Is Fishing
This approach is not unique among pro bass anglers. In springtime we see it on the Chesapeake and among fishermen who fish for cash or the table. The catch is so important they resort to anything that will bring aboard the big rockfish of trophy season.

In their endeavors, they resort to umbrella rigs, unquestionably the most efficient and productive lures for rockfish. Umbrellas involve a series of teasers — soft plastic fish-shaped teasers to look like a school of baitfish — with trailing close behind one or two large bucktails or parachute lures with hooks attached.

The concept is that a hungry big striper will be convinced it has come upon an edible fish of fair size that is chasing after a small school of baitfish. You know, bigger fish eat smaller fish that eat still smaller fish. And it works.

Only trouble is, with all the paraphernalia involved in an umbrella rig, the catching is about as much fun as reeling in an old boot inside which is a cinder block. Missing is the fight, the feel of the fish as it does battle, the meaningful and sporting joy of fishing as it is supposed to be. Why not use a gill net?

As the fish fights for its life, too often the fisherman fights the fish in any way he legally can to bring it aboard. Is that what fishing is supposed to be all about? Try lighter tackle, even in trophy season, and play a role in constituting the separate class Grover Cleveland spoke of a century ago.

You might not enjoy as many filets on the table, but your days on the water will be more enjoyable. Enough said …

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly