Volume 16, Issue 23 - June 5 - June 11, 2008

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Fishing On Line

It’s virtually the real thing

‘Tis God gives skills,

But not without men’s hands: He could not make

Antonio Stradivari’s violin

Without Antonio.

–George Eliot [Marian Evans Cross]: 1819-1880

In the world of music, I agree with George Eliot: God could not make Antonio Stradivari’s violins without Tony’s hands.

Yet how in the world of fishing can we have fishing without a real fish? Ye Gods, what are these worlds coming to?

Say you want to go fishing today, but the winds howl, skies pour down rain and it’s cold. Or you can’t afford the fuel for the boat’s tank. What can you do?

Go fishing anyhow.

No need to get wet, cold or blown away. Just flick on the computer and in the dry, comfortable and calm of home enjoy fishing’s excitement. No real fish needed, just an image on the computer screen. No need to pack it in ice, scale it, clean it — or even cook it.

Today, computer science is at the stage where you can punch in a bunch of numbers on the stove, then go outside to mow the lawn without concern for supper. An electronic signal will inform chef and family when the entree is ready. The only thing a computer can’t do for you is eat the fish.

Virtually Fishing

As for actual fishing, already solved. That same geek has figured, or imagined so, what a fish will do when a baited hook is presented — as well as what it will do once on the hook: head up or down in the water column, north, south, east or west, fast or slow. Via the keyboard, you can work the rod and reel as in real fishing. Work it right, the fish is caught; goof up, and there’s always another fish in the ocean. The computer will see to that.

Thank the same geek that you can punch up the air or water temperature, catching prospects, winds, preferred baits, any location from Thomas Point to Timbuktu. What would the real Izaak Walton think?

Sounds great? No discomfort enduring the elements, no second mortgage to fill the boat’s tank. What’s more, the grass will be mowed while the fish cooks itself.

Except we gotta take into consideration the words of Elton Elmore Morison, who in 1966 wrote: The computer is no better than its program.

Someone else wrote what came to be known as the Gigo Principle: Garbage in, Garbage out. What one puts into a computer is what one gets out of it.

So are we to believe that that computer nerd somewhere (probably India) who has never held a real reel has learned more about the whims and actions of fish than we have fishing for real? That this unlearned fisherman has accomplished the Utopia of Fishing, thinking like a fish? That fishing is akin to a game of chess?

Virtually Winning

Talk about giving tradition the heave-ho.

Joe Evans, editor of a local fishing publication, Prop Talk, is an outstanding angler and photographer — as well as a computer geek. A bit over two years ago, Joe’s challenge was to sell the idea of a fishing tournament with prizes aplenty — but no fish to be weighed in at competition’s end.

Concerned about the impact of big angling tournaments during the spring trophy season, Maryland Department of Natural Resources decided against big competitions until May to spare big cow rockfish. But entrepreneur Dick Franyo had an April opening day tournament going with annual proceeds amounting to tens of thousands of bucks turned over to Coastal Conservation Association-MD, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Annapolis Police Department’s summer fishing camp for needy kids. Franyo billed it as an Opening Day Festival at his Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport. From Day One, it caught on big time.

Franyo was in a pickle. His contest could no longer take rockfish out of the Bay until June. That meant his relatively small contest would compete with big-money tournaments — and he’d no longer have the valuable aura of opening day. He asked his piscatorial advisor, Evans, whether a tournament could be held without the judge’s traditional weigh-in of dead fish.

Joe dug into his expertise as photographer, fisherman and geek and laid out for Dick an idea that, as far as I can determine, is a new concept. How about a tournament whose winners were decided by photos of their catch? A photo finish? No fish killed, no conflict with DNR.

Fishermen would take a digital snapshot of their fish with a special 48-inch measuring stick, the fish’s snout at one end, its tail at the other, with the measurement prominent in fractions of an inch. No judges with scales or tape measures. The numbers on the stick would, pardon the pun, rule.

“Give it a shot,” said Franyo. DNR gave its blessing. At first, fishermen were skeptical; no weigh-in, no real fish? The first year the number of contestants dipped a bit, but competitors became fascinated with the concept. They could keep a fish for the table as long as it wasn’t the one photographed and entered in the competition. The festival crowd gathered to crown an opening day king never saw a real fish, yet more came to join in the festivities.

It was a win-win solution for angling competition. That little opening day affair that drew about 600 fishermen last April now has one of the biggest followings of any contest on the Chesapeake.

OK, Dick and Joe, you’ve proved your point: It’s possible to have a popular fishing tournament without fish, scales and pictures of winners grinning beside their trophies. But pretty, pretty please, don’t start toying with the computerized notion of any kind of fishing without real fishermen. There I draw the line. Enough said.

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