Letters to the Editor
Volume VII Number 1
January 7-13, 1999
Does Bill Burton Know His Presidents?
Dear New Bay Times~Weekly:
As an avid Bay-area fisherman, I've enjoyed Bill Burton's outdoors articles for nearly 30 years. While most of his comments in your interview (Sept. 17-23, 1998) were on target, his assessments of the relative outdoor abilities of George Bush and Bill Clinton raised my eyebrows.
About President Clinton hunting ducks in Dorchester County, Burton says, "they would set everything out ahead of him they had the whole thing set up for him." I wonder, would it really be advisable for the most powerful man in the free world to be negotiating some marsh alone in the pre-dawn darkness?
I recall being in the Florida Keys in the spring of 1990 when then President Bush came down for a few days. His contingent took over the entire motel next door to us and, within this walled compound, planned the bonefishing itinerary for the commander-in-chief. A half dozen professional guides were stationed at various flats and cuts throughout the area. All were equipped with radios and instructed to alert the captain of the president's boat to bring him over immediately at signs of fish. I wonder if that's the kind of arrangement Bill Burton means when he says "all set up."
I spoke later that day with one of the guides who said charitably of President Bush's casting ability, "Well, I guess he probably doesn't get much time to practice." While that's almost certainly the case with any president's busy schedule, it's also true that adorning a wall in my office is a magazine photo of President Bush fishing with an upside-down spinning reel.
Could it be that Mr. Burton's personal political leanings have colored his observation on this matter? I've never heard anyone making claims of President's Clinton's outdoormanship, but the weak environmental record that characterized the Bush administration speaks for itself.
-John A. Neer, Alexandria, Va.
Bill Burton's Reply
Methinks reader John Neer might be comparing apples and oranges. As for Bill Clinton, my comments targeted a junket primarily for pen-reared (not truly wild) mallards released for him.
No gripes intended about security details necessary when a president travels, including 'casing' the hunting area for interlopers, but potting semi-tame mallards planted to embellish presidential shooting is like hiring another attractive intern at the White House.
As for George Bush's angling capabilities: The fish were truly wild, none penned for him, and of course his angling endeavor entailed security people everywhere ashore and on boats including a burly, eagle-eyed Secret Service agent in our bassboat. We were not allowed to fish areas not previously scoured by security.
I reiterate, George Bush is a good and knowledgeable fisherman. For most of the day, he used a revolving spool reel and seldom had a backlash, which is an accomplishment for even the best of anglers. He was also an accurate caster; he knew where to cast (bass'n, one doesn't just cast anywhere) and almost always hit his mark.
In addition, he selected on his own appropriate baits for specific situations, locations and structures. Both guide Ken Penrod and I were very impressed; apprehensions he would need special treatment were unfounded. He was a contributing member of the angling effort, and only freezing weather and winds of 25 to 30mph kept us from catching more than one bass each.
In reference to the photo of the "upside down" spinning reel, any left-hander can appreciate that dilemma. Most reels are designed for starboard casters, and when used by portsiders, the reel is turned upside down so the crank handle is on the appropriate side. Any angler notices that whenever fishing with lefties. Not all reel handles can be switched from left to right.
Now, a disclaimer. I voted for George Bush - and not because he is a good fisherman. I can easily guess which candidate the writer voted for. I feel vindicated on both counts - and appreciate John's comments.