John Voelker (pen name Robert Traver) wrote his “Testament of a Fisherman” in 1964. The world has changed quite a bit in 47 years and so have anglers (a more up to date, gender-neutral term). I am not yet an old codger, pining away for the good old days (more like a middle-aged long-hair with an appreciation for fine fire-water and bamboo rods), but I think it would be interesting to take Traver’s words from nearly a half-century ago and see how they stand up to the world we live in today.
“I fish because I love to; …”
Yup. It’s still true. We don’t need to fish, at least not as our ancestors did, to put food in our bellies. I will admit to keeping a brace of trout for the table from time to time but that is not the reason I fish. Whatever our reasons, we love it. Some of us are even willing to travel thousands of miles for the chance to touch a fish, only to let it go, and the Catch & Release ethic ensures the love of fishing can be passed on for generations to come.
” … because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; …”
I won’t take the opportunity to point out that there are no trout in Times Square, at least as far as I know. I am also going to skip right over the fact that, 5 years after this line was written, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, OH caught fire (again!) and that it is now possible to catch highly adaptable brown trout just about anywhere, even in urban locales. Crowds of people bring (leave behind) garbage, automobile exhaust, noise, dog poop and dirty diapers. Wherever crowds gather to take in the view, I’d much rather be way up or out there, in the view they’ve come to see.
” … because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; …”
When this line was written there were no wireless devices with which to distract ourselves from the world around us and no portable DVD players so we could look at anything we wanted instead of what’s right in front of us. But just as in 1964, even here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, some members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society seem more concerned with what’s going on elsewhere, as well as their own standing (as they see it, anyway) and with who is in charge rather than what gets done. Ego is all. (We’ll deal with cocktails in a bit)
” … because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; …”
Some things never change and there will always be people who can’t be anything other than miserable bastards, they take everything so darn seriously. I have seen and heard them sitting on the porch of the lodge and on the docks in front of the camps, grousing about this, that and the other thing with the warm orange glow of sunset flickering off gossamer wings as the evening hatch kicks in. I may pay for it with karma points in the long run but heading out to fish while they stew in whatever juices they’re stewing in just tickles me to no end. If I can hook a feisty trout twenty yards from where they sit, all the better. Poor slobs.
” … because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; …”
I believe that all men (okay, and women) are equal before trout (and every other living creature for that matter) and I believe a few more anglers could benefit from some quietude, humility and patience. Maybe it’s the incredible digital age in which we live — maybe I’m just getting old — but there sure are a lot of photos out there of fish held up like trophies and plenty of talk about bombing the runs, ripping lips and other such nonsense. There is a difference between sharing an experience and showing off, and it is not for me to judge which is which. Still, there seems to be a lot of “look at me!” going on, and not just on the water. Just turn on the TV or look at all the blogs out there (this one included).
” … because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; …”
You can interpret this little philosophical tidbit any way you want. On the one hand, there is that old saw about never hearing someone regret on their death-bed that they didn’t spend more time in the office; on the other hand, there is the saying that the hours spent fishing are not subtracted from whatever time we are allotted on this earth. If the latter were true, I know a couple of guys in their 90s who, without fishing, would have been dead years ago, so go figure.
” …because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; …”
Well, fiddlesticks! This one is certainly no longer true and it is only due to rudeness and inflated feelings of self-importance. There. I said it. Unless you’re carrying donated organs for transplant in that cooler, no one wants to hear your phone ring while they are fishing. We won World Wars and put men on the moon without cell phones; whatever it is can wait. If it can’t wait, you are much too important to be spending your time fishing and I swear on the grave of Cornelia Crosby, if I ever again hear someone repeating, over and over, “I can’t talk right now, I’m fishing,” there will be trouble.
” … because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; …”
Now, there’s a concept that seems to be foreign in the 21st Century. If it’s not the phones it’s the other stuff — the false companionship that comes from constantly checking in and updating and tweeting and the fear of being alone with ourselves, spending time in our own heads. All too often, I’ve had guys cancel their reservations (during the late June Hex hatch, no less!) because this buddy or that couldn’t make it. I spend more time alone in the woods and on the water than most people, and I know they probably don’t want to end up like me, but more folks really ought to spend more time thinking about and doing (gasp!) nothing.
” … because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; …”
Okay, now we’re talkin’! The same is true of rum, scotch and rye. Straight up, please, although the occasional chunk of ice might be alright. You can’t hook a highball glass on your belt and you’ll get funny looks taking your coffee from a tumbler but a tin cup has the versatility for both these tasks and more. Other than some Coke™ in my rum once in a while, or orange juice to cover the taste of vodka, I avoid cocktails and so should you; we all know what kinds of people drink cocktails. (On a somewhat related note, waxed paper cups should not be used when partaking of fiery potations. Good scotch will pull the wax off in chunks and quickly soak right through the paper. Or so I’ve heard.)
” … because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; …”
Hey, a guy can always hope, can’t he? Female anglers may wish for whatever their little hearts desire but I’m holding out for a mermaid. If nothing else, I can imagine mayflies to be faeries and there should be no disappointment over seeing the loons or even a moose.
” … and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.”
Amen, brother, amen!
TESTAMENT OF A FISHERMAN
I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun. ~Robert Traver, 1964