A better writer than I once wrote something about the measure of an angler being not how large a fish he or she can catch but how small a fish he or she can catch without being disappointed. I think it was John Gierach, whose forthcoming book is titled, “All Fishermen are Liars.”
Another writer, better than anyone ever, is credited with something to do with never lying about the fishing where others know you but especially never lying about the fishing where others know the fish. That was Mark Twain, who was pretty sure all men, fishermen or not, are liars.
Overstatement, exaggeration and embellishment are vital components of our fishing heritage and culture. With a wink and a nod, we chuckle at what a bunch of good-natured rascals we are, telling all those stories like we do, as did our grandfathers and others who have gone before. Telling lies is a time-honored tradition of our sport and some of us find it no great insult to be called a pack of liars.
Most anglers agree that a story can be made more enjoyable for an audience with a few minor enhancements. One can also distract from one’s own shortcomings — as well as the shortcomings of the fish — by adding a particular element here or there. For instance, that time a couple of seasons ago when I came back from the old beaver meadow claiming to have caught 109 brook trout, six inches long? An exaggeration by nearly half! Not more than a dozen of those fish were longer than my finger.
Of course, some folks are simply pompous blowhards in need of deflation and, in 1953, the Langley Corp. of San Diego was selling a product with an appropriate name, just for those who must fish with such people.
I don’t know how long the fun would last if you insisted on measuring everyone’s fish to check the accuracy of their estimates, although I can see how a scale and tape might settle an argument now and then. But most anglers I know don’t need such contraptions as, from what I can tell, they are pretty good at estimating the size of their fish to within at least six inches and a couple of pounds.
“The One That Got Away” is the stuff of more legends and stories than any fish that’s ever been caught. By tradition it is usually a very large fish whose size must be estimated by its feel through the rod and the occasional glimpse of a massive flank. Experienced anglers have no trouble with this calculation, relying on a certain extra sense they develop, a sense that has been put to the test many times over the years. The results of this testing have been consistent, with this clipping from Outdoor Life, August, 1953, serving as an example:
Now we’re starting to see how that Langley De-Liar could be fun. “No, sorry, Mort. I’m not saying you’re a liar, but this fish does not weigh 78 pounds. Says here it weighs 2.2.”
Misjudging weight that badly could make a fellow feel downright inadequate, as if life isn’t already hard enough. Very few of my fellow fly fishers are as tall as I am and, in fact, some of them are actually quite short. Just as we may never know the actual size of the fish they’ve caught, they could be fibbing about other things, too, as shown by this ad from another old issue of Outdoor Life.
Why stop at not telling the truth about our fish? We suspect the good folks at The Liftee Company were fishermen, judging from the way they show a two inch lift taking a fellow from 5’8″ to 6’2″. Not needing such augmentation, I am in no position to judge but I think hidden height increasing pads are a relatively harmless lie, aside from the occasional, mild case of “Barbie Feet.”
But no matter how skilled a liar an angler may be, there are simply some people he can not lie to and some lies that can not be told, no matter the inadequacy needing compensation. That said, it is probably best for us to assume this fishing couple is discussing nothing other than the size of his …
Remember, fellow anglers, that even the best lines can become old and weak with over-use so, as another season on the water gets underway, our wish for you is to catch such a fish that, even in retelling the story, you need not tell a lie but, if you do, make sure it’s a good one!