GOING TO THE WELL FOR THE WATER

© Wolf Avni

NOVEMBER 2003                                        

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after” (#1)

“...Angling, the cruelest, the coldest, and the stupidest of pretended sports! They may talk about the beauties of Nature, but the angler merely thinks about his dish of fish..... No angler can be a good man!” (#2).  So said Lord Byron, in one of his more coherent moments, contributing to an opinion that has been around for a long time. And what about Plutarch? Back in AD. 100, his take on angling was that it is “ ...a filthy, base, illiberal employment, having neither perspicacity or wit in it “ (#3)

No wonder then that still today there are those few bewildered souls to  whom fishing means less than nothing, and for  whom fly-fishing is merely that same nothingness taken to a point beyond obsession.  Subversive  ideas  these - especially when they find a home in the minds of  lovers and wives - and they  imperil the very fabric of our known universe, seditiously  empowering  the anti-blood brigade, who,  having buried fox-hunting,  falconry and all  other good,  manly indulgences, will sooner or later turn the full fury of their gimlet gaze toward  angling and its apologists. 

But before we all rush out to divest of our fishing kit in an attempt to put some distance between the slur and our  reputations, one should of course remember the context. Politically correct thinking changes faster than a moulting albatross and Byron was  nothing if not a  poncified, snobbed-out, crypto-intellectual wanna-be. Plutarch was merely fulminating because Antonius  not only caught more fish than him, but also got to shack-up with Cleopatra, that Dolly Parton pin-up  of the Roman era.  As for the anti-blood-sport brigade, they are the worst hypocrites of all.  The limp hands they wring together in outrage  are as often as not shod in gloves of exquisite chamois,  and their picket lines they stomp in shoes of finest Spanish leather.  Where do they think that calf-skin comes from?

Byron, Plutarch and our women-folk notwithstanding, we anglers stand firmly on the moral high-ground. Indeed we do and I can prove it.  We might ponder, for instance, that as long ago as  4 million years,  our Australopithecine predecessors were  going to the well for water and while  there, naturally enough, they  picked up a brace of fresh trout for afternoon tea. That’s what civilised them!

                                                                                   

Early theologies and philosophical systems germinated  - and flourished -  obedient to the energies embodied  within the  primary elements of earth, wind, fire and water.  Still today, these natural constituents underpin virtually all human belief systems and the symbolism of fishing recurs again and again in holy texts. The  bible is riddled with angling reference, as are  the texts of all the world religions.  If they are to be believed, it would seem that a  proclivity for  fishing goes hand-in-glove with spiritual leadership. Krishna, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus; they all employed angling idiom to get their Nearer-my-God-to-thee messages across.  What alchemy turned those  simple truths into Holier-than-thou? But back in the days before the veneer between the Meat-eating Monkey and his intellectual environment had become such an anachronism,  pretty much everything was based on a very real and close relationship with the natural world and its fundamental forces. The ancients held that human lives and social patterns could not evolve, except in harmony  with these elemental constrains.  A great deal of that seems to be lost, and the little that remains is  rapidly vanishing from the consciousness of the urban animal. In practical terms, so-called modern society has come a long way, but still, to this day,  those primal sensitivities  sustain the imagery and icons of our spiritual well being - they  are lodged deep within the subconscious.

 Angling  continues to burgeon in popularity, in a seemingly direct correlation to the increasingly artificial complexity of the modern metropolitan reality.  As we become ever more isolated from that natural world around us, losing the effects of Nature’s   benefice  within our daily lives, we are impelled  to seek out a point of contact between our inner Selves and the  rhythms of our planet (He leadeth us  beside still waters).  And that goes some way toward  explaining the  obsessive partiality of  modern humankind for angling.

 Earth, Wind, Fire and Water; the four elements have been shot all to hell in a bucket.  The earth is all carved up, eroding away and turning daily more toxic. The air  is barely breathable in most places and pyromania is considered seriously anti-social.  But here and there, in isolated pockets and in faint tracings in the mountains, one can still find sweet, unsullied  waters.  It is all that is left us and our fishing is  no more than an intuitive reaching for a taste  of the infinite in the leisure-moments of otherwise care-laden  lives, a going to the well for the water, or such as  may remain of it  in a civilisation that wrecks  its best fishing  with  such cavalier abandon.  If the notion seems fanciful, consider only that without water there can be no life. It is a prime prerequisite for living itself and where one finds pure, clean water, there too, by happy coincidence, one finds fish.

#1. Henry David Thoreau

#2. Lord Byron - Don Juan, Canto XIII, circa 1819-24

#3. Plutarch A.D.50-100.  From The Lives of The Noble Greeks and Romans.