"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day."
- George Carlin
As hobbies or pastimes go, I guess fishing is no stranger than any other. This is not to say it isn't littered with characters, ironies and just plain weirdness, but then, what isn't?
There is, however, security in numbers — at least for the insecure who feel more comfortable hiding out in large groups — and fishing is still the most widely practiced sport, hobby, distraction, time-waster in the world. It touches man's primal instincts to challenge nature, secure food, and get things tangled up beyond hope.
Some people believe fishing is a metaphor for life. These people are not fishermen; they are philosophers. Fishermen, myself included, believe life is a metaphor for fishing. We are fools. And anywhere there happens to be water filled to any degree with fish, or even the hope of a promise of fish, is Fool's Paradise.
While it may be important to include women in the broad and politically incorrect moniker "fishermen," fishing is, at its very soul, a guy thing. Anything that involves that much pointless sitting around waiting for something to happen is, almost by definition, a guy thing.
And that's probably just as well. Fishing is one of those ironic activities that both define the cosmic essence of being a guy and at the same time undermine it in at least two significant ways. It has become a standing joke that guys are incapable of distinguishing between or naming more than six colours: red, green, blue, purple, orange and yellow. This is, of course, in stark contrast to women who can name at least six variations of an infinite number of colours, many of which only exist in cosmetics, home furnishings and the seasonal change of "fashionable" hues.
This grossly unfair stereotype of colour-challenged manhood flies out the window as soon as a guy walks into a shop with filled with fishing stuff, appropriately named tackle. Standing before a wall of feathers, fluff, glass beads, plastic worms and brightly coloured bits of aluminum, a guy can suddenly distinguish between subtle shades of tan, olive, ecru, pink, fuchsia, brown and, yes, even teal. All he has to do to make this amazing transition in colour perception is, wait for it, pretend he's thinking like a fish.
And if fishing destroys the myth of guys and colourblindness, it also lays to waste the generally held notion that guys are indifferent to "accessories." It is absolutely true that most guys can go through life without ever once thinking of a belt as anything more than something to hold their pants up and, with the sad exception of getting old, moving to a Florida condo and suddenly becoming smitten by the white belt and shoes look, never once caring whether their belt matches anything else they are or ever will be wearing.
One need only observe a guy's progression of fishing accessories to understand how wrong that meanspirited stereotype really is. A young boy starts his journey on the road to becoming a fisherman with simple, unpretentious gear: a pole, a hook, a worm and maybe a red and white bobber. If he's been taken to the right place, shown the path of true patience and can sit still for more than five minutes without completely losing interest or whipping out his Gameboy, he eventually feels the rod come alive in his tiny hands and with a bit more luck, lands his first fish and receives his first Real Guy Lesson: You catch it, you clean it.
The inescapable lure of accessories, the primitive, well-concealed guy need to have one of everything no matter how arcane, is the only possible explanation for the lifelong transition of that young boy and his simple pole into a grown man with a $12,000 plastic bass boat, several steamer trunks full of lures, lines and flies, specialized rods for every occasion, a wardrobe of fishing attire far more coordinated than his "casual" and "business" clothes put together and a special Orvis edition SUV to lug the whole affair around.
Which is not to say this is a bad thing. Fishing, like baseball, is one of those arenas of endeavour where grown men seem able to actually reach out and connect with their children in some meaningful way. At least they can if they manage to hold their frustration in check for longer than 10 minutes. A fishing trip, whether a day or a week, is a time to pass on values, traditions, family lore, misconceptions and just plain wrongheaded notions as well as meaningful life lessons.
This Sunday, Father's Day, (there will be a fishing derby) on Alta Lake. I'm not sure why fishing contests are called derbies but I guess we can just be happy they're not called fedoras or Stetsons. Alta Lake is where Alex and Myrtle Philip started this whole weirdness that's become Whistler and fishing was what got it started, so this is not only a chance to do the fishing thing but a shot at getting in touch with our deeper roots.
The action will be happening at Lakeside Park at a fisherman-like hour, which is to say early, and will wrap up in plenty of time to get Dad back home for a nap on the sofa before making a big fuss over him Sunday evening.
If my father were here I'd drag him out there for the day. Without actually thanking him out loud — I am a guy after all — I'd remind him how much fun we had on fishing trips in Arizona's White Mountains. Undoubtedly I'd reminisce about one memorable ride home when a sudden rainstorm turned the mule trail-cum highway snaking down the Gila River gorge into something resembling a carnival ride. Water flowed at near the speed of the car. Mud and rocks were losing their hold on the hillside above. Thunder thundered and lightning lit.
I'm not sure what possessed me, sitting in the back seat, to choose that exact moment to blow up and pop my empty potato chip bag. But with both his hands gripping the steering wheel of our trusty station wagon and with his full attention straining to see the road through rain-streaked windows, I did. Loudly.
I don't know if he thought a rock hit the car or a tire blew but I'm sure he saw our immediate future involve plummeting into the bottomless gorge below, our sun-bleached bones being discovered only years later. He may have soiled himself. Having been fishing for several days, no one would have known for sure.
It was one of those things that only becomes funny with the passage of time. And all I can say about it now is what I said at the time, "Good one, eh Dad?"
Happy Father's Day.
Max is away this week so we are running this wonderful column from years gone by.