Friday, November 16, 2012

Snobbery and Elitism in Fishing

Or , I found a hornets' nest , and I have a stick to poke it with.

I've had an urge to write something about this for a long time , and indeed I've hinted at it in several places around the web , but never felt confident enough as a writer to actually tackle the issue head on. Things like this have a way of getting blown out of proportion , and certainly what follows may cause an uproar. I hope not. I'd much rather see it start a genuine discussion about our attitudes toward each other , and maybe cause some of us to have a moment of reflection. I know I've personally thought about it a great deal , so understand when I point a finger it is directed at myself as much as it is anyone else. Bear in mind that this is not an attack on any one group , but an attempt to explore an unsettling aspect of what happens when people are passionate about a sport.

We are all a bunch of snobs who lord our superiority over the unwashed masses with great pride in our perceived accomplishments. I know I'm guilty. I've seen and experienced it from both sides in all types of situations related to fishing.

It's usually a pretty straightforward graduation into the ranks of snobbery , and it normally plays out like this : person goes fishing with no luck , eventually learns how to catch fish consistently , quits wearing the skunk. After that , it's fairly easy to think of yourself as an expert , and to look down on the way other people fish. That's when things start to go downhill. At first you're pretty open with how you catch fish , but soon you guard your secrets with a fervor usually reserved for secret societies and classified government documents. It feels good to have a chuckle at the expense of the noob with the bobber and worms who isn't catching anything , while clearly , CLEARLY , a number 8 whatchamajigger on a 6x tippet is what is required.. Maybe you realize that at one time you were the new kid , and maybe you don't

Another way that snobbery creeps into fishing is through the gear snobs. The guys and gals who look like they've jumped out of the pages of an Orvis Catalog and wouldn't dare wet wade in a pair of old sneakers. The smug old men toting around handmade bamboo rods that cost as much as a used car. The surf fishermen that mock anyone using a spinning reel because , obviously , the drag will wear out while fighting a big fish. I once witnessed a gentleman fishing for trout using a baitcasting rod with an automatic fly reel strapped to it filled with 20 lb. mono and tipped with a Rooster Tail. I laugh every time I think of that guy , not because I look down on him , but because I know several fly fishermen who would have a full blown brain hemmorage  were they to encounter him on a stream. Even funnier , he was actually catching trout with the monstrosity when I left him.

It doesn't just crop up in fly fishing , either. Sometime around the late '90s - early 2000's , a friend and I were bass fishing from the shore of a local lake using Zoom Super Flukes. Keep in mind the fluke was a relatively new bait at the time , and I live in worm and crankbait country. It came as no surprise that we were soon greeted by a series of loud guffaws from a boat just offshore followed by " Lookit that Cleatus , they's using dem Banjo minners" and then some more braying laughter. It died down to a nervous silence when they saw us catch a few bass and pickerel while they caught nothing. I'd wager that one of those clowns ordered a set of Banjo Minnows the next time the infomercial came on. More recently , we've had the debate raging over the Alabama Rig , with some even dismounting their high horses long enough to yell that we are hurting the fish by foul hooking a few.

An even greater display of snobbery comes from the catch and release crowd. I'm not sure why I find them so abrasive , other than the fact that they act like you've kidnapped a child when you mention eating a fish you caught. I understand wanting to keep from eating all of our fish to the brink of extinction , but I can't understand the reasoning behind declaring all fish off limits. A lot of these people will eat commercially caught fish , which clearly indicates a deep misunderstanding of which method of fishing is more sustainable in the long term. I can't fathom how it seems OK to eat a fish brought to market after being caught in an indescriminate trawler net , while claiming it is a great injustice for someone to eat one caught on rod and reel.

Pier and boat fishing is not immune to the ugliness. I've heard derogatory remarks about "Rent Rods" in reference to people that don't own their own rods and reels , and rent them from the pier or boat. I've spent at least some time as a rent rodder , having forgotten to take a rod on a short trip a few times. Does that mean I don't know what I'm doing? Nope , it just means I needed a rod.

If we can step away from our delusions of grandeur every once in a while , we might learn something new. Even better , it might give us a chance to remember the uncertainty and wonder , the excitement , of learning to fish for the first time

Have a great weekend! Leave a comment with your thoughts about snobbery below.


  1. I'd say anyone fishing a "a number 8 whatchamajigger on a 6x tippet" is using too light of a tippet :)

  2. "..the fact that they act like you've kidnapped a child when you mention eating a fish you caught." Dang Josh, you just poked my latest favorite hornet's nest. I recently saw a blog entry somewhere (can't remember where) in which the author was apologizing for taking a few stocked trout and had to make it clear the natives went free.

    We've gotten entirely too PC on this topic. First of all, the people that care aren't going to be fish hogs, and secondly the fish hogs don't give a damn what you think about them putting EVERYTHING in the bucket. Maybe we need ninjas to surreptitiously return some of their catch while they're busy talking on their cell phone. Volunteers?

    I eat a lot of fish. I release a lot of fish. I try to model that behavior for others, but I'm not going to begrudge anyone keeping what I consider a reasonable amount of legal fish. My only hope is that they eat all they take. I really hate to see people clean out their freezer and throw away a bunch of fish and venison. It's a waste of the resource and way too much work to clean and freeze all that food just to throw it away.

    On helping others learn, my wife and I were having above-average success this past Sunday and Monday while we were fishing a puppy drum/speckled trout bite. I shared my rigging and fishing technique with anyone that showed interest.

    Later in the tackle shop, my wife pointed one fellow to the Assassin bodies we used and I handed him a pack of the jigheads and told him how to rig and fish them. We saw him the next day as he walked up, fish in hand, saying "I finally caught a keeper trout." He looked as happy as I felt.

  3. The worst offenders are the fly fishing crowd and the gear/boat people. I can personally attest to having both look down their noses at me for not using the long wand or not having the latest hot rod flats boat and the duds to go with it. Being a fly fisher who prefers the saltwater flats to all else, I've been looked down at to the point I sometimes feel 2-D. The "let-em-all-go" crowd is also a royal pain. Frankly, I enjoy eating fish. I don't always keep a fish I can eat and often let them go (especially wormy speckled trout...:( but like the idea of being able to fry one up if I want to. Personally, I think we should all stick together and form a united front against all the PETA nuts who'd like nothing more than to make it a crime to use a hook and line.


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