Fishing inspires philosophers

Rene Descartes once decreed “I fish, therefore I am” or something to that effect

Rene Descartes once decreed “I fish, therefore I am” or something to that effect, while Emmanuel Kant, although not really an avid angler, was certainly known to have raised a glass of ale or two with some of his contemporary Left Bank thinkers, writers and anglers of the day – including a young Ernest Hemingway.

And, although it is a little known fact, Friedrich Nietzsche was a charter member of several fairly prestigious European fly fishing clubs. His name has subsequently been scratched from their records due to the fact that he was twice arrested and charged with poaching. Having been able to avoid actual incarceration by declaring in front of the judge that he had not been fishing for the sole purpose of catching fish, but rather because the need to experience catching fish is, in essence, the very heart, soul and lifeblood of the human condition.

Even Jean Paul Sartre, who apparently had a reputation for being somewhat contemptuous of elitist anglers and their fly fishing fraternities, was seen, more than once, rowing a rather dillapidated old lapstrake dory while trolling a line with a glob of worms on the end of it.

Yes, it would seem that many modern-day philosophers, writers and contemporary thinkers have been anglers – with the existentialist seeming to be inclined towards dry fly fishing and pragmatists leaning towards the old worm and bobber.

If I am not mistaken, it was while fishing a small mountain stream that Marx came up with the notion that in a truly classless society, everyone should have equal opportunity to fish the best fishing holes on all the streams with the best reputations. He apparently had always felt a deep resentment of the fact that the rich always seemed to have better gear and only they had access to private waters. (I am not altogether certain as to whether it was Karl or Groucho that came up with this particular philosophy.)

I guess my whole point is that there is a certain philosophical bent to the whole idea of simply sitting out in a boat or standing on the banks of a stream somewhere, observing all the wonders of nature around you and pondering just where any of us fits in the whole of time, eternity and the cosmos.

All I know for sure is that I feel content when I am casting a line to trout swimming through the runs and riffles of my favorite stream. I may not know where I fit into the whole of the universe, but I know that I am at peace with myself when I am standing on the banks of a river or sitting out in a boat watching the early morning mist rise from the surface of the water. I also know that for a brief moments when I feel a tug on the end of my line, that I am alive and all that matters is the next few minutes of time.

Having said that, I don’t really have much of a philosophy when it comes to other things. Advocating any given philosophy only seems to complicate things.

I did, however, spend a very nice afternoon recently sitting out in the boat with a friend discussing the literary works of such well-known anglers as the French writer and fly fisherman Albert Camus, ’60s poet Richard Brautigan, who wrote Trout Fishing in America, and Noam Chomsky, whose philosophical perspectives on contemporary issues include both anti-establishmentarianism and, catch and release.

We whiled away several hours talking while the fish weren’t biting, and as I recall, at the end of the day we concluded that Nietzsche was right  … fishing is, indeed, the heart and soul and lifeblood of the human condition.


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