Deep Trout: Angling in Popular Culture

Deep Trout: Angling in Popular Culture

Deep Trout: Angling in Popular Culture

Deep Trout: Angling in Popular Culture


On the surface, fishing is all about casting, catching and communing with nature, but on a deeper level, the sport is filled with mysteries and contradictions. Why do people fish? How does a desire to return to nature go hand in hand with high-tech gadgetry? How is it possible to see other people's fishing as despoiling nature but not one's own? What does the long and complex history of the sport reveal? Like so much else in life, what fishing says about society and the people in it -- both past and present -- is hidden from view and almost never discussed.This book is a considered foray into the leisure sport of fishing by an avid fisherman who is also a professional anthropologist. Those who enjoy the sport tend to extol its naturalness - fishing enables them to commune with nature at its most primeval. However, if it's called natural, it's probably a great spot to trawl for clues as to how people manage larger cosmic issues. 'Call it natural,' the author quips, 'and the anthropologists will come.'Is fishing an uncomplicated activity, or is it deeply meaningful? What does it say about culture? Is the recent resurgence of interest in the sport simply a reflection of more disposable incomes and more leisure time? What is the connection between fishing and Santa Claus? fishing and flamenco? And finally, what is the best way to kiss a trout? Unlike most books on fishing, which focus on the tale or on 'how-to', this book shows that there is much more lurking beneath the surface than fish.


I was totally bamboozled; I was chicaned; I was necromanced” (David Duncan's Gus Orviston).

In again. Fly-fishing is in vogue. Angling is fashionable. Though not exactly hip, neither is it staid and stodgy. It has broken free from the old mold, and its ranks have swelled with new members. Its boosters, though still a small minority of outdoor buffs, have been enthusiastic and vocal, and their rhetoric has been ambitious, to be sure. It is no exaggeration to say that their vision is responsible for a new style, and a new way of life, one that some folks pursue day in and day out, in the home and office as well as in the streams and creeks. The cachet of this sport is difficult to summarize, though that is part of our mission here. However for starters, we can say that fly-fishing is appealing because it seems clean, bright, wholesome, and even noble. Fly-fishing is “in” because it bespeaks virtue and suggests authenticity. It is portrayed as a reality check, the antithesis of fakery, and the enemy of supercilious airs and social conceits. Fly-fishers are people who know where the center of the earth is.

None of this is particularly new. Angling has been called virtuous for centuries. Dame Juliana in the fifteenth century said it was good for the angler's soul: “It shall cause hym to be holy.” Izaak Walton, in the seventeenth, contended that “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than Angling.” In the eighteenth Charles Lamb recommended both angling and Walton's book to Coleridge, saying, “It would Christianize every angry discordant passion.” In our own times, we can read that the angler is privileged with an opportunity to “become one with his soul and his God.”

Trout-fishing has been touted as an especially noble activity, and the trout themselves have been portrayed as bearers of virtue, though any trout on any day would surely be willing to forgo all such honor and praise if it could just be let off the hook. In Walton's day, “trout” was a compliment that one might bestow on a person of noble bearing: “I was a trusty trout/In all that I went about” (OED p. 2119). Today, the name of “trout” is just as enthusiastically revered amongst those who bend their knees on the banks of trout streams (Prosek 1999:ix). In other words, as we look from premodern England, to the postmodern United States, we . . .

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