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John Steinbeck
October 04, 1954
A comparison of attitudes and values of anglers in England, France and the U.S. by a distinguished writer who has made a study of them
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October 04, 1954

Of Fish And Fishermen

A comparison of attitudes and values of anglers in England, France and the U.S. by a distinguished writer who has made a study of them

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I am one of the world's foremost observers of other people's fishing. I believe that certain national characteristics emerge in fishing and attitudes toward it. With this in view, I have for many years studied the relationship of fisherman to fish. It is therefore natural that on a Sunday afternoon this summer when I was in France I was drawn to the Oise to observe Parisian fishing at its very best.

Perhaps I should set down some American and British attitudes and methods in order that my conclusions about French fishing may stand out by contrast.

Fishing in America has several faces of which I shall only mention two. First, all Americans believe that they are born fishermen. For a man to admit a distaste for fishing would be like denouncing mother love or hating moonlight. The American conceives of fishing as his personal contest against nature. He buys mountains of equipment. He clothes himself with special, expensive costumes.

The Yankee angler prefers to travel many thousands of miles, to put himself through powerful disciplines, to learn a special vocabulary and to enter a kind of piscatorial religion—all for the purpose of demonstrating his superiority over fish. He endows the fish with great intelligence and fabulous strength, to the end that in defeating it he is even more intelligent and powerful.


It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming, but this is a highly un-American thought. I hope I will not be denounced.

A secondary but important place of fishing in America is political. No candidate would think of running for public office without first catching and being photographed with a fish. Golf has nowhere near the political importance that fishing has, but maybe that is changing.

The British fisherman has quite a different approach. The English passion for private property rises to its greatest glory in the ownership and negotiability of exclusive fishing rights in rivers and streams. The ideal British fishing story would go something like this:

Under a submerged log in a stream meandering through a beautiful meadow lies an ancient and brilliant trout which for years has outwitted the best that can be brought against him. The whole country knows him. He is called Old George. The fact that Old George has lived so long can be ascribed to the gentlemanly rules of conduct set up between trout and Englishmen. Under these rules, the fisherman must use improbable tackle and a fly Old George is known to find distasteful.

In our ideal fish story, the angler rereads Izaak Walton to brush up his philosophic background, smokes many pipes, reduces all language to grunts, and finally sets out of an evening to have a go at Old George.

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