Strap a man in a fighting chair and hand him a heavy rod with a 12/0 reel. Let the sun blaze down on 50 fathoms of salt water. Let the fellow draw on the muscles of back, arms and legs until they ache. Let him fight his seldom-seen adversary to the point of blackout, being offered no help except an occasional sip of beer or whisky. Sometimes (but not always) let him bring the marlin in. That, to a good many readers of this magazine, is fishing.
Take another man, suit him up in canvas waders, give him a whippy (but not too whippy) light rod, and send him to a stream where the water is not too high and not too low, not too muddy and not too bright, not too cold and not too hot. Send him alone, perhaps at the moment of a mayfly hatch, when the air seethes with flying bodies and the water boils with eager trout. That to certain other readers, is fishing.
Between these polar extremes are men (and a lot of women) who fish comfortably on small lakes, uncomfortably at the edge of the sea, indomitably through holes hacked in ice, noisily on party boats or drowsily from river-banks. They hunt, like Ahab, for the whale, and they catch minnows.
In one way they are all alike—they are after fish or, as a sociologist might say (God forbid), the "fishing experience." In every other way they are as isolated from each other as a jockey from a prizefighter, as far apart as left field and silly mid on. In short, one man's trash may be another man's poisson.
This is why we have never employed a "fishing writer" on SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Instead, we have fishing writers (emphasis on the plural), both staff and free lance. Sometimes they catch fish, sometimes they do not. But they usually catch a story, because they know that fishing is as much about people and moods and places and atmosphere as it is about fish.
In this week's issue, for example, Ellington White (page 36) takes you to the saltwater mangrove country of southwestern Florida—snook country. Setting the scene, Author White begins, "Down in southern Florida, where the air conditioner is man's best friend, the 20th century has left a scar known as the Tamiami Trail, 260-odd asphalted miles of junk and hokum." And once past that, after you have met the town of Everglades, Fla., you meet the fisherman of the story, an Everglades guide named Rocky Weinstein.
Ellington White himself is a mildly frustrated fly-fisherman—mildly frustrated because he is an assistant professor of English at Longwood College in Farmville, Va., which is bass country, and he has to travel when he wants to fly-fish for his favorite, the trout. Not long ago he heard about Rocky Weinstein's place and the chance to fly-fish for snook in the Ten Thousand Islands. White asked us if we would be interested in the story, and we said that we would.
Snook? White did catch a couple (like the one drawn above), which was part of Aw purpose; for our purpose, he did better than that: he caught the look and feel and smell of the mangroves, the cagey character of a great fish and the quality of an extraordinary man.