Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thinking Like a Fish Out of Water

"To catch fish, sometimes you have to think like a fish." 

We've all heard that statement before. Sometimes it's advice; sometimes it's a tourney angler's clever way to compliment himself. Whatever the context, "thinking like a fish" is an ever-present and pervasive mantra of our fishing world. Even the popular "match the hatch" has the same goal in mind. And for all we know, thinking like a fish has most likely caught us more fish.
Trout Thoughts

The trouble with thinking like a fish is that we become entranced in this fish-like state, so focused on what fish do, where they live, and how to get them to eat. We spend long periods of time losing sight of the fact that we are human and not piscine. Fish live in water. And thinking like a fish means not thinking about the water. 

"But, wait" you say, "fish have to know a lot about water, how to navigate different flows, how to most effectively find food, and whatnot." But that is a reflection of our thinking about water. The fish's knowledge of the water is not explicit and cognitive, full of rationalizations. It is a sensorial awareness that allows the fish to survive. The fish is adept in its habitat, but it does not question it. A fish does not ask questions of the water. 

We, humans, live in a world that is as social as it is natural. We have large brains capable of reflection, inquiry, and planning. And those traits have helped bring us to where we are today, in all our glory and all our shortcomings. Fishermen in particular have perhaps spent more time writing their reflections on their recreation than participants of any other "sport." The fact that I'm writing this (admittedly lengthy) blog post on a computer is a testament to these things. And there's no shortage of fishing blogs out there. 

Urban Fishing

So this brings me closer to my point. We've spent a lot of time talking about fish and where they live, but not a lot talking about fishing and where we live. And we live in a complex world. Just like the earliest anglers, we should explore--except our exploration will be of our social world. In short, we need more socially-conscious fishing journalism. 

Fish in a Philadelphia Street Market

We need to turn our attention to fishing itself and those who are involved. We need to look at who we, collectively, are--the key players, key opponents, groups on the margins, direct vs. indirect beneficiaries, social networks, etc. We need to ask questions and accumulate a working knowledge of our "water"--that is, our social environment. We could examine topics such as: participation in outdoor sports, paid labor in the outdoors, how non-outdoors work and recreation affects ecosystems, how different groups experience the outdoors and outdoors-based subcultures, etc. Being "socially-conscious" also means being historically-conscious, gender-conscious, age-conscious, race/ethnicity-conscious, and internationally-conscious, among other things. 

Fly Anglers Target Wisconsin Steelhead
For example, when certain tropical islands transitioned from a commercial net-fishing economy to a catch-and-release tourist-driven economy, how did the local politics change? How did locals feel about the change? What happened to the families dependent on commercial netting? Did the predominant pathways to upward mobility (e.g. more money, prestige) alter?

Or, now we are seeing a lot more women anglers, particularly (so it seems) in flyfishing. But the blogosphere and magazine journalism of fishing is still pretty well dominated by men authors. So we're hearing a lot of men's perspectives on fishing, but not as many women's. Likewise, are the women we see representative of all the women who fish? I'll go ahead and say I'm seeing a lot of young, fit white women from the U.S. and Canada. Are they the only women anglers? (hint: no) Where are the rest? And, what has been the history of women in fishing? If this is a new phenomenon, what spawned it?  Has there been and will there be "gender wars" in fishing? 

Women Fish in Snotty Conditions, too.

We can't pretend or presume that the world of fishing is somehow immune to the social inequalities that plague so many other aspects of our society and others. And the sooner we recognize and acknowledge that, the sooner we can move to understanding and resolving those issues. 

We need to step back for a second and realize who we are and what we do. We can learn about our social environment at the same time we learn about the habits of our quarry. Maybe it's okay to think like a fish, but like a fish out of water, able to see it's habitat in new light, from another being's perspective, aware of itself in a way it hasn't been before. 

It's mutual. 

I'll be using space on this blog to do my part. 


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