Fishing, as far as I can tell, is the art of being an asshole. The thrust of the activity, at its core, is to fuck up some poor bass’s day. Or trout. Or salmon. Or cod. Or lobster. Or crab. Or sunfish or some other sorry sport sucker you can’t even eat – and I’ll get to the eating part. Proponents of the ancient practice purport it’s character building – presumably, the same way getting your ass kicked or being denied the small-time money needed, as a child, to join in your friends (living below your class, if you wanted a byline) – supposedly, it fosters patience, discipline, sportsmanship (have you watched two fishermen bicker?), and a healthy respect and communion with mother nature as you lure, nap, and devour the flesh of the other children swimming in the lake. Sadism.
This is the first time I’ve been fishing in, probably, ten – no, almost fifteen years. I am exempting one instance which I refuse to count. As a child, I found the cruelty uncomfortable – perhaps I was a sensitive child – but there was always the guiding hand of a father-figure to assure me it was alright. This was no mere senseless violence we perpetrated: it was fishing; it was a just ends within its means. The only fish of note I remember catching was a sunfish. Inedible. We threw it back. Mangled. We never fished in good spots. The once we did was on a commercial tourist boat of the East coast of Prince Edward Island; we hooked a veritable murder of cod. We just dropped the lines in the water and they fell on our hooks like we were after, well…. Fish in a barrel. But now I’m the adult supposed to keep my compass calibrated and moral. Hell! I’ve even been the father-figure and I’ve learned: I don’t trust father-figures anymore. I won’t pretend I don’t mind spending an hour or two casting off a rock, only now that disquiet has a voice, has a name, and I can recognize the horror…. The horror.
I’ll tackle the bait. Live bait, man! I can’t stress how, on the bald face of it, how fucked up that is. Worms have no brains, per-say. They are a greasy tube of muscles and a digestive track wired up to a central nervous system – I’ve known a few people to fit that description. A worm can’t support mortal terror, but I know pain when I see it. The popular wisdom that a worm will regenerate if you sever it in the midst is as bold and venerable as most. It’s complete bullshit. It will live a while, a lot longer than it will take you to lose interest or drown the other half of it. If it doesn’t wriggle and writhe its agony between the dock-planks or off the edge of pier or into the grass to die softly, watch the other half before you spear it. It won’t be moving if you’ve left it long at all. This morning I thought it was dead, until I pierced it through and through and through, three times onto the barbed hook; I didn’t have the guts to string it straight through like a macabre puppet from some hellish fantasy tale. It galvanized with the last desperate flashes of life. Like all of us sometimes, the only thing it knew was a desire to escape the pain. Well, no such luck. Burning pain – remember, it’s entire existential existence is nerves, sensory perception, what it can feel – and then the iron weight of tangy lake water, and cold. That is, if it isn’t eaten alive.
The fish is a higher-level organism than the worm, it’s thoughts equitable to the reptile brain. Just because something is stupider than you is no reason to rationalize that it can’t suffer like you suffer (you egotistical, self-pitying jerk!). If anything, I imagine it should suffer all the worse. When a rational human being takes the bait and gets burned, it hurts, but, they understand why, if not how, they’ve lost. It’s the same mechanism by which we can even scapegoat the cause of that pain, not just to the one who burned us, but the Universe with everything and anything in it that failed to deliver us. Even when the real pain is damn ours to own.
I imagine that’s how the fish feels. Dangling the worm is the damn metaphor for taking some poor sucker for a ride to explicitly use and abuse and either toss away when your done or suck the flesh from their bones. It’s no wonder fish-bones are so deadly. Such weak revenge. But, like I said, fishing is all about being a dick: dangle the crucified worm in front of the fish’s face on an invisible wire and just when he goes to take a cautious bite of what he desires – jerk the hook through his mouth. Reel that punk fish in and take your pick: Do you throw it back in all mutilated and in trauma or do you keep it?
If you hold on to your trophy, the most humane thing would be to kill it quickly. Break the neck and gut it. Better yet, use the Japanese method of execution sushi chefs practice with a thin blade. They promise to cause the least of all trauma. Not the man I’m fishing with. A slow death is kind in his mind. It took more than three hours to suffocate that small-mouthed bass as the oxygen slowly dried out of its gills, while the blood got thicker and gradually more useless. He thought it was dead and picked it up 3 ½ hours after getting his obligatory catch photo with it. It moved. He left it to die for a few hours longer. It was eventually delicious despite its weak revenge.
Humans are terrible people. We fished all week.