Sometimes I wonder: why do I fish? Why do I spend so much of my time impaling aquatic vertebrates on sharp pieces of metal, often just to let them swim back away afterwards? Why don't I sympathize with PETA and other such organizations that discourage it as an act of unnecessary evil?
My next thought will be something along the lines of well, crap, there isn't any harm in it, is there?
I have done my research. I realize that many neuroscientists believe that fish feel pain, in one way or another; however, I'm also a fisherman, and I also realize that fish eat everything from crawdads to crabs to minnows with sharp spines effortlessly, and that many bottom feeders will even occasionally suck up a mouthful of rocks along with their lunch. So before anyone tries to tell me that fish feel pain in their mouths, throats, and faces, I'd like to see them eat a live crab.
And to back up the first statement, it isn't uncommon to release fish that seem almost unaffected by being caught. I've seen a ladyfish, for example, that was quickly unhooked and released. It swam off, as expected, but then it rejoined its schoolmates and went straight back to eating mojarras. The fact that most fishermen have stories of repeatedly catching the same fish, often with the same lure or bait, proves that there are no"traumatic" experiences associated with being caught, either, and most legitimate experiments in legitimate labs concerning the subject have proven that the statement that released fish "suffer such physiological stress that they often die of shock" (that came from PETA's website) is simply false.
But even if angling isn't despicable, why do it? What's the point?
Well, to answer those questions, we'll need a little demonstration.
Picture a valley. It's pretty deep and gnarly, but not so much so as to make it inaccessible, and although it's pretty wild, wilderness would probably be an exaggeration; really, it's just the kind of public land with abundant wildlife, beautiful scenery, and a trout stream that outdoorsmen of all persuasions have wet dreams about. The valley could be just about anywhere, but for example's sake, let's say that it's off the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Virginia.
There are two kinds of people who visit this valley. The most common visitor is the one who drives past on, say, a bus trip. He gets out to stretch his legs, takes in the view, and gets back on the bus. He will have seen lots of nice views lately, and although he may feel like he's found paradise at the time, he'll probably forget about it within a month, and really, there's nothing wrong with that, as we've all been tourists.
The other person is far less common, but it's sometimes rather hard to tell because he's the one you're more likely to hear about. He's the one who backpacks into the valley, fishes for a couple of days, and eats wild trout for dinner. By the time he's done, he'll feel that he knows the place intimately, and he'll remember it like an old friend thirty years down the road; he has relinquished his position as a spectator and become a participant. He has immersed himself in it.
"But," someone out there is saying, "what does that have to do with anything?"
Well, a lot, actually. Because if some captain of industry decides to bulldoze half the valley, build a road down the middle, or turn it into a massive expanse of flat water with a dam at one end, that second guy is going to fight it with his last breath. What's the first guy going to do? Well, probably not much of anything. And when it boils down to it, I think that's a large part of why we fish: yes, of course it's fun, and you'll probably get a few meals out of it, too, but fishing is a way to quickly build and maintain a deeply-rooted connection with the world outside of our little electronic boxes. And we all need that now more than ever.