Hopefully, while you are reading this column, I’m returning home from a 17-day trip to Montana which included 10 days fly-fishing with the boys and five days vacationing at Yellowstone National Park with my wife, Jan.
The following is an excerpt from that column:
“Why do you fish so much?” You may ask. Well, that’s a difficult question to answer… but I don’t lose sleep over it. But, not so with everyone. The late outdoor columnist John (Jack) Randolph tried to answer that very question. Here’s what he came up with in his New York Times column written sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. It was titled: “Survey fails to disclose any sensible reasons for enjoying fishing.”
“A basic question has been bothering everybody around here lately, mainly because all the answers given are false and insincere. The question is: Why do people go fishing? It is too bad the answer is not so obvious as the answer to: why do men become explorers? Explorers are timid men. They want to know how they look in beards but do not have the crust to grow them at home. So, they go to the headwaters of the Orinoco and grow beards. This is self-evident.
But nobody can give a believable, or even honest, answer about fishing, though everybody seems to have some kind of answer.
For example, some say they fish to get fish. Obviously false. There are enough fish-hogs around for any reasonable purpose, of course. But how about those fellows who never take a fish?
There is a story about one Boston angler who won’t even use hooks. For a while he tried barbless hooks and would bring a fish to netting distance then give him slack and let him wriggle off. For a while his esthetic principles were satisfied, but even this became too crude.
Now he will use only dry flies without hooks. He wants only the strike, and if the fish strikes anywhere except in the place the angler has chosen, he is dissatisfied. This man lives in Maine and, to make things tougher, will now fish only for bonefish because Florida is far away and bonefish are warier than trout.
Obviously, his next step is to eliminate the lure, and in the end, he is bound to refine himself out of existence, if any. But he certainly is not fishing to get fish.
And there is the character on Long Island, who, after days of futile trying for stripers, got strike after strike on a hookless plug. When he wanted the bass, he said, the bass didn’t want him; now the bass wanted him and to hell with them. Does this guy want to fish?
What about the angler who says he just loves the outdoors and refers to nature as She? That can’t be his reason for fishing. Anybody can mess around in the woods and observe stuff without annoying fish.
And the one who says it is a reflective sport. Twaddle. The place for that contemplation kick is a leather-upholstered easy chair with pipe, smoking jacket, fireplace and beautiful setter looking up with adoring eyes at “The Master.” Who can muckle onto any philosophical speculation while breaking his ankle on rough rocks, blistering his hands on oars or scratching black-fly bites?
What about the ones who go for good fellowship? Can’t be that, he can get that in church organizations, fraternal orders, clubs and chess tournaments. If that is not his pitch, New York City itself has superb, even unexampled, facilities for playing poker, shooting dice and drinking whisky. A man doesn’t have to go to the hot, fly-blown woods to get drunk or go broke.
Is fishing good exercise? Tennis or swimming is better. Does it get a person out in the fresh air? So does opening a door.
There are those who say the lure lies in catching the biggest and the most, beating everybody else. With enough practice they can do the same on pinball machines.
Some say they want to pit their skill and cunning against Nature. Like the man who says he has “conquered” a mountain when he has crawled up the side of it. So, do ants conquer drainpipes?
Anyway, that can’t really be their reason for going fishing. Nature makes things with soft days and willing fish, and he makes them easier with expensive and ingenious tackle. Anyway, he could go climb a mountain, fish are not nature; they’re just natural, except when they are hatchery pets.
This survey uncovered, or exposed, anglers who say the great attraction is mending rods and tying flies. Well, very fine tackle manipulators can be seen in any casting contest, but they are not catching fish. Many of them never go fishing, but the confusing thing is that many of them do.
And many thousands of Americans, including housewives, tie flies but do not fish. Many of them do fish, but it can’t be because they tie flies, since that would make the fishing only an almost irrelevant byproduct.
Well, the survey didn’t get anywhere. Sometimes it seemed as if the right answer was about to appear, but it didn’t. Nobody was thinking in a detached, scientific manner; everybody just seemed to want to justify his fishing — as if his wife were listening.
But I am going to think about it tomorrow in a detached, scientific manner. While fishing.”
Quite a writer, ey? Randolph wrote his outdoor sports column six days a week for The New York Times beginning in 1956. He took over the column after his predecessor Ray Camp retired after 19 years. Camp was the first regular outdoors writer for The Times, writing the “Wood, Field & Stream” column. He died in 1962 at the age of 54.
Randolph kept the column name. I don’t know exactly when Randolph quit writing it, but he passed away in 1961 also at an early age of 57. Any readers who still remember his columns surely have a few white hairs. I was a lad of 18 years when he passed and reading The New York Times was not one of my daily activities.
I can’t imagine writing a daily column for such a prestigious newspaper as The New York Times. Just preparing this weekly column for The Berkshire Eagle causes me to become a basket case… and that’s with the help of modern computers, Word programs, digital picture files, etc. I can’t imagine compiling and typing the columns on an Underwood or Royal typewriter like Jack and Ray did. No wonder they passed at such young ages.
Randolph’s obituary read the following, “Although he had to turn out six columns a week, writing while the men he had spent the day in the field with were clinking glasses in front of a fire, he almost inevitably produced a well-organized essay illuminated by a salty and irreverent wit and notable for an absence of woodland cliches.”
How I found out about him is an interesting story. After my predecessor, the late Ted Giddings, passed away in 2005, his widow Anna gave his library of hunting and fishing books to me. In it was a small booklet that had been written by Randolph entitled, “Have fun with Jack Randolph in “Wood, Field and Stream”, a daily spicing of outdoor (and indoor) wit, wisdom and wile that enlivens the sports pages of The New York Times.”
Basically, it is a random sampling of some of his NYT columns. The undated black and white booklet probably was self-published because there is none of the usual copyright, ISBN numbers, etc. Also, there are no dates as to when the articles appeared in the NYT. How Ted got a hold of it, I don’t know. Perhaps because Randolph lived in Western Massachusetts (Colrain), Ted probably personally knew him and was given the booklet by him. (Let’s not forget that Ted was pretty well-known himself having written articles for Field Stream and other national magazines.)
So, why do I enjoy fishing? The following quote by an anonymous author covers it all: “I fish because I love to, not because I regard fishing as so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of man are equally unimportant; and not nearly so much fun”.