Politicians do many things to show they are one of us – visiting diners, kissing babies, eating whatever on a stick at the state fair. It’s a story with a long history. Eric Dregni tells us about the importance of fishing to political aspirations.
In this wild political season, no one has asked the important question: “Which presidential candidate can catch fish?” In the past, politicians desperate to appear as one of the people seemed to believe that nothing did this better than sitting in a boat. President Herbert Hoover wrote: “All men are equal before fish” and that “No political aspirant can qualify for election unless he demonstrates he is a fisherman…fishing reduces the ego in Presidents and former Presidents, for at fishing most men are not equal to boys.” Either that or they try to show how heroic they are.
Herbert Hoover poked fun at these amateurs acting as sportsmen just to get votes. He mocked presidential candidate Calvin Coolidge when he fished for trout with worms on the Brule River in northern Wisconsin. Hoover remembered, “ten million fly fishermen at once evidenced disturbed minds.”
The most famous inexplicable presidential fishing trip was surely Jimmy Carter’s bizarre story. In the summer of 1979, his small boat was attacked by a rabbit while he fished in Georgia. The Washington Post ran the story on its front page the following day about a “banzai bunny” on the fishing trip, exaggerating that the “aquatic attack rabbit…was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared, and making straight for the president…” To Carter’s credit, he insisted that the story was true, even if politically he would have been wiser to have never mentioned the curious event.
While fish may not be political, fishing definitely is—or at least politicians try to make it an issue. In the 1890s, Wisconsin Governor George Peck wrote a mock editorial in the Milwaukee Sun about a fish that should become the state’s symbol: “The bullhead never went back on a friend,” he wrote. “It is a fish that is a friend of the poor, and one that will sacrifice itself in the interest of humanity. That is the fish that the state should adopt as its trade mark, and cultivate friendly relations with, and stand by. We allude to the bullhead.” Although Peck did think that this lowly fish was perhaps much more noble than the aristocratic whitefish, his satirical plea fell on deaf ears. The bullhead was not loved.
Instead, the muskie became the state fish, immortalized with a 145-foot-long, four-stories-tall fish in Hayward at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. If a candidate for office didn’t want to let a day slip away in the boat, he or she could stop for a photo op in front of the giant fish. The museum’s director, Emmett Brown, told me that the fish statue “as really more or less a way to push tourism up here in Hayward. We’ve grown far beyond that and have become a regular stopping ground for the governors of Wisconsin.”
Sure, but can you believe them when they say they caught the big one?