Spear and Loathing?
Simon Cooper takes a look at hunting fish, U.S. style, and poses an interesting moral question.
After my last Twitter storm I hesitate to write anything about pike, but Bill Heavey's article Spear and Trembling: The Ancient Art of Stabbing Pike Through the Ice in the latest edition of U..S outdoors magazine Field & Stream makes for fascinating reading. The piece is far too long to reproduce but you may read it online HERE but I'll give you the brief bones of it.
First, find a frozen lake in Minnesota, USA cutting a hole 3 foot by 2 foot through the 27 inches of ice. Build a tent/igloo over the hole then settle down for hours (it turns into days) peering into the clear water below. In one hand you have a pike spear and in the other a fish decoy which you jiggle on a line. Then you wait until a pike cruises beneath you - well, you can guess the rest…
It is a great article that speaks on many levels: the hunter rather than fisher, a transatlantic cultural divide and a moral conundrum. Heavey makes the point that this is not fishing but hunting. As fishermen we lob out our fly or bait in the hope that the fish will connect with us. Spear fishing is something altogether different; we are lying in wait ready to connect with the unwitting fish. It is more primeval and harks back to times long ago when the Native American Indians predominately used this method for gathering fish. The writer clearly gets his blood up and he admits as much. On a lesser level I can relate: on the few occasions I have tried noosing pike and grayling it really gets into your head as something different to fishing.
The cultural thing is more nuanced, but I notice it every time I travel to rural America. Whether we like it or not Americans are far more connected to nature. Hunting, a term that is used to cover every form of lethal pursuit of birds, fish or animals, remains largely a blue-collar pastime which is an ingrained part of everyday life. You really do see deer carcasses draped across pick-up bonnets and shotguns racked in rear windows. I distinctly recall a young, blonde fishing guide telling me she felt stiff and sore as we set out in the drift boat one morning. When asked why, she replied, as if it was the most natural thing in the world that she'd been out most of the night with her husband hunting elk. With a bow and arrow too.
I know pike lovers will be appalled at the slaying of the fish and some others might be discomfited by the manner of the killing, but as Bill Heavey makes clear the fish are for eating. So here's a moral question: is it better to kill a fish for food or catch and release it for sport?
Flyfishing.co.uk is delighted to bring you Simon’s feature, which was first published in his ‘Fishing Breaks’ Newsletter.
Simon’s company, Fishing Breaks, based in the heart of the River Test Valley, offers some of the finest chalk stream fly fishing available in the UK – and a whole lot more. Check out their website HERE
Articles by the same author
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- Resurrecting the Past to Save the Future
- It was 90 years ago today…
- The 2016 World Fly Fishing Championships
- Trout Anglers ‘Out for a Duck’
- Licenced to Fish
- Spear and Loathing?
- The Rat Must Die
- The Great Survival Race
- River Restoration