D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e     April 2005

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Fish Story

If "catch-and-release" is such a good idea, why limit it to fishing?

My dad recently went on a purist sort of fishing trip to northern New Mexico, and I was aghast to discover a marked lack of fish upon his return. It seems that the protectors of the San Juan River, which is fairly pestilent with wild beauty, have enacted a peculiar restriction on fishing activity. In order not to offend Gaia or the Trout God, the San Juan is now strictly a catch-and-release venue, which means that anybody actually fishing the San Juan in February is a lunatic.

Allow me to review all the charms of my philosophy of fishing: a warm day, a shady tree or decrepit rowboat, an ice chest full of refreshing hops juice, a fishing pole made in China and enough bait to keep the fish happy. On the off chance this philosophy ever manages to capture a fish stupid enough to somehow fall onto the hook, it is not only kismet, but, with a little flour and cornmeal, it's dinner. Now, remove every single one of these charms and you have what it is like to fish on the San Juan in February. It is cold; the rocks are slippery; beer would freeze to your hand, even if it weren't wrapped in a flipper-like mitten; your fishing tackle costs more than your first wife; and if you somehow manage to catch a fish with a barbless hook, you have to let it go and stop off at McDonald's on your way home!

So, apparently, my father has entered this existential Zen-like realm of fish pursuit. The men he goes with palaver endlessly about what the fish are thinking, where they're going, what they're eating. Do you want to know what fish are really doing in the San Juan? Freezing their fins off, wishing they could fly south for the winter or flop over to that McDonald's for a cheeseburger. They don't want to be there, but they have to because they are fish. Fishermen, on the other hand, have options, one of which I find more enjoyable on a cold February day: sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, digesting the Mrs. Paul's fish dinner I just ate. I'm not sure what transcendental state a man is supposed to achieve by wetting his naughty bits in a frigid stream, locked in mortal combat with a creature that aspires to be a fish stick someday, but I have always been a somewhat shallow human being.

The aspect that is most confusing to my hunter-gatherer philosophy, though, is the catch-and-release edict. I suppose that the pragmatic reason for this approach is to preserve the population of fish for other sportsmen to, um, release. But after spending hundreds of greenbacks on designer wader-wear, expensive imported French fly-fishing rods, bonsai-like fly lures, rustic accommodations and a fishing license, it seems ironic to give up the one positive return on the investment: the meat. As a Renaissance man who poses as a rapidly aging New Waver, I have reflected on the entire "catch-and-release" approach, and have found it to have merit. In fact, although I think it's still as silly as a hot fudge taco when it comes to fishing, I have found different areas of life where "catch-and-release" can be more effectively employed.

Women, for example. Imagine how much more simplified life would be, and how much emptier courtrooms would be, if we had "catch-and-release" relationships. I mean, a man still adheres to all the traditional aspects of the courtship: Much like investing in fishing tackle, a man will still put on a clean shirt, comb his hair and tempt his quarry with bait presented in an appealing fashion in the form of a meal ordered off a menu. The man can spend countless hours trolling the prime hunting grounds, casting lines to and fro. Eventually, he will get a strike and set his hook, only to find out that he has had the ill fortune to snare a hirsute woman with co-dependency problems with a criminal background of kleptomania and pyromania (she steals stuff and then burns it). Well, this would be a fine time to exercise the right of "catch-and-release" and send her back on her way. Like fishing, both parties will appreciate the Zen-like nature of their brief encounter, and each will harbor a healthy respect for the other. Then, she will probably burn his house down and run his credit cards up.

See? The possibilities for this "catch-and-release" business are now opening up, aren't they? Let's say you go to a new restaurant and order something a little different, somewhat zany, like a crispy chicken-mango enchilada. When the waiter sets down the plate and you realize that the hunter has gathered his meal, you can proudly pick up the plate and fling it across the restaurant, knowing that both you and the enchilada are better for the experience. Of course, you may want to locate the nearest exit in short order.

Children giving you grief? Throw 'em back and call it a day, sportsman! Is your in-basket at work overflowing with niggling little details? Experience some true Zen and drop all the paper into a shredder! Maybe all those wizened old fishing trolls are on to something here: Through a gauzy logic of existentialism, I can begin justifying my pointless hobbies, too. Of course, writing is one of my hobbies, so if I'm any kind of man and really insist on adopting this new philosophy, then I should stop wr—


The elusive Henry Lightcap can sometimes be glimpsed in the wilds of Las Cruces.

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