February 06, 2017
An anecdote is simply a short, amusing or interesting storyabout a real incident or person. Some of my favorites are about well-knownpeople who had a penchant for fishing.
Consider Mark Twain, for example. The famous American authorand humorist loved to fish and loved to brag about his fishing exploits evenmore. Once, after a three-week fishing trip in Maine, a trip that took placelong after the state’s fishing season had closed, Twain related tales of hisangling adventures to a fellow passenger on the train that was taking him home.The stranger didn’t seem impressed with Twain’s stories of a big catch,however. In fact, he seemed downright perturbed.
“By the way, who are you, sir?” Twain finally inquired.
“I’m the state game warden,” the man snarled. “Who are you?”
Twain nearly swallowed his cigar. “Well, to be perfectlytruthful, warden,” he answered, thinking of his catch iced down in the baggagecar. “I’m the biggest damn liar in the whole United States!”
Here are more unforgettable anecdotes about people youprobably didn’t even know were anglers.
Fishing on OscarNight
It was Feb. 27, 1941. Director Frank Capra was hosting the14th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. One of his duties was introducing a radioaddress by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who spoke of the dire need forAmerica to supply munitions and equipment to the Allied powers engaged in WorldWar II.
Later, when Capra was ready to present the award for BestDirector, he called all the nominees to the podium. Alfred Hitchcock, GeorgeCukor, Sam Wood and William Wyler made their way uncertainly up to Capra. Aftera round of handshakes, Capra opened the envelope and was dismayed to discoverthat the winner was John Ford, director of TheGrapes of Wrath and the only nominee who had declined to attend. “Awardsare a trivial thing to be concerned with at times like these,” Capra said.
So what was Ford doing on Oscar night? Selling war bonds?Collecting scrap metal? Sewing uniforms? Not quite. He was fishing with HenryFonda off the coast of Mexico, where, he told reporters, he planned to stay “foras long as the fish are biting.”
Presidential Address, Short and Sweet
In A Treasury ofAmerican Anecdotes, editor B.A. Botkin shared a story about PresidentCalvin Coolidge, a man well-known for his taciturnity. Coolidge was attendingthe ground-breaking ceremony for a new public building and was invited to make aspeech to mark the occasion. He complied, in a manner of speaking. “That’s amighty fine fish worm,” he solemnly declared, pointing to the broken earth.Then, without further comment, he promptly disappeared.
In 1928, writer Ernest Hemingway moved to Key West, Florida.The remote island offered anonymity and plenty of deep-sea fishing. In hisbeloved boat, Pilar, Hemingway battled man-sized fish, but he did notalways walk away unscathed.
Writing in the June 1935 issue of Esquire (“On Being Shot Again”), he tells of a day fishing in theGulf Stream with Henry Strater, president of The Maine Tuna Club. ThePresident, as Hemingway called him, had hooked a shark. And while the Presidentfought his “galano,” Hemingway hooked another.
“… your correspondent gaffed the galano and, holding himwith the big gaff, shot him in the top of the head with the .22 caliber Coltautomatic pistol, shooting a greased, hollow-point, long-rifle bullet,”Hemingway said. “… your correspondent was watching for a chance to shoot himagain … when the gaff broke with a loud crack, the shaft striking yourcorrespondent across the right hand, and, looking down, your correspondent sawthat he was shot through the calf of the left leg. ‘I’ll be of unsavory parentage,’remarked your correspondent. ‘I’m shot.’”
Despite being hit twice (the bullet ricocheted and brokeapart), Hemingway said, “There was no pain and no discomfort,” leadingbiographers to suppose that he was drinking as usual.
Castro’s Big Win
Speaking of Hemingway: In 1950, while living in Cuba, hefounded a marlin-fishing tournament to entertain wealthy friends who visited theisland. On the event’s 10th anniversary, in May 1960, Hemingway invited FidelCastro, then the new leader of Cuba, to participate, hoping to convince thecharismatic leader to present the winner’s silver trophy.
In a pairing writer John Updike deemed “immeasurablystrange” (“as strange to me as if there were found, in a Jacobean archive, an unquestionablyauthentic woodcut showing Shakespeare presenting the blue ribbon for Best Cake Baked to Queen Elizabeth”), Castro, who had never been billfishing before, chose ashis fishing partner Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ché Guevara, who was thenthe Economic Commissar of Cuba. Photographs taken on the boat show the two men smokingHavana cigars while trolling peacefully for billfish in the politicallystorm-tossed waters. A shirtless Guevara, wearing his trademark beret, is seenreading a book in several pictures, his booted feet resting on the transom.
Hemingway and his wife Mary also were competing in thetournament. “One or another of us kept our big old U.S. Navy binoculars onFidel’s boat and watched him hook and bring to the gaff two marlin,” Mary wrotein her memoir, How It Was. “He was nodeep-sea fisherman, as far as we knew, but he followed precisely the big-gamefishing rules, hooking the fish and playing them, and his boatman made noattempt to gaff before he could grasp the leader, rather than the line.”
Hemingway, who won the first three tournaments in 1950, 1951and 1952, didn’t fare well in this one. Neither he, nor Guevara, landed anyfish. Castro, however, boated a sailfish and a marlin on the first day, twomarlins on the second and another marlin on the third, which gave him firstplace in a field of 150.
So instead ofpresenting the winner’s trophy, Castro received it from Hemingway himself. Life magazinepublished a photograph of Ernest and Fidel, machoa macho, beaming, as Papa surrendered the prize. They had never met beforeand never would again.
“I am a novice at fishing,” said Fidel.
“You are a lucky novice,” Papa replied.
The Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament,one of the oldest competitive fishing events in the world, is still held everyyear, continuing the tradition initiated by the novelist. Hemingway’sgranddaughter Mina twice won the women’s division.
For his role in A River Runs Through It, actor BradPitt was required to learn how to fly-cast. According to People magazine, his practice sessions on various Hollywoodrooftops went well—with (excuse the pun) one catch. On one occasion, Pitthooked himself so firmly in the back of the head that the hook had to beremoved with pliers.
Things Didn’t Turn Out As Planned
“When I was a small boy growing up in Kansas, a friend ofmine and I went fishing and, as we sat there in the warmth of a summerafternoon on a riverbank, we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up.I told him that I wanted to be a real major-league baseball player, a genuineprofessional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be Presidentof the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”
The speaker? President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“I was president, and I was fishing on the Snake River inWyoming,” Jimmy Carter recalled while a guest on the “Tonight Show with JayLeno.” “I had the Secret Service with me and the military aids and also theWhite House physician Dr. Bill Lukasz and I hung a big fish—it was a reallynice fish—and I snatched the hook, and the hook came loose and embedded itselfin my face, and there I was with this fluffy thing sticking out—you know what afly looks like—and it wouldn’t come out, and I didn’t know what to do.
“I could see myself coming back to civilization and maybewith all the news media around. So finally Dr. Lukasz put me on the ground andput his foot on my chest and ran a fly line through the hook and held onto itand snatched it out. So that was the biggest one I ever caught.”
On June 12, 1987, Jimmy Glass died in the Louisiana electricchair for the robbery and murder of a couple on Christmas Eve, 1982. His lastwords were, “I’d rather be fishing.”