I wrote this piece in the mid 1980’s, when my love affair with fishing was at its peak. It appeared in several newspapers and regional publications, including “Florida Keys Magazine.”

© Mark W. Mayfield

Few of life’s milestones are more memorable than that first fishing trip. Who can ever forget the thrill of reeling in a scrappy rainbow trout, the pride of posing for the mandatory “My-First-Fish” snapshot, the challenge of removing a barbed hook from your left earlobe after one of uncle Tony’s errant casts, or the horror of discovering that real fish, unlike the tasty fish sticks mom frequently served for dinner, are full of slimy things called entrails that must be removed by hand. And what can be more memorable than watching dad’s boating skills quickly deteriorate after several hearty gulps from his huge thermos of “Special Fishing Coffee.”

Memories like these would be impossible without reliable fishing gear, yet many of us never think about the hardworking, dedicated folks who make the equipment for our favorite fish-related pastime. In their honor, let’s take an appreciative look at our beloved fishing tackle.

The father of modern fishing gear was Arvin Carp, a part-time inventor who also owned a failing condiment company. Carp knew that if he could discover a practical way to catch fish, he would greatly increase his sales of tartar sauce and lemon juice. In fact, Carp coined the famous adage, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you can sell him lots of malt vinegar.”

Carp’s first few inventions were ingenious but unsuccessful. The Fishswatter, inspired by the ubiquitous flyswatter, didn’t work because the fish always swam away before Arvin could get close enough to give ’em a good whomp. The Fishgripper, a mechanical hand at the end of a long pole, failed miserably because most fish are factory-equipped with an extremely slick finish that allows them to easily escape a predator’s grasp. Carp’s most ambitious project, the Laser-Guided Fish Missile, was a remarkable technical achievement, but it had three serious flaws: (1) It blew up the best parts of the fish. (2) Each missile cost several million dollars. (3) Carp was afraid that a group of terrorist fish might steal some missiles, equip them with nuclear warheads and launch a surprise attack against innocent anglers. (Don’t laugh. According to the Pentagon, certain fish have already unlocked the secret of nuclear fishin’.)

Just when he was about to abandon his quest, Carp discovered a relatively simple method of catching fish with a bamboo pole, some string, a hook and a worm. After successfully using his invention at a nearby pond, he tried to yell with joy, but his lips, which he had unselfishly sacrificed to test the holding power of various fishing hooks, had become a large pink mass of useless scar tissue.

Fishing gear has undergone dramatic changes since those early days. Carp’s primitive devices have been replaced by wide variety of high-tech equipment, and no weapon in the angler’s arsenal has evolved more than artificial lures. The people who design these deadly decoys know that modern fish, like humans, are plagued with many societal problems, including a growing number of homeless fish, rampant promiscuity among teenage fish, the frightening rise of violent fish gangs, widespread crime, and, of course, high gas prices. Using this information, researchers have developed lures for every conceivable situation. One of the most effective new models is the Drunken Investment Banker, which mimics the erratic movements of an intoxicated well-to-do business fish. When large hoodlum fish try to steal the lure’s gold jewelry, they are quickly snagged by hooks concealed in a tiny designer briefcase. The most deceptive lure on the market is the Publishers Clearing House lure, which entices its unsuspecting victim with a chance to win millions of dollars.

What does the future hold for angling? Knowing that fishing tackle has evolved as far as it possibly can, researchers are now using genetic engineering to create fish that are easier to catch. The Traitor Fish, for example, will tell anglers where to find its large, hungry friends. The Cowardly Fish will voluntarily surrender instead of facing the prospect of a long, painful fight. And, in the ultimate gesture of sportsmanship, the Self-Cleaning Fish will bravely remove his own slimy entrails after he’s caught.

Of course, science can’t improve every part of the fishing experience. There will always be quiet mountain lakes, warm summer mornings and the irresistible aroma of “Special Fishing Coffee.”

Mark W. Mayfield DOES NOT condone the habitual consumption of “Special Fishing Coffee.”


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