Fish tales offer reel morality lesson
Monday, April 18, 2005
BY D. Dohhne
The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA)
What starts innocently enough, often with a wink, can turn into humiliation, court fines, marital woe -- even international discord.
Lying about fishing has a long history, at least to the days of Izaak Walton, and it seems to be getting worse. I'm not talking about the sort of tales whose telling Patrick McManus raises to an art form in his amusing book "I Fish, Therefore I Am." I mean the kind done with a straight face.
With the 2005 Pennsylvania trout chase barely under way, here are a few stories about how fibber fishermen learned that truth is always in season:
Danny Engleking, 40, was arrested and accused of trying to rig a fishing tournament by retrieving a prize-winning bass from a sunken cage. Instead of claiming the contest's $300 first prize, he paid a $25 fine and $132 in court costs after a surveillance camera showed him loading bass from the cage he apparently had secreted underwater onto his boat on Lake Shafer near Monticello, Ind., in 2003.
Half a country away, operators of the 56-year-old Rio Vista, Calif., Bass Festival know that some anglers lie. That's why they use a lie-detector test. And that's what kept them from awarding the top prize in their 2003 tourney, a $19,000 fishing boat with a 50-horsepower engine and trailer, to someone who presented a 40-pound striped bass that he said he had caught under the contest rules. Results of the polygraph test said otherwise.
For much of his life, Ottway Stuberud lived with a fishing lie, no little lie, mind you. It was big enough to put the Knife River, Minn., man's name in his state's record book for 29 years next to the leading steelhead entry. His 17-pound, 6-ounce entry stood as the mark to beat from 1974 until December 2003, when a guilty conscience led him to fess up to conservation officers. He told them the fish was a fraud, apparently caught out of state.
But Stuberud's embarrassment is only part of the pain. The Minnesota steelhead record has reverted to a 15-pound, 7-ouncer caught in 1970 by Cliff Lovold of Two Harbors, who had the honor before Stuberud claimed it. Lovold's daughter said her father, a lifelong angler, would be thrilled to know he held the record for 35 years. But he never had the chance. Lovold died in 2000 at 83.
America is not the only home of the whopper. Making sure of the legitimacy of the 7,000 or so records that go into the International Game Fish Association's books each year is a full-time job for Doug Blodgett. Part statistician, part detective and part scientist, Blodgett tells of a teen who last year submitted an application for a 3-pound, 7-ounce ladyfish, a species recently added to the world-record categories.
One problem with the lad's filing was that his hand-held scale only measured in 8-ounce increments. Blodgett figures the boy must have, um, estimated the seven ounces.
A bigger problem is that the scale was not certified by the IGFA, whose rules call for scales to have been certified within one year of the catch date. Blodgett checks such details to uphold the association's philosophy of good sportsmanship and conservation.
A British angler's deception on the stream "destroyed me, my marriage and everything I ever wanted. I felt so guilty. Not a week went by without me thinking about it."
After eight years, Clive White, 37, confessed to the British Fish Record Committee that his monster rainbow trout (36 pounds, 14 ounces) was dead before he netted it and had been raised in captivity.
On a larger scale, whole nations are known for their tall fish tales. China has a well-documented reputation for such deception, one illustrating that lying can hurt the fish, too.
Rapid growth in the Chinese fishing industry over the past two decades has fueled fears that over-harvesting could deplete fish stocks.
Canadian researchers accuse Chinese officials of inflating fishing catches, thereby masking a decline in global fish stocks. The Canadians say that the Chinese misreported fishing data throughout the 1990s, making global catches appear to be rising by 700 million pounds a year while they actually were falling by 800 million pounds.
So next time you're out on the stream showing a young person how to challenge trout, sure, go ahead and tell them the difference between night crawlers and red worms; dry flies and wet.
Then make sure they know the difference between honesty and stupidity. That could be the catch of the day.