Goin’ fishing for love, not for mounting
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    ‘Gone Fishin’ watercolor reminds me of my uncle

    From as far back as I can remember, my uncle Arthur Lee has loved to go fishing. He’s a Southerner, and fishing in any creek or private pond or lake that was home to fish was in his blood.

    He started fishing (and hunting) as a young man, taking his fishing pole to a creek in back of the family’s home. He would eventually find a better place that would remain his favorite spot into adulthood. His wife Dora Mae would go with him sometimes, but he mostly brought his catch home to her to clean and cook.

    “As fast as I’d catch them, she’d eat them,” he says. “I’ll clean them all day as long as he catch them,” she adds.

    fishing watercolor

    Up-close view of the fishing watercolor.

    She loved fried fish so much that once, she told me and some family members between chuckles, he brought a friend over to see the fish he’d caught that day, and they were gone. She had cleaned, cooked and eaten them.

    I thought of my uncle recently when I saw a picture of a waiting-to-be-sold painting on an auction-house website. When the day came for the auction I eagerly sought out the painting. It was a watercolor of an old man in a straw hat sitting on a dock with a fishing pole in the water and a bucket of bait near his feet. That’s exactly how I pictured my uncle. I could not decipher the artist’s name in the lower left corner, but did see that the watercolor was painted in 1975.

    For some people, fishing is as much an American pastime as baseball. I know that’s true in the South. I’ve even seen folks alongside bridges in Florida, their fishing rods over the side, them ignoring us drivers and the danger we posed to them standing or sitting so close to the highway.

    In 2016, the Outdoor Industry Association cited fishing as the second most popular American pastime behind jogging for people over 25 years of age, and the fourth among those who were younger. Even people who wanted to be more active said fishing was among their top 10 choices.

    full view fishing watercolor

    A full view of the fishing watercolor.

    Fishing has a history that dates back thousands of years, providing a bustling economy for some areas, and food and pleasure for many people. The beauty of fishing is its simplicity. You don’t need much to fish: a pole, some bait, a natural body of water, time and patience.

    It has been a favorite sport of many of the country’s presidents: George Washington dropped his pole into the Potomac River near where he lived in Mount Vernon, VA. Jimmy Carter fished in a lake near his home in Plains, GA, where he once encountered a swamp rabbit. Franklin D. Roosevelt took fishing trips for his health. Grover Cleveland and Herbert Hoover wrote books about it nearly 60 years apart.

    Ernest Hemingway was also an avid fisherman. His novel “The Old Man and the Sea” was said to have been inspired by the endless struggle to get his catch into the boat before the sharks got to it. It was first printed in Life magazine in 1952 before it was published as a book.

    Roosevelt fishing

    President Roosevelt on a fishing trip. Photo from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

    I understand the love and lure of fishing – when you get past getting up so early in the morning when folks swear the fish are more likely to bite. It seems so relaxing, stripping away the daily grind – just Mother Nature, you and the fish in a cat-and-mouse game.

    There’s also a bond among fishermen and fisherwomen (just as there are among us auction-goers), because you all end up at the same fishing spot on the same days. My uncle would take his spinning reel and buckets of bait and minnows to his favorite spot. At one point, he went with a female neighbor who lived just behind him. Once, at a holiday meal, my aunt needled him about her, saying that she suspected that the woman was sweet on him. I suspect that she was just a good fishing partner, and my aunt knew that, too.

    I don’t recall ever going fishing, but I’m sure I have often mentioned to my uncle that I’d like to join him (because of health reasons, he no longer goes fishing). I’m not sure if I have the patience, though, to sit out there in the hot sun waiting for fish to bite. My uncle, the old man in the watercolor and millions of others don’t seem to mind.

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