By Thomas F. Schwartz
One of Herbert Hoover’s last books had nothing to do with politics or global issues. Rather it was a meditation on fishing. Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul (1963) contains a chapter entitled “Fishing Presidents and Candidates” that offers both a wonderful glimpse into Hoover’s understated humor and his trenchant insights into human nature. He writes:
“There are a dozen justification for fishing. Among them is its importance to the political world. No political aspirant can qualify for election unless he demonstrates he is a fisherman, there being twenty-five million persons who pay annually for a license to fish.
In Roman times the people formed their political auguries by observing the flights of birds and the entrails of dead sheep. I have recently been fishing. In the long time between bites I have come to the firm conclusion that today fish take the place of the flight of birds and the entrails of sheep.
Also, I should inform you that from an augury point of view, there are two kinds of fish: There are the host of species of common or garden fish which are the recreations of the common man. There are also the rare species of fish sought by the aristocracy of fisherman. They require more equipment and more incantations than merely spitting on the bait. Politically speaking, these fish can be ignored since they are only landed the hard way and have no appeal to most voters….
That Presidents have taken to fishing in an astonishing fashion seems to me worthy of investigation. I think I have discovered the reason: it is the silent sport. One of the few opportunities given a President for the refreshment of his soul and the clarification of his thoughts by solitude lies through fishing. As I have said in another place, it is generally realized and accepted that prayer is the most personal of all human relationships. Everyone knows that on such occasions men and women are entitled to be alone and undisturbed.
Next to prayer, fishing is the most personal relationship of man; and of more importance, everyone concedes that the fish will not bite in the presence of the public, including newspapermen.
Fishing seems to be one of the few avenues left to Presidents through which they may escape to their own thoughts, may live in their own imaginings, find relief from the pneumatic hammer of constant personal contacts, and refreshment of mind in rippling waters. Moreover, it is a constant reminder of the democracy of life, of humility and of human frailty. It is desirable that the President of the United States should be periodically reminded of this fundamental fact—that the forces of nature discriminate for no man.”