Winter Sentence: 90 Days Behind the Remote

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The bizarre industry-level political correctness I developed over years editing fishing magazines still drifts around the edges of my consciousness, reminding me not to be too honest, lest I ruffle feathers with potential advertisers or some gated community of irony-challenged Dudley Dorights out in the foothills of Readerland. Some topics, like the long, painful, and near-total demise of writer ethics in the realm of product writing, I have continued to avoid like a Turkish prison run by syphilitic leper zombies. Other topics, like charter-fishing scabs, strike-breakers and wannabes, I’ve hit with glancing parenthetical blows in long articles or op-eds about totally unrelated fishing subjects. Because, closing in rapidly on age 40, I’ve determined that (1) we’re all adults here, and (2) it’s extraordinarily unlikely anyone I anger here will succeed in taking away my birthday when April rolls around, I’d like to vent a few thoughts I’ve suppressed for nigh on two decades about the preponderance of fishing shows on television.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to point out that I’m a stone-cold, shameless TV-series junkie. The Wire, Breaking Bad, Band of Brothers, Game of Thrones, Gotham, American Horror Story, Dexter, Sherlock Holmes, MI-5, even lesser-known shows like Shameless, Longmire, I’ve watched in a state of depraved lunacy, shades drawn, eyes cured like cheap ham by the lurid beam of the idiot box over 30 hours of lapsed personal hygiene, procrastination, and unforgivable crimes against adult nutrition. Since The Sopranos first demonstrated the advantages of character development and meticulously paced plot over 30 or 40 hours of tight script, good writers and skilled, well-cast actors have catapulted television into a new realm. Hell, since I’m being honest, here, I might as well admit that I’m not terribly fussy when I’m shopping for the next series to consume—I can forgive all kinds of slipshod writing and bad acting. Commercials, though, tend to send me into fits of blind rage.

Then, at the opposite end of my own tolerance spectrum, there are fishing shows—programs I’ve been told from the outset of my deckape, and several years after that, my fishwriting, careers, that I must just love. After all, friends have pointed out during long speeches they made while sitting, standing, or riding within a few feet of me, I obviously love fishing (doesn’t even have to be rod-and-reeling), and the shows are about fish… blah blah blah blah blah blah. Yawn. Are you almost done talking? ‘Cause I’m really craving a box of D-Con….

With quasi-genuine respect to my colleagues employed in the fishing- television racket, my objections aren’t particularly rational but they are passionate. After watching me literally dive on an otherwise inaccessible remote to head off any unnecessary nanoseconds of my life above dirt watching portly bass pros talk at thunderous volume to drown out guests who attempt to sully broadcasts with useful technical advice, my wife will rocket past any channel that might show rod-and-reeling “with the pros,”. My biggest objection to TV angling is the extent to which it defiles any moment that displays, without a huge surplus of brainless drivel falling from its hosts’ mouth(s). Nothing in my life of real fishing suffers for the lack of unfunny yammering by deckmates with unstoppable mental/ verbal diarrhea. But still, that’s only part of it.

I of all people can understand the need to “pay bills,” but when doing so means hawking second-rate sponsor product, first by incessant, ham- fisted product placement, then underscoring the whole oily business with gratuitous verbal follow-up, then Let’s take a quick commercial break. As if there were a non-commercial minute in the whole half-hour slot…

Again, I can appreciate the need to get paid. What sends me into apoplectic shouting fits is the @#$% drag clicker, a device I’ve spent probably 2% of my career-total deck time rushing to disable before other anglers, mates, or I lost our minds. Mysteriously, when you fish on television, it’s mission-critical that the drag clicker remain on every second of a broadcast, presumably so those of us in the audience can hear the nautical adventure in progress. An involuntary scream-obscenties-until-I-keel- over-mute-and-unconscious reflex fires off in the first instant “our host” cranks on a hooked fish against the clicker.

The unfortunate reality of 90% of total fishing-show minutes I’ve taken in over my lifetime is the unspoken mandate that hosts put themselves between the viewer and the actual expert they’ve convinced to do an episode. There’s nothing more infuriating than breaking my own strict zero-fishing TV policy because a genuinely skilled fisherman friend of mine has elected to tap the free publicity for his charter business, only to watch the captain get cut off, misquoted, derailed, blocked, hidden, or drowned out by host “personalities” hell-bent on out-experting the only real fishing talent in the boat.

Never mind the staggering number of fish anglers under my care have lost to horrendous rod-handling habits they picked up from the TV bass pros. I have spent untold hours of my waking life trying to rid clients of “Hollywood” fish-fighting tactics. On the ocean beyond celluloid, it has been my experience that the less yanking and jerking and jostling you subject a hooked fish to, the greater (by a striking margin) the odds of landing that fish. The reality is that you make a hole in a fish’s mouth at the hookset; for every second thereafter until the fish crosses the transom and lands on the deck, this hole is widening under the strain of the fight. Every time you pump the rod, you risking whipping slack into the line—slack which, if the entry wound has stretched far enough open during the fight, is just enough to let the hook drop free.

I don’t suppose there’s any reason to gripe over most fishing personalities tendency to overestimate the weight of each landed fish by a margin of somewhere between 30 and 50 percent: “That’s a good ‘un, there, maybe 6 pounds.”

Or three you lyin’ sack of…

I know, I know. None of this is worth getting torqued about—at least not for most semi-sane adults with an above-average interest in fishing. That much I will reluctantly concede is the truth. Maybe I’m just a bit burnt after years on deck.

But there’s one last thing, a habit an alarming number of boob-tube rod-and-reel pros—a habit that sends me into orbit every single time: As I’ve written, said, or communicated by visual aid untold thousands of times over the last 20 years, I don’t have any particular objection to killing fish, so long as the catch will go to good use. Frankly, years in oilers have desensitized me to a point I occasionally feel guilty about. What I flat- out cannot tolerate is watching so-called experts wax verbally incontinent about the importance of catch-and-release angling while they hold a live fish out for the camera. As I sit trembling on my couch, the sermon passes the two-minute mark and still my host waves it around while the last living color drains from its eyes. As he leans forward to set the victim loose, the “nice fish” has entered the final stages of rigor mortis. As my host, Captain Conservation launches the corpse overboard, the remote passes through my television’s screen at just north of 50 mph.

My wife suggests, as gently as possible, that maybe we should watch something else.

Three more months. It’s no time when the season’s running. In February, it’s like Purgatory, only longer.

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