Fly fishing, Ethics, and Nature

The relationship between religion and fly fishing has been written about for centuries.  Fly fishing authors have discussed this relationship at least as far back as 1496, when “A Treatyse of Fyshynge with an Angle” was published.  It is only recently, however, that fly fishing authors have considered the specifically ethical aspect of fishing.  Previously, the fish were oddly left out of the picture, and it was simply the setting of the fly fishing experience that brought one closer to God.

 In the conclusion to his 1959 book, Fishing and Thinking, A.A. Luce plunges much more deeply into the religious dimensions of fishing.  He reflects upon whether is wrong, or even “cruel” to fly fish for enjoyment.  Ultimately, he claims that it is not, as long as the fly fisher keeps his catch with the intent of eating it.  Many contemporary fly fishers, who practice “catch and release,” no doubt disagree with Luce.  Indeed, Luce describes catching quantities of fish so great that it is hard to believe he could eat them all.  Moreover, he laments the decline of his local fisheries, without considering whether or not his fishing contributed to those declines.

Still, there is value in many of Luce’s reflections.  He was, in fact, well prepared as a thinker to write on the topic of religion and fishing.  Luce was a philosopher and chaplain, holding  doctoral degrees in divinity and literature.  He taught at Trinity College, Dublin, where he held numerous chairs in the faculty of Moral Philosophy.  Luce was also a decorated World War I veteran. So, his ethical reflections upon the mortality of fish and the morality of human actions are informed by a very intimate familiarity with matters of life and death.

I offer to the reader the final three passages of Thinking and Fishing, in which the author offers some very general ideas about the relationship between religion, fishing , and ethics.  While many of us take issue with Luce’s opposition to catch-and release fishing, we can certainly agree with him that when we fish in the “right way” (even if we disagree upon what that way is), fishing can be a profoundly meaningful experience.  Following, then, are Luce’s own words:

People mean different things by the word ‘Nature’: some personify Nature; for some, Nature is an impersonal symbol; for some, Nature is an active force; for others, Nature is passive being; for some, Nature means God; for others, not.  But whatever meaning we attach to the term, it is not true that Nature us cruel; and therefore it cannot be true that Nature sets a headline for man’s cruelty.

Angling need not be cruel.  Angling, properly conducted in the spirit of Christian sportsmanship, is not cruel.  If there are cruel forms of angling, if there are cruel practices or tendencies in angling, the anglers concerned cannot plead by way of justification that Nature is cruel and that they in being cruel are acting as their mother’s sons.

Traditional angling for trout and salmon teaches kindness to animals, shows the need for it, and offers a field for cultivating it.  Thoughtful angling should strengthen morale, and not weaken it.  He who fishes in the right way and thinks along right lines can hardly fail to absorb a healthy moral optimism about Nature and her ways.  For nature does nothing idly, makes nothing bad or ugly, and in sternness remembers mercy.  The same can be said in the warmer, no less truthful, language of religion.  Anglers see at close range and in great detail the works and wonders of the Lord.  All His works are good.  He has made everything beautiful in His time, and His tender mercies are over all His works.

Arthur Aston Luce, Fishing and Thinking (Wykey, Shrewsbury, England: Swan Hill Press, 1990), p 191.  Fishing and Thinking was first published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1959

6 Responses to “Fly fishing, Ethics, and Nature”

  1. Gerda Benike Says:

    Hey I found this page searching through the site and interested in living wherever the fishing is close ,having a good cultural diversity helps to feed the brain and I will check back for updates.


  2. Sebastian Suazo Says:

    Hi I was looking for some great lakes to find some bassnear here or in the vicinity,many of my fishing buds have been catching some in stocked fishing ponds but I am looking for bigger water which have lots of different fish,we would like to find a few more places,Ill be back. thanks


  3. Reta Ureta Says:

    Angling is definitely my best loved sport activity,perhaps there is lots of of sites to get quite a few striper within this excellent vicinity besides that consider utilising this kind of technique, the folks I do know in this region haven’t talked about this kind of issue so i have to be in search of an easier way to snatch more. The variety of fish in a lot of these waters all over here appear to nip even a bare hook sometimes however its not necessarily a fish i’m seeking to hook. Thanks with the info and also will probably be eager for your next write-up…


  4. Jimmie Blas Says:

    For sure it really is a shocking thing to manage,must such at any time will definitely be of use in later life I am sure this will likely be described as a lesson in learning. Not ever that has this particular happened together with such good publicity of a wide range of the effects,the fishing may vary but it’s never ever just about one individual due to the fact mother nature is within complete dominance.


  5. kenov Says:

    Whereabouts do you all fish? Each place has its special charm no dbout. I’m currently at my cabin in Montana, reaqquainting myself with the home waters after too long away.

    I fully agree with you Jimmie and Reta, when you say that fishing is not necessarily about hooking a fish (though it’s nice), and that it is never about the individual. To me, fishing is about connecting with a great many things besides myself and the fish.

    I’ve been travelling all summer, but should have new posts soon…


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