President Hoover, Fly Fishing, and Rejuvenation

Copyright 2012, Kenneth H. Lokensgard

Herbert Clark Hoover was the thirty-first President of the United States.  He held the office from 1929-1933.  Prior to his presidency, he was Secretary of Commerce.  Hoover was raised a Quaker, and he was often involved with major humanitarian causes during his adult life.  However, he is primarily remembered as the president who failed to bring the United States out of the Great Depression.

In office and out, Hoover led a rich private life, which included writing and fly fishing.  In his later years, just shortly before his passing in 1964, he wrote Fishing for Fun, and to Wash your Soul.  His Quaker background shows in many of the book’s passages.  Also, consciously or not, he echoes the ideas penned by Isaac Walton and Juliana Berners (or whoever authored The Treatyse on Fysshing with an Angle) centuries before about the potential spiritual value of fishing:

Strong primary instincts–and they are useful instincts–get rejuvenation by a thrust into a simpler life.  For instance, we do not catch fish in the presence of, or by methods of, our vast complex of industrialism, nor in the luxury of summer hotels, nor through higher thought, for that matter.  In our outdoor life we get repose from the troubles of the soul that this vast complex of civilization imposes upon us in our working hours and our restless nights.  Association with the placid ripples of waves and the quiet chortle of the streams is soothing to our “het-up” anxieties.[1]

Certainly, I agree with Hoover that fly fishing can soothe one’s anxieties.  I appreciate, too, his emphasis upon the technological simplicity of the pastime.  I just returned from an enjoyable few days in the mountains with my wife, daughter, dog, and fly fishing tackle.  The trip was soothing indeed.  I fished with a Scott F703/3 and a Hardy Flyweight.  This fiberglass rod and this spring-and-pawl reel are my favorite outfit.  No doubt, Hoover would approve, if he were around to do so.


I would be misleading the reader, however, if I implied that fly fishing trips for me are only  occasional escapes from the “vast complex of civilization.”  I have to admit, as well, that I sometimes rely upon pieces tackle that some people might consider to be products of the “complex of industrialism.”  A few weeks ago, I spent a week fishing for trevallies and jacks in Hawaii.  Shortly after that, I did a bit of inland striper fishing in North Carolina.  In both cases, I used a Scott graphite rod and a new large-arbor reel.  These almost end-to-end trips, though, were every bit as meaningful to me as my latest foray in the mountains.  Thus, I’m fairly certain that Hoover would begrudge neither the frequency of my fishing, nor my occasional choice of less traditional tackle.


My own fly fishing aside, I find it fascinating that even men like Herbert Hoover – men who were or are the very shapers of “civilization,” find spiritual value in simple pursuits such as fly fishing. Ultimately, however, Hoover and the other fly fishing presidents (most famously, Jimmy Carter) are hardly representative of the world’s elite.  Perhaps if more of them sought “repose from the troubles of the soul,” civilization would be in better shape.  Then again, I might be over-romanticizing my beloved sport; fly fishing didn’t seem to help Hoover’s presidency much.


[1] Herbert Hoover, Fishing for Fun, and to Wash your Soul (New York: Random House, 1963), 20.

2 Responses to “President Hoover, Fly Fishing, and Rejuvenation”

  1. Erin Block Says:

    I am certain that our civilization would be in better shape if more people sought “repose from the troubles of the soul,” as you (and Hoover) describe. Wonderful thoughts and writing — I am so glad to have found your blog…I’ll be reading along!


  2. kenov Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Erin. I hope to update the blog more often than I have in the past. I spent some time on your blog just yesterday, and I enjoyed it very much. I’ll be checking in their regularly too.


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