Big fish! Just saying those words triggers a basic gut-level response in most anglers. It seems that they bring out the best and worst of fishermen all over the world.
A recent TV commercial states that “fishermen tell tales; that’s what they do!” as an excited angler tells some old salts on the dock about landing a monster fish after hours of fighting the beast. Funny, in the end, the so-called monster turns out to be an ordinary-sized fish the angler is completely embarrassed about! Why is this so close to the truth, I wondered, while laughing out loud the last time I watched the commercial that harpoons anglers.
I think that most of us come from competitive backgrounds, where winning is the object of whatever passion you follow. The thing about fishing is that there isn’t always someone there to verify the accuracy of the facts (err tale!), allowing the previously unrealized artistic license of the angler to flow unfettered. It’s been my experience that imagination fueled by a strong desire to be taken seriously by your peers is a cocktail that’s hard to ignore.
I also think we’ve all felt the call at some time in our fishing careers to slightly inflate the story to improve our credibility, as well as trying to keep pace with the incredible stories our buddies and competition are circulating. Of course, the random, but tantalizing, thought of “one-upping” someone else’s fish – or story – would never occur to most anglers. Not! It’s such a common thing, it’s almost hard to get another fisherman to really believe you really did catch the fish and it actually was weighed in front of a credible witness to be 13 pounds. Whew!
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Then to compound the issue even further is the subject of big-fish pictures! It’s an art to be able to make a small fish grow to gargantuan proportions while not giving away too many clues that tell you it’s nowhere near the size they told you. I recently was looking at a “bragging board” that had a picture of a guy holding a decent striper. Across the front of the picture he had written that it weighed 40 pounds and signed it in big letters. The poor fish wasn’t hardly 22 pounds, let alone 40! You ever try lifting up a 40 without grimacing, plus his hand in its gills gave it away totally – 40s are usually massive fish, but most folks don’t see that many big fish to know the difference, and this one was far from being massive. Like many, I don’t gainsay a little fudging, but this was pure robbery! No wonder the average Joe asks me if I have any good fish stories (lies!) to tell.
Adding on forgotten “facts” to completely round out an epic story as it’s retold later is an art and a science all by itself. The only real hedge against rampant memory enhancement are the angler spouses who get to hear the story over and over, giving them enough fuel to give an accurate “exaggeratometer” rating! I love talking to spouses, because they’re not afraid to expose deliberately forgotten things the perpetrator conveniently left out in their stories – the ones I’ve heard for years. In some cases I think it’s retribution for having to listen to the fisherman’s baloney for so long, and they want someone else to know the truth, too! My wife knows better … I think?
Yes, the big-fish syndrome starts at an early age. Try asking any little kid about the biggest fish he’s ever caught and it’s almost always the widest distance he can hold his little hands apart. Funnier still is when their friend, who’s never caught a fish, tells me he’s going to catch a bigger one than his buddy – and he can barely talk!
The real problem is when you really do have something spectacular happen and no one believes you anymore. Everyone wants to catch the big one … someday! It’s the dream. Never give up!