By Ken Schultz
Much has been made about the fact that the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, is an avid angler. Likewise, the Fonz, actor Henry Winkler, has been profiled for his angling enthusiasm, most recently on the CBS Sunday Morning show in January. Both Gorsuch and Winkler are trout and fly fishing devotees, and pretty serious about the sport.
I thought about those two personalities when
I came across a book in my library that I’d been dubious about when it was first published circa 2005. That was Dave Strege’s Celebrity Fish Talk. It was a good read, mainly focusing on the mishaps and triumphs, adventures and misadventures of anglers who happen to be entertainment, sports, or political celebrities.
There was no pontificating on the joys of the sport or the need for profiled individuals to use fishing as an escape (which is probably true enough but not necessary to recount). It contained lots of vignettes on moments - defining moments, unusual moments, family moments, memorable moments - that occur to people who fish.
Not all of the people included in Celebrity Fish Talk actually enjoyed fishing. Jay Leno called fishing “a nap with a stick,” but the account of him trying to impress his father by bringing home some dead fish from a drained-out lake is pretty amusing. And the book is not full of stories about heroic catches. The account by Vince Gill of hooking a dog was funny and rang true to me, since I’ve accidentally hooked one dog and two cats. The tale of Meat Loaf taking over 4 hours to land a foul-hooked hammerhead that looked like it was much bigger because of the way it came up is one that a lot of anglers can identify with. How many of us have thought we had “the record” when it turned out to be something less astounding?
The book was really a collection of well-told fishing tales and interesting experiences of anglers who happen to be politicians, athletes, actors, and musicians. It could have been about any angler talking about fishing.
That said, I learned a long time ago that serious anglers don’t really care about celebrities who fish. I was once at a book industry trade show, waiting in a large booth to speak with a publisher. The show was crowded and a mass of people were moving down the aisle toward me, headed by then Congressional House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. As he came by he stuck out his hand, we shook, and then I said, “I’m a staff writer for Field & Stream, and I’ve been to your state many times and enjoyed some good fishing there.”
“The guy you want to talk to about that,” said Gingrich, “is Dick Armey. He’s a bass fisherman.” Then he moved on. Armey, of Texas, was the Majority Leader of the House.
I chuckled. No, I thought, I don’t want to speak to Dick Armey about fishing. Who cares what Dick Armey thinks about fishing?
I didn’t even care what Gingrich thought about fishing. I was just making a connection.
Shortly after, I was speaking with a public relations professional who was very experienced in the tourism field. She was relatively new to the world of fishing, however.
We were discussing a fishing promotion that she was considering for one of her clients, the idea being to help attract anglers to a certain destination. She asked me what I thought about using sports or entertainment world celebrities to endorse and advocate for that location.
Unequivocally I told her that it was a bad idea. Anglers, I said, don’t give a hoot if a “star” goes fishing. They are not induced to go somewhere just because a “star” endorses it or will be there at a certain time. They are not swayed by the opinion of a prominent baseball player or a movie actor when it comes to fishing because, for an angler, it’s all about the fishing. Celebrities have no special standing when it comes to this subject.
Furthermore, I said, everybody knows their face and voice is bought, which makes them suspect, and besides, when I was at Field & Stream several times over the years they ran features about celebrities enjoying the outdoors – Jack Nicklaus and Bing Crosby came to mind – and those articles were not well received. Having celebrities on the cover of that magazine did nothing positive for newsstand sales either.
The editors even got letters from subscribers who said, “Please use the space that you wasted on telling me how Jack Nicklaus enjoys fishing to help me be a better fisherman, or to catch more trout.” That was the general sentiment. In other words, stick to the fishing and leave the stars-at-play-stuff to People magazine.
But both of those episodes happened over two decades ago. Interest in celebrities was escalating then and has certainly increased even more today. We are undeniably living in a celebrity-crazed world. The general media fuels this as long as the public buys in.
I don’t get it. I wouldn’t walk across a small room to get a celebrity’s autograph (unless it was on a check), and I certainly don’t care what they think (or are paid to say) about products or services. Nor am I much interested in what celebrities think about fishing.
But it’s clear to me that more people are interested in celebrities today than there used to be. So I’m guessing that a celebrity endorsement today might actually draw more attention and traffic to a particular destination. Which is exactly why I’d go in the opposite direction.
Thanks for checking out my blog commentary on all things fishing-related. Please follow, share, and enjoy, but make sure you get out on the water as often as possible. Good fishing!
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