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  • August 7th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


A lawyer once sent me an opinion (most opinions I get from lawyers are like those I get from everyone else: “Why don’t you shape up and make something of yourself!”).   This one was different.  It was a court ruling from the Missouri Ozarks, rendered in 1960.  It was the kind of ruling to bring joy to a fisherman and make a woman’s rights advocate foam at the mouth.

        Lowell was asking for a divorce from Minnie because of “indignities.”  Among them was that she interfered with him fishing, hunting and trading livestock with his friends, often lubricated by Ozark painkiller. 

        The court said, “We will agree with respondent in his definition of Stone County freedoms that a husband has a “right” to go fishing.  And we will go further and say that this “right” extends to fishing without the constant and ever-present impediment of female presence and participation, if such be against the will of the husband.”

        Now, please don’t write me those nasty letters with words like “chauvinist pig.”  I didn’t say these things.  The Springfield Court of Appeals did, back in 1960.  “It is a wise wife who accords her husband that freedom–in  moderation–and a foolish wife who interferes,” the judges said.

        But they refused to give Lowell his freedom, saying, “The studied, constant, and repeated interference with that right over a long period of time could be, under certain conditions, an indignity, but two or three or four isolated instances of insistence upon going along, or insistence upon his not going (either fishing or turkey shooting) over a period of six years do not, in and of themselves, constitute a constant and studied course of conduct amounting to indignities which render life intolerable.”

        Of course, we don’t know Lowell’s tolerance level, but I’ll bet he was smokin’ when Minnie started hollering at Lowell *after he got in the car to go fishing”.  Most embarrassing because his friends Doc Young and Sheriff Walker were with him. 

        Sheriff Walker said, “I just don’t know all the words that was said, but there was quite a loud commotion going on, and finally, she told him that if he went on with us that she wouldn’t be there whenever he got back.  And of course he kept telling Doctor and I to drive on, and finally the doctor drove on off and left her.”

        The judges couldn’t help adding, “Note Lowell went on fishing.” Obviously Minnie was there when he got back or he wouldn’t have been trying to shed her in court, but I’ll bet she hided him good about it.  The judges, of course, had the perfect description: “To use a Southern Missouri expression, she wanted to tie the stake rope a little too short.”

        In today’s fishing, of course, it might well be that Minnie would have been the plaintiff, allowing that Lowell wouldn’t let her loose with the bass rig for a night of  jig-and-piggin’ it along the cliffs. 

        I shudder to think what Germaine Greer or one of the more militant feminists would have done to a judge who allowed that Minnie had a “smothering” effect on Lowell and “she no doubt found it difficult to compromise her sense of what was best with any great understanding or comprehension of what her husband’s views, habits, and masculine desires might demand.”

        Talk about asking for N.O.W. knuckle bumps!

        I’m not sure, given the equal rights climate today, that the judges would want their names given (there are large women out there beyond stylish stout, more into massive mauler).  But someone certainly deserves credit for the downright poetic description of an Ozark hillbilly.

        Minnie called Lowell’s relatives hillbillies and the judges decided that was a compliment.

        “An Ozark hillbilly is an individual who has learned the real luxury of doing without the entangling complication of ‘things’ which the dependent and over-pressured city dweller is required to consider as necessities.  The hillbilly foregoes the hard grandeur of high buildings and canyon streets in exchange for wooded hills and verdant valleys.

        “In place of creeping traffic, he accepts the rippling flow of the wandering stream.  He does not hear the snarl of exhaust, the raucous braying of horns and the sharp, strident babble of many tense voices.

        “For him, instead is the measured beat of the katydid, the lonesome far-off complaining of the whippoorwill, perhaps even the sound of a falling acorn in the infinite peace of the quiet woods.

        “The hillbilly is often not familiar with new models, soirees and office politics.  But, he does have the time and surroundings conducive to sober reflection and honest thought, the opportunity to get closer to his God.  No, in southern Missouri, the appellation ‘hillbilly’ is not generally an insult or an indignity; it is an expression of envy.”



                                *              *         *

        Let’s stay with the judicial theme for a moment.  Fishing, like everything, is guided by laws.  America is the land of the free, except when April 15 comes around, and if you don’t like the laws you change them.

        But those are laws that people make and not laws that govern how things happen, the laws of physics. 

        You can’t change the laws of the universe.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Read it–it’s in the book (the one I threw against the wall in my freshman year of college because I couldn’t understand how a-plus-b could equal anything but ab).

        Bass fishing is a natural act, therefore subject to these laws.  What could be more natural than waving an otherwise useless stick that cost more than childbirth at a primitive life form which eats bugs?   We won’t go into the cost of bass boats….

        I have attempted to quantify (notice that scientific jargon) some of the more basic physical fishing laws that you may not be aware of.  But they do exist and they are as immortal as the planets, as immutable as nature.  They are universal truths.  When the sun starts coming up in the west, mosquitoes still will be the thickest and most voracious where you want to fish, and you still invariably will slip and fall noisily into the pool after a half-hour stalk to get into casting position. 

                Some of the other laws:

  1. Fishing success declines proportional to the distance from home you travel and the amount of money you spend. A thousand-mile trip, costing your savings and the eldest of your children will guarantee no fish.  You’ll be lucky if the car doesn’t break down and you don’t acquire an exotic disease that will cause your nose to fall off.
  2. Anglers who always catch more fish than you do and laugh about it should spend eternity being painfully nibbled by bluegills, but they won’t–they’ll just keep on catching more fish than you do and laughing about it. 
  3. Fish always jump on the other side of the river, lake, pond, etc. That is the side of the river that you cannot reach without crossing a bridge at least five miles downstream and hiking through stinging nettle to get to, only to find a seven-year-old boy already there, with a fish laden stringer.
  4. The fly you have on is the wrong one.
  5. The tackle shop is out of the right one.
  6. Dogs have eaten more fine fishing rods than they have cans of dog food. Most of the rods have been mine.
  7. The original code for matching fly lines to rods was formulated by Albert Einstein, and subsequent codes have become even more opaque.
  8. Seasickness is not a problem on a small boat in a large body of water until someone asks if you are prone to seasickness. The someone who is eating summer sausage.
  9. Water is always deeper than your waders
  10. There will be no witnesses when you catch the largest fish ever seen by you or anyone you know. If you keep the fish, no one you know will be home, and will not be expected for several days. The newspaper office will be closed and your camera will be broken.  If you release the fish, people will applaud you…and secretly think you’re lying in your teeth.
  11. If you are fishing with the most obnoxious person you know, the one you would give your first-born to wipe the nose of, he will catch both all the fish and the biggest fish.
  12. If you loan your favorite plug to anyone, kiss it goodbye.  There is no plug smart enough that it can’t be inhaled by a tree. 
  13. The proper retrieve is the one you’re not using.
  14. Fish prefer the colors of the plugs in the tackle box you left at home.
  15. Depth finders show you sandbars just after you’ve run aground on them.
  16. Braided line leads directly to God, while monofiliment tangles downward to Hell. 
  17. A snap swivel is only as strong as the weak link who forgot to shut it.
  18. Bass are easier to catch in the spring unless you’re fishing for them.
  19. The average bass boat costs more than a Somalian gunboat, but is not as hazardous to operate.
  20. Water you wade in invariably is one inch deeper than your hip boots.  And hip boots guaranteed not to leak, will.
  21. The only time you will catch all the fish is when you invite your boss.  You also will hook him in the ear and accidentally drop his tacklebox overboard.
  22. Outboard motors only quit at the farthest point from where you left the car.  The oars you need are back in the garage and the people you wave at, hoping for a tow, will wave back and disappear around the next bend.
  23. The legendary fishing guide you’ve just drawn, the one you instantly like, the one who is going to lead you through the finest fishing trip of your life, that’s the one you are going to hook in the ear on your first cast.
  24. Taking a date fishing is a sure way to end the romance.  You will: (a) Dump your tacklebox on the ground as you go toward the boat, thus giving her your inimitable impression of Stan Laurel; (b) call down from the Heavens the foulest weather in history, leaving as your legacy to her a vicious cold that will linger far past your final date with her; (c) swear at her because she loses your favorite and irreplaceable lure and then, trying unconvincingly to apologize, tell her that, yes, you do love her more than your Bass Hogger, but dammit, the thing had sentimental value! 

        There are many more fishing laws, but you know them.  If you don’t, remember the often-quoted advice: ignorance of the law is no excuse.  Next time you accidentally kick your boss’s new $150 bass rod and reel overboard in 80 feet of water, don’t try to tell him you didn’t know it was a fundamental law of nature that such a thing was bound to happen.

        Or, maybe you can use the law as an excuse.  “Tough noogies, Boss,” you can say, shrugging your shoulders.  “But it was bound to happen.” 

        He’ll understand….

                        *         *         *


        My dear friend, the late famed fishing writer Homer Circle once submitted an article written entirely in rhyme.  The subject was locating ocean fish by watching the actions of circling sea birds.

        “Why, Homer,” said his editors, “It’s obvious you’ve taken a tern for the verse.”






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