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Carlson: Shoes of the fisherman

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The late Australian novelist Morris L. West was known to his fans as a writer on Catholic Church matters. Since he spent 12 years in his youth in a Christian Brothers monastery his focus is understandable.

Several of his fine novels were turned into movies such as The Devils Advocate and The Shoes of the Fisherman with the latter featuring Anthony Quinn as the first Slavic pope (ten years before Karol Wotyla was chosen Pope).

West reinforces Catholic dogma and gives novelistic support to the important concept of “Apostolic Succession,” the idea that Christ made Peter the first Pope and the line is unbroken since that time. Implicitly he reinforces respect for the Magisterium (the rules of the Club as a friend calls it) as well as one’s local bishop or archbishop.

The choice this week was whether to provide an additional insight into the Conference of Catholic Bishop’s wading into a trap deliberately and cynically laid for them or to write about something else West wrote which will resonate with more Idahoans.

In a lesser known work, Summer of the Red Wolf, he writes about another type of fisherman:

“They are all fanatics, though in a quiet, monomanic fashion that makes them agreeable enough to live with. Some of them have obtained a high degree of mysticism so that they can endure for days and weeks without women and with very little food or drink. They worship always in solitary places: by dark pools and mountain streams and hidden arms of the sea. They are jealous of these private shrines and apt to be hostile to intruders. They measure salvation by the pound, and the merit of a man by his skill with a fighting fish. You will recognize them by their ruddy, patient faces and their faraway eyes and the coloured flies stuck on their hats. They have a discipline of silence and of secrecy and they train their neophytes with constant admonition and frequent humiliation. They would submit to martyrdom rather than use a gill net, and some of them mourn the old days when a poacher could be legally killed with a spring gun or exiled to the Colonies for taking a trout from another man’s water.”

Idaho Fish and Game best read the above carefully. If one thinks the Catholic bishops in their ignorance of the real world have generated controversy with passion on both sides, then wait and see sparks fly by attending a March 22nd Fish and Game public session in Coeur d’Alene on possible changes in north Idaho fishery rules regarding allowing a limited daily take of cutthroat over 14 inches.

There, the agency will expand on its suggestion that “catch and release” programs on the St. Joe River and on the branches of the Coeur d’Alene have been so successful a harvest of cutthroat should be allowed.

Heaven help them. They are going to be overrun by the above mentioned monomanical fanatics who will resort to violence if the ban on regular catch and release fishing is lifted regardless of how many scientific facts are presented suggesting such a take is sustainable.

It is now a part of the fly fisherman’s operating creed that whatever he or she catches is to be released back into the river. If that means larger fish over 14 inches become more frequent so much the better.

Catch and release has been wonderfully successful in restoring cutthroat numbers across streams in Idaho. Anglers now come from all over the world to fish and spend money while doing so. Opponents are going to argue “why mess with success?” They will have a point.

Less there be any doubt, Fly Fisherman #1 in Idaho, former Governor Cecil Andrus, is credited by many with the successful cutthroat restoration on one of Idaho’s jewel stretches of water, Kelly Creek, by backing imposition of catch and release.

As one who flails away during the summer on the St. Joe and/or the forks of the Coeur d’Alene, stalking the wily cutthroat, often with my fishing bud, Father Steve Dublinski, we both can attest to the joy instilled by a day on the water.

Frankly, we both will join the chorus of those opposing any take whatsoever, and hope there will be hundreds greeting Idaho Fish and Game when they convene their meeting.

And candidly, this is a more enjoyable discussion about the “shoes of the fisherman” than trying to fathom what the Catholic Conference of Bishops is doing with lead feet and tone deaf ears wading into the tragic conflict between two valid rights in an election year. It cannot help exacerbating the deepening conflict between the proper role of church and state in our pluralistic society.

I don’t pretend to know the answer but I do know which “option” I wanted to write about.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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