Fishermen: Are they athletes?

Everyone would agree that the participants in professional football, basketball and baseball — along with many other sports — are athletes. The time and dedication put into practicing and the physical training to compete at the highest levels have been chronicled many times for the big stick and ball sports and for track and field events. For years, though, I've wondered if fishermen were athletes.

I've fished for most of my life and played football for some of those years. While there are some differences, there is more in common. For the most part you're not knocking each other around while fishing (though I have seen times….). But much of the same physical and mental attributes which make a good football player also make a good fisherman.

Webster defines an athlete as "a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina."

We have all watched as a long pass is completed and thought of the hand-eye coordination it takes to throw the ball to a place where the receiver will be when the ball arrives. The ball must pass over several defenders and fly to a small target where it can only be caught by the receiver. It's not an easy thing to do, and even the most successful professionals only accomplish it about half the time.

Now think about casting six feet under a boat dock that's a foot and a half off the water while standing in a moving boat, steering with one foot and standing on the other.

Both the pass and the cast take hours of practice and persistence developing the “touch” to get the job done. To become a good fisherman it takes hours of practice to develop the coordination and agility to make the precise cast time after time without wasting time on errant casts, just as it takes hours of practice to make the pass without too often having it fall uselessly to the turf or harmfully into the hands of a defender.

You might ask, “What about strength and stamina? Most of us can run or ride a bike, but that doesn't mean we're ready for a marathon or the Tour de France." Of course, those are pretty extreme examples. Most sporting competitions aren't nearly so demanding.

In fact, most games last only an hour or two. There are time outs and halftimes. I have yet to fish a tournament where I could call a time out. Remember the guy making casts under the dock on one foot? Well, he's doing that for eight hours almost continuously. And when he's not on his foot casting, he's probably being battered around by waves driving across a lake or getting up and down from his driving the boat.

Then there is the often overlooked mental game of tournament fishing — knowing your opponent, knowing yourself, the tendencies and abilities of all involved, and being able to put together a plan to use all of this in a winning strategy. Fishing is a little different from other sports because you have so many opponents — not the least of which is the bass itself. There are the other fishermen you have to beat and the fish which you have to catch. Very little is defined. The "field" is tens of thousands of acres. The goal line and goalposts are hidden. And, oh yea, you have no coach — you're all on your own!

Until I fished the Elite Series, I questioned whether fishermen were athletes. After fishing at that level for a season, I had my answer.

I began playing football in the third grade. Was I an athlete then? No — absolutely not. It took years to develop my skills before I became an athlete. I believe this is true for fishing, too.

It takes years of dedicated practice to develop the skills to be a true athlete. As we become more proficient, many of us move into the athlete category. Every one of the Elite anglers is a professional and an athlete because he has put in the time developing his skills, building the strength and stamina, and studying to make himself proficient at the sport. Other athletes in other sports do much the same thing on their way to the peak of their sport.

Many of us are content playing touch football or fishing for fun in a club. Along the way, I hope we've all become better sportsmen.