Obituaries and Fish

May 20, 2004 By: Marshall Cutchin

Obituaries, both historical and current, turn up primal, sometimes curious, connections between people and fish.
I’m not surprised as I read the news every day that fly fishing ranks right up there with Masonic allegiance, layperson service and barbecuing (America’s #1 recreation) in the list of things that are prominent in the remembrance of people’s lives. Its noting adds a flavor of simplicity.
The daily news also causes me to think about the re-birth of the sport of fly fishing just before and after World War II. Perhaps there’s an urge hidden in those times that we’ve yet to uncover, whatever led folks to go poke around a nearby spring creek or take a bus down the Florida Keys. Maybe it was as simple as the recent invention of plastics. Or there may have been desperation in it, an acceptance that things might not turn out as well as we had hoped. Or some clairvoyance about what’s important. Whatever the source, for a generation, fishing was the best alternative, and some place remote was the best place to do it.
A surprising number of the obituaries of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans carry the same thread: they loved to fly fish (especially those in the special forces) and they longed to return to it.
Many anglers have heard of the USS Swordfish, probably because it was one of the first nuclear-powered submarines. When I ran across mention of the first USS Bonefish, a Gato class submarine sunk by the Japanese on the 18th of June, 1945, it led to a list of WW II U.S. Naval vessels named after anglers’ quarries: the USS Bass, the USS Trout, sunk with all hands on the 17th of April, 1944, the first USS Snook, lost with all hands on the 8th of April, 1945, the USS Shad, the USS Pike, the USS Tarpon. There are others I’m sure I haven’t yet found. The curiousity is that only submarines received the names of fish, and only — apparently — somewhat glamorous, somewhat wild fish. No doubt engraved in their commmissioning was a desire to go home.