SOMETHING I wasn’t expecting in the slightest took place this week. That something is the opening of applications for fishing permits for Burnham Park’s lake, where all the boats are.

Color me surprised here – I hadn’t expected that water, colored and unmoving as it was, to have fish in it, much less be a fishing spot. The lake is enclosed on all sides, the water flows nowhere, and it is far too unclear to see the bottom – what lies in those depths?

Could there be plants? Algae, most likely, but is there an actual, genuine and thriving ecosystem in those waters that have long been consigned to merely being the play-space of the local tourist-centric boat economy? It got me thinking.

The more I thought about it, the less I understood, and the more my mind went to other places. The fishing story had me hook, line and sinker, but just like the policy enforced by the government, it was catch and release. 

First, I was reminded of the one time I went fishing. It was a slow and patience-requiring activity, one that my juvenile self, with its limited attention span – something that has remained to date – struggled to perform. But perform it I did.

This was on a leisure trip with my family, back in simpler times when the family was whole, before the cracks began to show, and also back when I was living somewhere where the temperature was muggy by default.

I remember somehow catching a small pufferfish, then small enough to fit in my young hands. To this day I believe that I actually did not catch anything unlike my brother, and that the people running the fishing activity simply somehow sleight-of-handed me a pufferfish to take home.

That fish died, to the surprise of absolutely no one. 

But I do wonder – while such a fate, to languish and perish at the hands of an ill-equipped child armed with nothing but a plastic bag and tap water, is undeniably cruel, I wonder what the fish would think of catch and release. Would they learn to distrust any of the food that wriggles in the water, fearing being brought out into the open air, to flail and choke as the fishers posed with their prize for pictures?

Fishing for food, I can understand. In the grand scheme of things, we are still part of the food chain, and very often the top of it, and those “beneath” us have no choice but to surely perish as sustenance for us.

But fishing for leisure is one I struggle with, especially catch and release. Where lies the satisfaction in it? Is it in the assertion of our dominance over those lower than us on the hierarchy? Is there some sense of schadenfreude as we see the fish outside of its element, at our will, at our behest? What thoughts of wanton cruelty lie in our subconscious, that jolts our pleasure centers when we yank the fish out of its home and into our territory?

Or am I overthinking it? Is it possible that it is entirely natural, now that we have no need for it for the purposes of survival, to engage in an activity once known as a necessity but sans the pressure and burden of need? Is it simply leisure for leisure’s sake?

And of course, the next thought is – what next can we commodify or simplify for leisure? Fishing for leisure is now here. Urban gardening – while mostly for food, still has some outliers who participate in the activity for the simple peace of mind that plant-raising can offer. 

What will be next to catch our fancies as a people?


(Angel Castillo writes the bi-weekly column Verhungern as well as this informational bit in third person. For responses or thoughts, email the dedicated email address.)