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Mares: Coolidge on fishing

04/17/09 7:55AM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) As fishing season gets underway again this spring, commentator Bill Mares thinks it's a good time to remember that President Calvin Coolidge had some memorable fishing adventures during his five years in the White House.

(MARES) Today it's inconceivable that a President could take months for vacation; yet in the summers of 1926, ‘27 and ‘28, Coolidge left Washington for stays of six weeks, two months, and almost three months in the Adirondacks, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the Brule River in northern Wisconsin.

Although Coolidge had been only a desultory angler as a boy, his Secret Service chief, Edmund Starling, vowed to teach him fishing in general and fly-fishing in particular.  In the lures he chose, Coolidge was no elitist; he used both worms and flies.  Moreover, he lived up to his waste-not/want-not reputation.  Once, on the Brule River, he asked the guide if he should use a sinker. "No," he was told, "the weight of the worm would keep the hook down."

"Well, then shall I use the whole worm, or break it in half?"   

"Oh, put on the whole worm," the guide said, "And make sure the ends wiggle."
 
Even in Coolidge’s day, the inclination of fishermen to lie was widely known. As a fishing politician, he was doubly suspect.  Therefore, when he caught seven trout in the Black Hills one day, he displayed them proudly because, as the New York Times reported, "...scarcely anyone believes a fisherman, and the President therefore thinks it is wise to produce the actual evidence."   

However, while researching my book about presidential fishing, I heard a different tale.  In West Yellowstone, Wyoming, I talked to Wally Eagle, whose family  has owned an outfitting store there for over eighty years.  In the summer of 1927, his father was fishing near the President’s party in Yellowstone Park.  Wally's dad caught a mess of trout, but when he asked one the President’s guides about the First Angler’s luck, he learned that Coolidge had been skunked.  So he gave the guide a few of his trout for the President.

Later in the day, after Coolidge had given a speech at the Old Faithful Inn, he was asked, "How was the fishing?"  

"Well," said the President, "I've always heard that you judge a fisherman by the contents of his creel."  Thereupon he displayed the shimmering fish to his audience.  As Wally Eagle remarked, "No one ever asked the President if HE caught the fish!"  

Political cartoonists love to use non-political activities to illustrate political events; so when Coolidge opted out of the 1928 presidential campaign, Washington Star Cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew Coolidge in a Chippewa canoe with a fishing pole at the ready, saying, "Choosing to run isn’t as restful as this."

Coolidge knew that his fishing enthusiasm exceeded his ability.  But he still longed for membership in the fraternity.  During his stay in Wisconsin Coolidge once lost a fish.   As Starling wrote, "I heard the President say, 'Damn!'  Then he turned to me and, with a shy smile, said, 'Guess I’m a real fisherman now. I cussed.'"
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