Merwin: The Fine Art of Lying

Here are some pointers on the fine art of lying. Remember that to the non-fishing public, fishermen are stereotypically seen as mildly eccentric bumblers who go through all sorts of odd gyrations to outwit a simple, stupid fish. This includes little white lies to periodically exaggerate a catch. My late friend Ed Zern didn't help this impression when he wrote years ago, "Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it."

Sometimes the best way to lie is to tell the truth. If people draw erroneous conclusions in response, that's their problem. For example, suppose you've been bass fishing all day with nothing but a pair of dinky 10-inch smallmouths to show for it.

"Catch anything?" someone asks.

"Nothing over 5 pounds," you respond with a straight face.

You have told the truth. The questioner, meanwhile, might well infer you to have been very successful, albeit without a trophy.

Here's a trout fishing example, which also happens to be a true story. Many years ago, my Dad and I were fishing a long flat pool in New York's fabled Beaverkill. I was at the head of the pool. He was fishing the tailout far below. The was a terrific hatch of something going on, and dozens of trout were rising all over the place. Neither of us figured it out. We didn't catch anything.

Back at camp much later, my mother asked if we'd caught anything. "Well," my Dad said, "we probably had at least a hundred fish between us. Wouldn't you say, John?"

"Oh yeah, Dad," I said. "There were easily a hundred trout between us."

Dad smiled quietly and sat down to light his pipe.