Random Facts About … Some of the Greatest Fish Stories Ever

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By David Martin —

Our internet tubes yielded some good facts about fishing — but you should’ve seen the ones that got away. Huge!

Archeological discoveries show that humans have been eating fish, and presumably fishing, for hundreds of thousands of years. Means to catch fish have evolved from snatching a fish from the water with bare hands to the panoply of modern equipment that’s available to anglers today. This $7.4 billion annual fishing equipment business works out to be about $150 per fishing person. Add in licenses, trips, and other fishy stuff and the total annual expenditure tops $50 billion.

Caves in southern France depict art dating 16,000 years ago that shows people fishing with poles that had barbed ends. Ancient tribes in North America and elsewhere used plant toxins to stun fish that could then be collected by hand. Fishing nets, made of everything from strips of bark to twisted grass, have also been used for millennia.

With fishing being such an intricate part of human life for so many thousands of years, it’s no surprise that fishing themes have become ubiquitous throughout civilization. One class of Roman gladiator was fish-based. The Myrmillo gladiator wore a fish-shaped helmet and carried a short sword while the Retiarius gladiator, without a helmet, carried a trident and a net. Throw the net around your opponent and then stick him with your trident.

Fishing themes abound in the Bible. Jesus instructs his disciples where to cast their nets and, after following his instructions, they brought in more fish than they’d ever seen even though the same area had yielded no fish previously. It was also two fish (and five loaves of bread) that Jesus multiplied to feed more than 5,000 people. Although a whale is not a fish, perhaps the most famous fish story in the Bible is that of Johah being swallowed by a whale and spending three days in the whale before Jonah was coughed up, alive and repentant.

“Moby Dick,” another nonfish fish story, is considered by many to be the greatest American novel. Written by Herman Melville in 1851, this book about a whale-obsessed sea captain sold, during the author’s life, more poorly than any other Melville book. In the U.S., the book earned Melville under $600. For 100 times that amount, today you can pick up a first edition of “Moby Dick.”

You could tell a whopper of a fish story if you ever caught a Mekong giant catfish, native to Southeast Asia where some of these 8- or 9-foot leviathans top 600 pounds. Bass are smaller, of course, but are prized as a game fish. The largemouth bass will try to eat anything it can fit in its mouth. A Field and Stream magazine story told of a fisherman on an Arkansas lake who saw a huge largemouth bass that seemed to be unable to get below the surface. Investigating, the fisherman found that the bass’s previous meal, a shad, was big enough that it had lodged in the bass’s gullet and then swelled up, making the bass so buoyant, it couldn’t get below the surface and was doomed. The fisherman pulled the shad out, allowing the largemouth bass to swim away.

The rescuing angler threw the dead shad back into the lake, and we wonder if the largemouth bass was tempted to give it another go. Based on our experience with a Dairy Queen Dilly Bar, we would advise the bass: Don’t do it!

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