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Grover Cleveland Wants More American Fishermen

Published: March 12, 2011

Next year, the U.S. Mint will issue four new presidential $1 coins for three men. Grover Cleveland will appear on two of the coins because he won non-consecutive elections in 1885 and 1893.

Maybe the distinction of appearing on two separate coins will make President 22 and 24 a little more memorable. He’s already known among historians as one our most honest presidents. He was the only president to be married in the White House. He was an avid hunter and fisher, and he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post—distinction enough for anyone.

In 1901, the Post printed his “Defense of Fishermen,” in which Cleveland rose to protect the honor of the American angler. Critics, he claimed, were unjustly accusing fishermen (there is no mention of fishing women) of  “certain shortcomings and faults”: laziness, profanity, and dishonesty.

What sense is there in the charge of laziness sometimes made against true fishermen? Laziness has no place in the constitution of a man who starts at sunrise and tramps all day with only a sandwich to eat, floundering through bushes and briers and stumbling over rocks or wading streams in pursuit of elusive trout. Neither can a fisherman who, with rod in hand, sits in a boat or on a bank all day be called lazy—provided he attends to his fishing and is physically and mentally alert at his occupation.

What about all that swearing and rough language? Oh, the President replies, you mean

the sudden ejaculations, outwardly resembling profanity, which are occasionally wrung from fishermen in trying crises and moments of soul-straining unkindness by Fate.

I like that “outwardly resembling.”

Fishing imposes a self-restraint and patient forbearance upon its advanced devotees which tend to prevent sudden outbursts of feeling. It must be admitted, however, that when the largest trout of the day winds the leader about a snag and escapes after a long struggle, or when a large salmon or bass, suddenly, by an unexpected and vicious leap, frees himself from the hook, the fisherman’s code of morals will not condemn the holder of the straightened rod if he impulsively, but with all the gentility at his command [italics added], exclaims: ” Damn that fish!”

It is probably better not to speak at all; but if strong words are to be used perhaps these will serve as well as any that can do justice to the occasion.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of… well, lying to put it bluntly.

It must, of course, be admitted that large stories of fishing adventure are sometimes told by fishermen—and why should this not be so? There is no sphere of human activity so full of strange and wonderful incidents as theirs. Fish are constantly doing the most mysterious and startling things; and no one has yet been wise enough to explain their ways or account for their conduct.

The best fishermen do not attempt it; they move and strive in the atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty. In these circumstances fishermen necessarily see and do wonderful things.

If non-fishers can’t assimilate the recital of these wonders, it is because their believing apparatus has not been properly regulated and stimulated.

Take, for example, those incredible stories of “the one that got away”—that one enormous fish that somehow, miraculously, elude the angler. What of it? Cleveland would reply.

It is perfectly plain that large fish are more apt to escape than small ones. Their weight and activity, combined with the increased trickiness and resourcefulness of age and experience, greatly increase their ability to tear out the hook, or expose a fatal weakness in hook, leader, line or rod.

In many cases the encounter with a large fish causes such excitement, and such distraction or perversion of judgment, as leads the fisherman to do the wrong thing at the critical instant—thus contributing to an escape.

Beyond these presumptions, we have the deliberate and simple story of the fisherman himself, giving with the utmost sincerity all the details of his misfortune, and indicating the length of the fish he has lost, or giving in pounds his exact weight. Now why should this statement he discredited?

I think the ex-president is having fun with us. Hard to say. Certainly he is being serious when he writes—

the real worth and genuineness of the human heart are measured by its readiness to submit to the influences of Nature, and to appreciate the goodness of the Supreme Power.In this domain those who fish are led to a quiet but distinct recognition of a power greater than man’s, and a goodness far above human standards.

Amid such surroundings, no true fisherman can fail to receive impressions which so elevate the soul and soften the heart as to make him a better man.

Cleveland’s conclusion: Fishing is good for the soul and good for the country.

A Defense of Fishermen, by Grover Cleveland

The President wrote this article for the Post in 1901.

In these sad and ominous days of mad fortune-chasing, every patriotic, thoughtful citizen, whether he fishes or not, should lament that we have not among our countrymen more fishermen.

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  • Ima Ryma

    I, President Grover Cleveland,
    Hereby proclaim fishing to be
    The sport that I best understand
    When politics gets too fishy.
    About the one that got away.
    The tales of such do not cost much.
    But lies politicians do say
    Look for a pocketbook to touch.
    Swearing while fishing is no sin.
    The fish have heard it all before.
    But cheating by those voted in
    Have gotten me so sore, I swore.

    Fishing’s good for a President
    To get away from government.