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Heilman: Carefree pursuit of old is getting replaced by hardcore anglers

Mar 11, 2023Mar 11, 2023

"I just want to go fishin’."

So said a certain sports editor over lunch a couple of months ago, when the topic of the Minnesota fishing opener came up. He only wanted to be in a boat with a line in the water. Nothing fancy; just time away with no cares.

And he meant it — that exact phrase was used at least twice.

I get it. And surely there are thousands upon thousands of other Minnesota anglers who get it.

But just as surely, there are many who do not.

They want to go fishing.

Did I lose you? Look closely. I contend that fishing and fishin’ are not the same thing.

"What the heck is the difference?" you may ask. I’ve been pondering that myself for some time.

As a writer, I have been a part of what they call the "outdoor industry" for a little more than five years. At the turn of the century, I worked in fishing retail for a couple of years. Combined with a lifetime of being a marginally addicted fisherman, it all helps bring the picture into focus.

Fishing, so far as I can tell, has become a high-dollar, high-stakes pursuit. It typically means hitting the water with one species in mind.

Driving long distances to get to lakes or rivers is common.

Boats are required, with motors that sometimes have more horsepower than the truck that tows them.

Fishing clothes are trim and clean, gear is plentiful, and boats are colorful.

Bass tournaments are positively the epitome of fishing.

By contrast, fishin’ is local, low-tech, and low stress. It's what we do from shores, docks and old aluminum boats.

Fishin’ folk typically intend to eat what they catch, usually "whatever's biting." Little in the way of gear is required, and emphasis is on the outing rather than what ends up on a hook.

In case you can't tell, I fall on the fishin’ side of the line far more often than not. It definitely suits my sensibilities, if not my abilities.

As time passes, I feel more and more left behind by the fishing crowd.

Not that I’m complaining.

For one thing, an air of tribalism has settled over the fishing scene. It's not as ugly as in politics, but it's there.

Lines are drawn between species. Sometimes anglers are also divided by method: ice, open water, kayak, fly angling, etc.

By that measure, fishing is too narrow for me. My personality requires I constantly mix things up.


usually means going after what's in season (it will soon be time to head to my secret catfish spot), and the possibility of having fish for dinner is normally part of the equation.

Not so for the fishing crowd. A bass angler is quite unlikely to devote a day to targeting muskies. Musky anglers are not the type to sit and wait for catfish. Serious catfishermen lose sleep — literally — over the next rod-breaking river beast, and little else.

None of the above will admit to eating anything they catch, ever, thank you very much.

Another hallmark of modern fishing is the equipment and the way we talk about it. For instance, few still speak of "hooks" or "baits." Everything today is billed as a "rig" or "system."

You’d never dream these days of using those implements to find where fish are, or "what they’re bitin’ on." You use your fishing systems to "pattern" them.

If you said fishing gear had its own PR agent, you’d be right. I know several.

Such a frenzy over equipment has arisen that it would be easy to think a guy with a pole and a can of worms was out of his mind. More so if any of his accoutrements were older than the worms in the can.

Sadly, some wouldn't be shy about pointing it out.

One of the great things about fishin’ is that gear shaming is virtually nonexistent. I never have to worry about getting the side eye when I show up to a fishin’ hole with my 1980s-era tackle box and fiberglass rod.

And nobody is going to question my off-the-wall lure choices.

Any questions are more apt to sound like, "Hey, whatcha got in there that works?" Or, "You got a split shot I could borrow?"

The song of my people.

Before you sit down to write a tersely worded email, be assured I know not everybody falls into one of two categories. I acknowledge my generalizations sometimes border on caricature.

But you must admit that with all the fishing messaging and marketing out there, fishin’ is losing its rightful place in our lives. It doesn't have sponsors or tournaments, after all.

My fear is that the art of exercising patience while watching the sun rise will soon be relegated to our collective memory.

So, who will sing the virtues of sitting on a bank and shooting the breeze with your kids?

Other than Trace Adkins, I will. And I encourage you to do the same if you can.

Then do it. Bring a buddy. Tell wild stories. Find the right combination of tired, dirty, and sunburned.

Don't go home until you’re a better person than when you came.

If you plan on spending this season fishing, knock yourself out. I sincerely hope you have a great time. Besides, as it was pointed out repeatedly during the Governor's Fishing Opener, there is a multi-billion dollar industry counting on you.

In the event that you can't tell whether you’re fishin’ or fishing, I have developed a (highly sophisticated and scientifically proven) flowchart to help you know the difference. It's currently pinned to the top of my website,

No matter where the waves take you this season, stay safe and have fun. May your lines stay wet, your beer stay cold, and your kids learn how to tell the best tales.

Roy Heilman is an outdoorsman, writer, musician, and ethnic Minnesotan. His adventures take him all over the map, but he's always home at

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