It is surprising how much bad weather a fisherman runs into. Even if he comes back from a trip with a nice tan and no fish only a cynic would doubt his gloomy reports of contrary weather. Everyone else knows that the American angler is a man of great skill and veracity. And if he says that this winter is the worst he can remember, and he is saying it right now loudly and at length, then it must be so. As it happens, the record bears him out.
The winter of 1957-58 has indeed visited an unprecedented multitude of meteorological indignities on fish and fishermen alike in the country's customarily warm winter fishing belt—and in one area that is supposed to be cold and isn't.
For the past three months from South Carolina through the Gulf Coast a succession of cold waves, winds and rains have packed black bass anglers off to their lakes and bayous in duck hunting clothes and left salt water anglers on the dock. In South Carolina normally spunky weakfish are so groggy with cold that they can almost be picked out of the water by hand.
Florida, however (along with the hundreds of thousands of fishermen who converge there every winter), has been hardest hit of all. Since November the Gulf Stream has been as hospitable as the Northwest Passage. During that month it rained 11.88 inches in Florida, or 9.72 inches above normal. On December 12 a cold front moved southward and the state froze. New Year's Day produced a northeaster with tragic overtones. The yacht Revonoc went down, presumably with all hands (SI, Jan. 20). Florida froze again on January 9, February 4 and 13. It has snowed with arctic vigor at least twice. Northers have rarely moderated, and Florida's sport fishing industry has lapsed into frozen and frustrated inactivity. Dockmaster A. M. Ascott at Miami's normally teeming Pier 5 charter boat headquarters reflects: "The boat captains are really hurting. I would say business has been cut in half at least—probably worse."
Larry Thomas, who operates two Miami bait and tackle shops, agrees that business is off, but he seems to be the only Floridian who knows fishermen well enough to turn disaster into triumph. When his trade plummeted 75% Thomas bought television time and reminded shivering anglers that tackle was fun to buy even if they couldn't go fishing with it. "That got them," said Thomas. "I've been doing a great business on tackle since I started the TV shows. The guys can't go fishing, so they buy stuff and take it home to play with."
HOOVER TAKES ONE FISH
Down on the Florida Keys the wind has blighted the angling efforts of great and small alike. During a recent 18-day visit to the Key Largo Anglers' Club, Herbert Hoover could fish only three. He caught and released one nine-pound bonefish, but Guide Calvin Albury took little comfort. "I have been fishing in the Keys for 29 years," he said, "and this is the worst weather I have ever seen." Bahamians and Cubans echo the mournful chorus.
If the south is freezing, the Pacific Northwest has opposite but equally perplexing weather problems. Washington is experiencing the second-warmest winter in the history of its weather bureau, but it was preceded by tragedy in the salmon world. By November, drought had so lowered rivers that near-spent salmon could not move upstream to spawn. "Many sportsmen, "reports SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Correspondent Dolly Connelly, "quit fishing in sympathy." In an unprecedented move on September 27, fisheries officials closed rivers to salmon fishing. Still the homing fish died by the thousands. The rivers are still closed and will stay so indefinitely. On the heels of the drought came an extremely large low-pressure area which has remained fairly stationary, soggily shifting from the Gulf of Alaska to the northern California coast. Slowly water levels have come back to normal, but when the steelhead season opened in Washington on December 1 there were no steelhead. Now steelhead are moving upstream, and angler pressure is tremendous, not because fishing in the roily rivers is so outstanding but because the weather is so warm. The steelheader is one kind of fisherman who expects to freeze at his sport. Last year on February 11 the temperature was 8° above zero. On February 11, 1958 it was 52°. There has been little snow and less ice. The ice fisherman is downcast.
Such is the unhappy picture of America's current angling winter, and no one wants to predict what is coming next. No one really likes to predict the weather anyhow, and only one man ever did it with anything approaching accuracy. It went like this:
"Probable nor'-east to sou'-west winds, varying to the southard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning."
The man was Mark Twain, and he made his forecast on December 22, 1876. It would have been a good guess for 1958.