by Eric Pickhartz
In honor of Presidents Day, we wanted to reminisce on an American past time shared by those in the White House and your Average Joe alike.
Over the course of United States history, fishing has become arguably the sport of the American President. Whether it's because anglers are just inherently more likely to have sweeping political aspirations than other people or because presidents need the kind of quiet escape and stress relief that only a fishing trip can provide, history is dotted with presidents who spent their leisure time catching fish.
1. George Washington
As a general in the Revolutionary War, United States' first president, and the face on the one-dollar bill, George Washington is easily one of the most iconic figures - if not the most iconic figure - in American history. He also started a tradition of fishing in office that continues to this day. Perhaps Washington's most distinctive claim to fame in the history of fishing presidents is that, prior to his election as the leader of the new country, he had also worked as a commercial fisherman. The first president also took several fishing trips during breaks in the Constitutional Convention, which is probably what most of us would have done if we had been in his shoes.
2. Grover Cleveland
As the 22nd and 24th President of the United States (and the only president to ever serve non-consecutive terms, making his ownership of two different presidential numbers possible), Cleveland is remembered today as one of the most passionate anglers to ever lead the country. The big, burly, mustachioed president saw fishing as his main escape from the stress of the White House and as the hobby that the American people knew he held. He even insisted to his wife that their honeymoon should include fly fishing for trout in Maryland.
3. Warren G. Harding
Few would call Harding a particularly great or notable presence, but his victory lap after winning the election essentially consisted of golfing and fishing in Texas. He's a president we wouldn't have minded being friends with, as he knew how to keep his priorities straight.
4. Herbert Hoover
"All men are equal before fish," Hoover was often fond of saying. The 31st president is commonly thought of as "the Fishing President" (thanks to a book by Hal Wert which bore that very title), and he did indeed spend a lot of his off time on rivers, lakes, flats, and oceans. Hoover was a trout fisherman at heart, but he was also willing to try just about anything the sport had to offer. While most Americans don't remember Hoover very fondly and at least partially blame him for the severity of the Great Depression, it's probably fair to say that he didn't particularly like the bad economic situation he had been thrust into either. The guy just wanted to go fishing!
5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Stricken down by his polio diagnosis and his wheelchair-bound life (and busy with his unprecedented three terms of presidency), FDR probably didn't have as many opportunities to go fishing as he would have liked. However, in 1924, FDR and his friend John Lawrence bought a houseboat together - called the Larooco - and piloted toward a small handful of prize catches. Legend also had it that FDR would have a special chair built on his boats so as to make fishing easier with his condition.
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Numerous entertaining fishing stories surround the legacy of "Ike" Eisenhower, a five-star general who became the country's 34th president in 1953. The first legend states that, in 1952, Eisenhower supposedly got in trouble for going over a Colorado trout bag limit. The second revolves around a disastrous fly fishing lesson that Eisenhower gave to his vice president, Mr. Richard Nixon, during their time in office together. According to the story, Nixon repeatedly hooked himself and his shirt before giving up entirely. We can just picture Eisenhower trying to contain a few chuckles.
7. Jimmy Carter
Not to be outdone by Eisenhower and Nixon, Jimmy Carter has his own legendary fishing story that will forever immortalize him in the eyes of anglers. In 1979, while minding his own business and fishing on his property in Plains, Georgia, Carter observed a rabbit fleeing from hounds, leaping into the water, and swimming toward his boat. Unsure of what to do, Carter splashed the water with a paddle. The incident was caught on film and adopted by the media, who interpreted Carter's actions as fear-driven and called the event the "killer rabbit" attack. The story was endlessly mocked and parodied, and Carter was more or less laughed out of office.
8-9. George H.W. and George W. Bush
Father and son fishing teams aren't just seen on the lake every Sunday morning, but even make their way into the Oval Office. The two Bush presidents would frequently share each other's company on fishing trips. On one occasion, during the fall-out that immediately followed Hurricane Katrina, one ardent anti-Bush activist even fabricated a photo of the two presidents fishing happily in the flooded streets of New Orleans. The picture was obviously fake, but it spoke volumes about how much of the nation had lost faith in the younger Bush as a commander-in-chief. We bet both Bush men are happier now that they can freely fish together without having their actions questioned by news reporters or the American people.
10. Barack Obama
Obama's most famous sporting perk involves the pick-up basketball games he played in his home city of Chicago on both of his presidential election days. However, like many presidents who came before him, Obama has found a certain level of escape in fishing that is hard to find from other leisurely activities given his high-profile image. In 2010, an ESPN reporter falsely theorized that the Obama Administration was considering an outright ban on recreational fishing. A single look at Obama's gleeful face in the photo above, taken during a 2009 fly fishing trip in Montana, should have been enough to discredit that insane claim.
This post first appeared in Wide Open Spaces by Eric Pickhartz