Perhaps the biggest difference between French and English in matters of angling ethics is that the Englishman is far less obsessed with that notion of return on effort which permanently haunts the back of the French hunter, shooter or angler’s mind. So, not only is the Englishman left with enough peace of mind to be able to consider a much larger part of the activity as pleasurable in itself, but he also enjoys a far greater scope to concentrate on the ethics of the sport. Nowhere is this more evident than in angling. It would, for example, be unthinkably improper for the true English trout angler to extract his adversary from its liquid element simply by standing on the bank, and dangling his line in the water with a vulgar worm or tiddler wriggling on the end. Attempting to catch a trout in this way would show a total lack of respect for a noble adversary. Since, for the Englishman, angling is far more a challenging sporting contest between equals, where he pits his skill, patience and experience against a mistrustful, home-based fish, the only fair way of enticing it to bite is by standing up to his thighs in water with an artificial fly on his hook. And usually when the fish has been successfully extracted, the contest is deemed to be over: it will be weighed, perhaps photographed, and then placed lovingly back. It is, nevertheless, true that if the English angler caught the biggest trout or pike of his life, he might be tempted to have it stuffed, encased and placed on public display. But this would be as much, even more, a tribute to the fighting qualities of his adversary than to his own angling prowess.
The English angler could, therefore, remain from dawn to dusk at a lake or riverside, catch nothing and go home in rapturous bliss. Not so with a Frenchman. The French angler who caught the biggest pike in his life would be driven not only by the constant fear of ridicule which gnaws permanently at his soul, but by this same obsessive notion that everything must serve a practical purpose. He would, therefore, have it weighed, have himself photographed with it, then take it home and (what is more natural in a land where cooking has the status of a religion?) seek consecration in the eating. An article which appeared in my local newspaper provides a perfect example of this. Now, throughout the summer months my local newspaper regularly publishes photos, supplied by the anglers themselves, exhibiting the monstrous specimens of trout, carp, catfish and pike they have extracted, after prolonged and heroic struggle, from the depths of the region’s numerous lakes, étangs and rivers. It even offers an end-of-season prize for the largest capture in each category. My Englishman remembers, in particular, one photo showing an angler proudly displaying a gigantic pike. Such were its monstrous proportions (dwarfing his ten-year-old son purposely placed by its side) that considerable concern was expressed as to the cooking which was far beyond the capacity of an ordinary kitchen oven. In a reassuring attempt at dissipating readers’ fears that the fish’s very size might be an insurmountable obstacle to gastronomic consecration, it was explained that the local baker had kindly offered his assistance by placing at the disposal of the angler’s wife his professionally-sized oven. This, it was emphasized, would have no problem in accommodating the inordinate proportions of the beast. For the true English angler, such shamefully unsporting disrespect for a noble adversary would be considered akin to cannibalism.