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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

The President's Catch of the Day

Many presidents have enjoyed the sport of fishing. This pastime provides an opportunity to relax or to enjoy the sportsman’s thrill of the hunt. From Washington to the present day, fishing has been one of the president’s and the nation’s favorite pastimes. A few chief executives were particularly efficient and excelled at specific types of fishing.

Fishing provides a chance for the president to be a sportsman. Many people across the nation are avid fishers or have gone fishing at some point in their lives. Fishing is a way for a president to connect with American citizens and allows citizens to be able to view him as an everyman. Despite being the leader of the United States, the president is still a regular human being, but with larger responsibilities. When it comes to the act of fishing, many presidents have done so at their summer or vacation residences. Many other White House residents and guests have also fished in their leisure or accompanied the president on a fishing trip.

President Herbert Hoover with a day’s catch, c. 1929

Library of Congress

The three presidents who enjoyed fishing the most were probably Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. Cleveland and Hoover wrote books—Cleveland’s “Fishing and Shooting Sketches” (1906) and Hoover’s “Fishing for Fun—and to Wash Your Soul” (1963)—extolling the virtues and healthful benefits of fishing.

During his presidency, Cleveland fished in the Adirondacks of upstate New York and later used a summer home south of Boston near Cape Cod. Shielded from the prying eyes of press and public by woods, fields and water, Cleveland had the privacy he wanted to enjoy family life and practice his favorite sport. His friend Richard Watson Gilder noted: “His fishing … excursions, while entered upon with appetite, were also considered by him a duty; for it was only on these little vacations that he was able to obtain … exercise, and release from mental strain.” Cleveland was so serious about fishing that he once snapped at a friend whose mind appeared to be wandering from the task at hand: “If you want to catch fish, attend strictly to business!”1

Hoover developed a devotion to fishing during his boyhood in Iowa, fishing for catfish or sunfish on the small Wapsinonoc River in his hometown of West Branch. As president he liked few things better than casting for trout at his presidential retreat on the Rapidan River in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, some 100 miles from Washington. Rapidan Camp lay 2,550 feet above sea level and provided a refreshing difference to the humidity-laden air of Washington. Just three days after the 1930 Virginia fishing season opened Hoover hurried from the White House to his Rapidan retreat and was attired in hoop boots in the Rapidan River fishing by 6:00 in the evening. He caught some fish and the camp cook broiled them for a dinner enjoyed by guests including the White House Physician Dr. Joel T. Boone, and Commerce secretary Robert Lamont, Attorney General William Mitchell and Interior secretary Ray Lyman Wilbur.2

President Jimmy Carter fishing along a trout stream on Four Lazy F Ranch near Jackson, Wyoming, August 1978.

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

As president, Carter fished in Alaska and at the Four Lazy F Ranch near Jackson, Wyoming. He also loved to go to Spruce Creek, a tributary of the Little Juniata River in Pennsylvania, to fly-fish. Spruce Creek was easily accessible from the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. Carter fished at Spruce Creek for the first time in May 1979 and returned there often, forming a close friendship with Wayne Harpster, who owned the farm through which three miles of Spruce Creek flows. Carter described a typical experience in his diary in 1980: “[June 13] [sons] Chip, Jack and I went by Camp David, picked up our fishing gear, and took off for Spruce Creek. We fished until 10:00 at night, just knocking off briefly for supper. . . [June 14] We were on the creek at 5:15 in the morning and fished until about 4:00 in the afternoon.” Carter once told a press conference: “I have a rare opportunity to go fishing — are to get out in the woods and swamps and in the fields and on the streams by myself. I really believe that it’s not only good for me but for the country to be able to do that on occasion. I wish I could do it more, but I don’t intend to ignore any opportunity to take advantage of a fishing trip when my own work permits it. And I hope the press will understand and the people will understand that I, like the average American, need some recreation, at times.”3

When President Calvin Coolidge vacationed in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer of 1928, South Dakota state game officials made sure the nearby creeks were stocked with considerable amounts of fish from the state hatchery. A mock controversy developed when fly fishermen through the country professed outrage at Coolidge’s decision to use worms as bait; Idaho’s U.S. Senator William E. Borah opined: “No trout in possession of his full faculties would bite at a worm.” However, the issue was pushed off the front pages on August 2, when Coolidge used the fourth anniversary of his succession to the presidency to announce that he would not seek another term. Seldom has a presidential vacation produced such a sensational news story.4

President Franklin D. Roosevelt fishing with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Shangri-La (now Camp David) in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, May 1943.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successor Harry S. Truman liked deep-sea fishing. FDR caught a 235-pound shark following a 90-minute tussle aboard the U.S. Navy cruiser Houston off of Cocos Island off Costa Rica, and also enjoyed cruising fishing grounds the Florida Keys in the USS Potomac. While vacationing at the Commandant’s quarters, Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida, Truman took occasional trips to waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas Islands for deep-sea fishing.5

Dwight Eisenhower was fond of golf above all sports but liked to fish as well, particularly at a cabin at Byers Peak Ranch in Fraser in north-central Colorado owned by his friends Carl Norgren and Aksel Nielsen, where rainbow and Colorado native trout were plentiful in nearby St. Louis Creek.6

President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess Wallace Truman fishing from the boat "Big Wheel" off Key West, Florida while on vacation, December 2, 1949.

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Some presidents have even had new species of fish named after them, such as Jimmy Carter (the bluegrass darter, Etheostoma jimmycarter); William J. Clinton (the beaded darter, Etheostoma clinton); Barack Obama (the spangled darter, Etheostoma obama) and Theodore Roosevelt (the highland darter, Etheostoma teddyroosevelt).7

Fishing will continue to be enjoyed by people across America. It is ingrained in our history and collective memory, and will always likely be a recreational activity that is appreciated by presidents searching for a respite from the pressures and duties of the nation’s highest public office.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt and Russell J. Coles on a devil fish harpooning expedition off the coast of Florida, March 16, 1917.

Library of Congress