by Tony Orman
Back in the 1950s and 1960s I used to get the American fishing and hunting magazine “Field and Stream”. On the last page was a column by Ed Zern. He was droll often zany in his humour and at times, outrageous.
Ed Zern was born in West Virginia. His father was a professor at the School of Mines at the local university, a mine inspector and a sportsman and in particular, a fly fisherman. Professor Zern died when Ed was only 15, but he had taught his son fly-fishing, and that remained one of Ed’s passions for the rest of his life.
Ed Zern decided at an early age that he wanted to be a writer. He attended the Pennsylvannia University, graduating with a degree in English literature in 1932.
He then married, and eventually, freelance writing became his main source of income.
Ed Zern submitted a couple of humorous articles to the prestigious US magazine “Colliers”.
The editor at “Colliers”, who by then had left the magazine to work for a book publisher, suggested that Ed Zern write a novel about fishing to which reportedly said, “To Hell With Fishing” which became the title of the book, which was published in 1945. It was a success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, although Ed Zern is quoted as saying, “I don’t think many fishermen bought it; people bought it to give to fishermen.” Other books followed. Other book titles were “How to Tell Fish from Fisherman” and “Are Fishermen People?”
In November, 1958, his “Exit Laughing” column appeared in Field and Stream and was in every issue for more than 30 years thereafter.
Ed Zern’s humour was terrific and his “one-liners” were wonderful. Here are a few samples:-
“Fishermen are born honest, but they soon get over It”
“Fish is brain food. People who eat fish have large, well-developed brains. People with large, well-developed brains don’t fish. It’s that simple.”
“The truth is fish have very little sex life. If you ever tried to make love underwater, you will know why.”
“People who fish for food and sport be damned, are called pot fisherman. The more expert ones are called crack pot-fishermen. All other fishermen are called crack pot fishermen. This is confusing.”
He created a special world where nothing was sacred and everything was good for a laugh. Ed Zern frequently wrote about the “mythical” MARGBM&LRBA — the Madison Avenue Rod, Gun, Bloody Mary, and Labrador Retriever Benevolent Association — and lampooned diverse topics from duck hunters to conservation groups to adolescent anglers. His wit knew few boundaries.
But he was a serious environmentalist too. Ed Zern was a member of many sportsmen’s and conservation groups, including the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, of which he was a past president, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Boone and Crockett Club, started by Theodore Roosevelt, among others, to preserve big-game animals.
In his later books Ed Zern did his own drawings. Ed Zern died in 1994.
And I have a copy of “To Hell with Fishing.” It’s a crack-up.
© One of Ed Zern’s impressions of a trout