It can be said that no other sport enjoys as much popularity in the White House as fishing does. Just about every American president, from Washington to Obama, has at some point taken the time during their term to cast a line. It’s a tradition so ingrained in the office that it has become practically expected, and many presidents take it up as a beneficial photo opportunity. Others, however, can’t wait to make an excuse to go fishing. There are few occasions that put politics aside like a quiet day at the stream, and with the stress that comes with being the leader of the free world, it is no surprise that so many presidents count themselves as anglers. Like with our list of the top five American hunting presidents, this list will focus on five commanders-in-chief who were most likely to be found on the water.
1. Herbert Hoover
Perhaps the president most often associated with the rod and reel, Hoover once said that fishing was one of the few activities in which he could find true solitude. During his term, Hoover founded Rapidan Camp in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park as a fishing retreat for himself and his wife, which he eventually donated to the park after he left office.
“There are only two occasions when Americans respect privacy, especially in presidents. Those are prayer and fishing,” he was quoted.
Hoover certainly may have reflected on those words toward the end of his term, when the Great Depression made him widely unpopular and ultimately resulted in him losing to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election. Hoover left office a disappointed man, bitter that voters did not recognize his efforts to stem the economic downfall. He eventually retreated into fishing and writing, finding solace in trout streams and penning Fishing For Fun—And To Wash Your Soul. By the time Hoover died he had largely rehabilitated his image, aided by the longest retirement period of any US president at the time. He is now remembered for his influence on voluntarism and return to public service in 1947 to restructure the federal bureaucracy.
2. George H. W. Bush
Former President George H. W. Bush is often remembered not only for his love of the open water, but also his efforts to conserve fisheries and marine habitats. Before and during his presidency, President Bush established numerous wildlife refuges, and even played a key role in passing vital amendments to the Sport Fish Restoration Act. Bush was honored in 2014 for his contributions with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Sportfishing Association.
“During his administration, President Bush, an ardent angler and outdoorsman, was responsible for signing into law some of the most important legislation ever drafted to conserve our nation’s fisheries and their habitat,” said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman in a statement. “The sportfishing industry and anglers recognized his lifelong commitment to our nation’s natural resources with the first KeepAmericaFishing Lifetime Achievement award for his extraordinary efforts to advocate for fisheries conservation and habitat restoration.”
While in office, Bush loved to chase bonefish in Florida during winter and Maine during the summer. After his term, Bush eased into retirement with his wife Barbara and every year hosts a fishing tournament at the island of Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
The elder Bush is often seen fishing with his sons as well, including another former President, George W. Bush.
3. Jimmy Carter
Another former president commonly seen with a fishing rod in his hands, Carter is well-known for his love of the water, whether it be for Appalachian streams or just the solitude of his private pond in Plains, Georgia. Carter once caused a small media sensation in 1979 when he encountered a swamp rabbit while fishing. Sensationalized as the “killer rabbit incident,” Carter later said that the encounter was nothing more than a chance meeting with a large swimming rabbit, which approached his boat but was ultimately turned away when the president splashed it with water.
Of course, the story later became the subject of intense mockery, much to Carter’s chagrin.
4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Despite suffering from polio, Franklin Delano Roosevelt managed to take long fishing trips to the Bahamas and Newfoundland during his term in office. Reportedly, the 32nd president even had a special rig built on his boats to allow him to fish more easily. Much of Roosevelt’s time in office was taken up by World War Two, which drastically cut down on his free time. But an angler always finds a way.
“He would slip out and go fishing for extensive periods of time, accompanied by a Navy cruiser,” historian Kenneth Walsh told ABC News. “He really needed his time off.”
Don’t get the wrong idea, however, not even the President of the United States could appropriate a Navy cruiser just for a chance at tarpon. These fishing expeditions often served a state purpose. In 1939 Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met on one such fishing trip. In many ways, it was not unlike two friends who happened to met on the ocean and sidled up alongside each others’ boats to shake hands. At least, if those two boats happened to be a heavily-armed US Navy cruiser and a British battleship.
5. George Washington
Farmer, soldier, outdoorsman, and the leader of a successful revolution against a globe-straddling empire, Washington is the most iconic and easily recognizable figure in US history. Yet, there was a domestic side to this Founding Father. By many accounts, he enjoyed card playing, fox hunting, fishing, horse racing, boat racing, and dancing. Following the victory against the British Empire, Washington took many of his vacations fishing on the Potomac. In fact, America’s first President spent his breaks during the lengthy four-month period of the Constitutional Convention on the water.
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