President Grover Cleveland’s reputation as the king of the White House fishermen has been reaffirmed by history buffs who believe fishing was “an absolute obsession” for Cleveland.
Cleveland not only loved the sport, he studied the traits and habitats of a plethora of species of fishes.
Capt. Sean Williams of Key West, Fla. is a regular contributor to the FishingBooker.com blog, and he asserts that Grover Cleveland was the nation’s foremost “angler in chief.”
“The only president to serve two non-consecutive terms (1885-89 and 1893-97), Cleveland was one of the nation’s loudest fishing advocates,” Capt. Williams wrote. “The critics of the time labeled fishermen as lazy, often inclined towards profanity and dishonesty.
“President Cleveland would hear nothing of it. He stood up for the American angler, proclaiming him the ‘virtuous backbone of the country.’”
President Chester Alan Arthur (1881-85) was generally regarded as the second most famous White House fisherman.
The archivist at the Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Historical Society reported: “In 1883, President Arthur journeyed on the fishing trip of his lifetime – a visit to the world-class wonders and trout streams of Yellowstone National Park.
“Arthur had tested northern waters in Canada and those of the American South in Florida. Salmon, trout and bass had all filled his creel. Indeed, throughout most of his life, Arthur found solace and relaxation in plying various waters with line and reel.”
For a time, Arthur held the record for the largest Atlantic salmon catch on the Cascapédia River in Quebec Province, Canada – a 50-pounder.
Among the 20th century presidents, Herbert Clark Hoover (1929-33) was an impressive sight, according to Capt. Williams. President Hoover’s favorite fishing attire was “a blue-serge suit, double-breasted and with a high collar.”
Hoover said: “Presidents have only two moments of personal seclusion. One is prayer; the other is fishing – and they cannot pray all the time!”
As a boy in Abilene, Kan., Dwight David Eisenhower would walk seven blocks from his house along the Santa Fe railroad tracks to Mud Creek.
“There, with a willow shoot, a length of string, a 5-cent hook from the general store and the worms that he collected while hoeing the family corn patch, he could catch sunfish, bullheads, carp and drum,” Capt. Williams noted.
President Eisenhower (1953-61) often returned to his favorite trout fishing spots in Colorado – on the South Platte River and on Saint Louis Creek. Eisenhower tried to teach his running mate Richard Milhous Nixon how to fish, but Nixon never got the hang of it.
When it was Nixon’s turn to occupy the White House (1969-74), he chose to abandon fishing, opting for bowling. A private, single lane was built under the North Portico of the White House.
A perfect score in bowling (12 strikes) is 300. One source said Nixon’s high game was 232.
Another reported that his best effort was 229. (The lane’s foul light was believed to have been secretly disconnected.)
A president who deserves an “honorable mention” fishing award was John Calvin Coolidge Jr. (1923-29). He used “gone fishin’” as an excuse for extended, eight-week summer vacations to selected fishing holes.
Author Hal Elliott Wert laughingly said Coolidge “loved to bait his own hook, and when he had finished, there were so many worms on the hook that it was a wiggling mass the size of a golf ball – Cal was not a man to take chances.”
Idaho’s U.S. Senator William E. Borah mumbled: “No trout in possession of his full faculties would bite at a worm.”
Coolidge and Borah, both Republicans, tangled and wrangled frequently.