“My big fish must be somewhere.”
The legends surrounding Ernest Hemingway and his days at war — from World War I to the Spanish Civil War, are often recounted, but when he wasn’t risking his life on the battlefield or writing, he was likely hunting or fishing.
At four years old, Hemingway learned to fish, hunt and camp from his father, as the family would frequently spend time at their cabin in Northern Michigan. Early experiences would shape his understanding of the natural world and contribute to the themes present in much of his writing, particularly his Nick Adams short stories.
While hunting was a passion, it was fishing that Hemingway was known for, and for good reason. He managed to live the life of a successful journalist and writer while also making serious contributions to the world of fishing. He fished for trout in the streams of Michigan, Germany and Spain, and for sportfish in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hemingway spent a lot of time on his 38-foot fishing boat Pilar, so much that it would heavily influence his writing, especially in novels like Islands in the Streams and To Have and Have Not, where much of the action takes place on a small fishing boat.
Hemingway himself developed theories and techniques in fishing, like solving the “apple coring” problem with tuna, where sharks would attack the tired fish during the lengthy landing times. Hemingway would keep constant pressure on the tuna, focusing on getting it to the boat as fast as possible instead of letting it tire, which was the accepted method of the day.
He tried everything from transferring the fight to a smaller boat to shooting attacking sharks with his Thompson sub machine gun as the hooked tuna approached the boat. He was the first person on record to boat an undamaged giant tuna.
Once, he caught a marlin that was estimated to have been over 1,000 pounds before sharks reached it. He learned the hard way that by shooting the sharks he released blood into the water and attracted more sharks, which took most of the marlin’s body. This tale is probably the basis for the novel The Old Man and the Sea.