PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The Real Creel

Image (partial) from Delectably Yours.com

Creels contain volumes of wonderfully imaginative “catches” that, unlike the box’s contents in the myth, unleash a swarm of positive stories and memories that continue life’s flow.

Among the papers, piles, and pictures, frames, photographs, and failures, and staples, signatures, and successes, one object in my office stands out: the creel from my mother’s living room. She loves moose, I love trout, so we both love Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, and her rustic, cabin theme was a perfect backdrop for this unusual basket. However, our lives and priorities have changed, and now the creel stands awkwardly, but proudly, in the white, dusty confines of my university office in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. Why do we remove objects from their natural settings?

I want to believe the creel was my grandfather’s, a fine piece of craftsmanship that, like him, heroically withstood time and the elements, a carefully woven basket that served as an exclamation mark ending his many fishing tales. But it isn’t. This creel is purely decorative; it served no utilitarian purpose for anglers, and one glance at its larger-than-normal size indicates why. This one’s purely symbolic, but what creel isn’t?

As columnist Gordon Wickstrom writes for the Dailycamera.com, creels are “iconic”, universal symbols of angling. “If anything other than a rod indicates an angler, it is the creel,” he writes. Wickstrom doesn’t stop there; he suggests that creels’ artistry moves beyond symbolism and into the realm of poetry. He ponders,

How might a shape of so many subtle curves and arcs and bends and flats, big and little, all made of woven split willow or reed, bound or not bound with leather crossing bands for strength, some more shapely than others -- how might that shape be described in words? No one, I think, could tell you what a creel looks like, but like poetry itself, it is indefinable and unmistakable. Everyone knows it at sight and has an exact imagination of it.

Indeed, the word itself resonates with everything -- rhythm, metaphor, and imagery – that is beautiful about poetry. The word 'creel' has Scottish origins and means, Wickstrom explains, “any generic wicker woven basket.” More importantly, the word appears to have been destined for the lexicon of fishing. Containing the word “reel”, it can easily be mistaken for that all-important angling tool. And sounding like the word “eel”, a popular bait for many large game fish, it slips and slides off the tongue like the critters themselves.

Creels have long been fixtures in the sport of angling, and no text explicates this history better than The Art of the Creel by Hugh Chatham and Dan McLain. The authors offer a historical and photographic treasure chest of creel information that was inspired when they purchased legendary collector Daryll Whitehead’s creel collection. The authors claim, "This isn’t the last word on creels, but a beginning that most collectors can use as a starting point for information on creel identification origin, types of construction, origin dates and identification of known creel makers."

In the book, Chatham and McLain outline the creel’s historical relationships with Native American basketry artwork and Shaker baskets. They also examine the growing popularity of creels in early America along the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, and within the Eastern Woodlands, particularly New York state and Maine. Their history weaves through many other chapters of the creel’s past, including:

The emergence of leathered creels, which became popular in the American and Canadian West due to the region’s more rugged terrain, a reality that demanded sturdier creels;

The rise of Oregon as a major epicenter of creel production, especially the George Lawrence Company of Portland;

International creels, focusing on those of Japan, China, and the United Kingdom; and

The growth of metal creels.

Creels traditionally have served one basic purpose: to preserve and store an angler’s catch. They are made using different styles and materials, but the most popular forms use wickerwork or skeined patterns weaving willow tree wickers. Sometimes, other wickers are used including those from birch and black ash trees. Creels usually assume the shape of a kidney and are positioned on an angler’s hip to not disturb the cast.

Creels’ other distinctive features include their lid design; decorative closing latches; the square holes that offer additional ventilation and allow anglers to slide fish into them; leather pockets for accessories such as knives or hemostats; leather strappings across the waist or shoulders; engravings or designs on the leather; and an array of colors for basket materials and leather. Creels have also been used by women as purses or as “boat creels” to store important items while canoeing.

Nevertheless, something tragic dipped in a sad nostalgia is tucked within those elaborately woven designs. The creel’s purpose has been transformed, but why do anglers no longer use creels? Today they seem more folk art than tackle; more folklore narrating a distant past than a modern artifice satisfying an immediate need.

The rise of catch and release fishing has partially shifted the creel’s value. Given the ecologically sensitive impulses that have popularized catch and release angling, creels are to some politically incorrect; few people fish these days solely for food. The popularity of sport fishing has compelled many anglers to return their quarry to the waters. Additionally, combined with those notions, creels appear at times cumbersome accessories that clash with the streamlined, efficient approach to tackle many modern anglers prefer.

My mantra is emblematic of others’: if it cannot fit in a vest pocket, it’s probably not necessary. Practically speaking, creels and a net may be too much to handle, and other alternatives, though much less attractive, have surfaced: perhaps this is why I was taught as a youngster to use simple metal “stringers” to keep my quarry alive.

However, if I’ve never used a creel, why do I value them? What purpose do they serve in my angling life? Surely, their craftsmanship is undeniable. But more importantly, the creel is, at least for some anglers, the antithesis of Pandora’s box. Creels contain volumes of wonderfully imaginative “catches” that, unlike the box’s contents in the myth, unleash a swarm of positive stories and memories that continue life’s flow. While we cannot stand in a river daily, we can dwell in Memory’s many rivers, and creels help transport us to those waters.

Of course, in contemporary antique circles, some creels are worth hundreds of dollars. Not unusually, some are worth much more; this creel is selling for $2,500. Typically, a new or older creel can be purchased for under $100. But somehow placing a dollar value on such an object seems counterintuitive. Most anglers would rather be counting the fish they’re placing into a creel than the amount of dollars they’re extracting from one. And anglers aren’t the only ones making such calculations.

If this ancient Babylonian proverb is correct -- “The gods do not deduct from one’s life the time spent fishing” – then an angler’s creel, whether on the hip or on the wall, must weigh heavily on those gods’ calculations.

Image from All Routes.to

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.