Snagging. A vulgar way to catch fish or marketer’s fantasy?

October 27, 2008

Every October, a strange and gruesome spectacle takes place along the banks of the boat channel in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Whether I’m riding into work via bike or car I can’t help but ogle the armies of bundled-up men “snagging” for salmon.

Snagging is a brutal (but legal) form of fishing, whereby the fisherman hoists a massive, weighted treble hook into the water and “rips” it back and forth trying to gaff a bewildered fish. From my car, it looks like the men are dragging for dead bodies.

Why is this vulgar form of fishing legal? Because the fish are doomed anyway. A sizable portion of Lake Michigan’s salmon is stocked by the DNR. Yet, these creatures are wired to swim upstream in the fall to spawn. Having no river to come home to, the fish choose the man-made channel instead. Only a half-mile long and a few feet deep, the waterway is a deathtrap. Even if eggs were produced, once dropped, the fish dies. Therefore, the city allows people to snag salmon until the run is over.

I understand it would be a shame to let these highly edible creatures die and rot but I still find “snagging” offensive. I love fishing. I must own 20 rods and reels. I have a cabin in Wisconsin. I grew up catching, cleaning and cooking Lake Michigan perch. On slow days, gouging the belly of an unsuspecting fish may have crossed my mind but we always considered it sleazy, something a tramp would do.

So, how does this all relate to advertising? Actually, very poetically. Think about it. Brand advertising in its highest form is like fly-fishing: sleek, urbane, wise. Think glorious anthems, the launch of new campaigns. Fishing with lures is one step down. It’s brand advertising, packaged and distilled. Though not a lavish opus, it still requires craftsmanship. Grinder TV, the churn and burn of most advertising, is like fishing with live bait –messy, very effective, yet still true fishing. And then you have snagging. Perhaps unfairly, direct marketing is accused of being equally vicious in terms of “catching” customers. Advocates will tell you, “Hell yes, we find swarms of consumers and hook boatloads!” It’s a good case. In fact, half my agency’s business is generated that way.

Even so, direct marketing still gives the consumer a choice to buy or to pass. Same as fishing with bait or lures.

Despite agency rhetoric about “proprietary tools” and “ROI” there is, as far as I know, no known form of marketing that can snag a customer from the general population. We still have to angle for consumers, attracting them with lures, hooking them with promises. That is why advertising, in its purist form, is an art, a lot like fly-fishing. Sadly, with a bleak holiday season inevitable for retailers I’m betting the snagging season seems like a wet dream.


11 Responses to “Snagging. A vulgar way to catch fish or marketer’s fantasy?”

  1. Sarah J said

    As an outdoor enthusiast myself, and someone who grew up on the water in Virginia, I have to say that I wouldn’t even grace these snaggers with the title “fishermen.”

    However, no matter how dirty it gets, direct marketers are still ad men (and women), doing their job for their client.

    What is the snagger contributing?

  2. Voice of Reason said

    Bottom fishing for scum balls late at night? Use the slow stink of an infomercial. Works as good as snagging!
    -VOR, aka the Happy Hooker

  3. Like I wrote, Sarah, half our business comes via direct marketing. I have much respect for this means of reaching consumers. Choice (from the targeted) is what makes it no more or less reliable than any other form. I am not advocating any type of marketing as “snagging.” What is suspicious, however, is our intense pursuit of “ROI.” When we connive to get customers at the expense of integrity I believe the line gets crossed. An example of this would be a mailing that pretends to be crucial information but, in fact, is a sell sheet. Or when we prey on the fears of our fellows: If YOU don’t buy our product YOU will suffer. Seen in this light, no form of advertising (direct or brand) is without culpability. Something to think about as we bait our hooks.

  4. sean said

    I don’t know how it could ever be part of a bike commute to work,

    but the one road to Haines Alaska this time of year is an amazing place to see a riverbank thick with eagles tearing at salmon.

    the predatory nature could bring to mind something of advertising, but it is a sight worth just watching for its own sake.

  5. James T said

    I’m still pretty surprised by all this anger over snagging. When I was growing up, my buddies and I used to snag all the time not even knowing it was a different type of fishing. Do you really think snagging is really that much worse for the fish than regular fishing?

  6. snag man said

    you people are just jealous that you cant catch as many fish as we do so suck it

  7. Hot Shot said

    Everybody thinks snagging is a bad thing. Remember that it was leagle at one time, and even the ones who disapprove of it now were also snagging back then. The fish don’t take flies while spawning in the river’s. If anyone hooks a salmon with a fly or a three prong hook it is luck any way you look at it. So if you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. People are making a big deal over this whole thing. When the DNR made it leagle everyone called it a sport and everyone did it. I’ll have more comments later.

  8. JAMES K BEAL Sr said

    They should make it legal again in all the salmon producing rivers.

  9. Dennis said

    Comparing it to advertising or marketing? Then complain because it offends the “fisherman” in you? Makes no sense whatsoever. God put the fleshy animals here for us to eat. If you want to object to the way a fisherman who is snagging takes a salmon, perhaps you should think twice about the beef you have for supper tonight.

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