Did you know that it’s illegal in Idaho to fish while riding on the back of a camel?
This bit of “intelligence” came to me by way of my wife’s secretary. Apparently, a local radio station did one of those occasional segments about “crazy laws.” My wife passed the info along, not so much because she believed it, but rather out of relief that her secretary wasn’t indulging in the usual schadenfreude-fueled Tales of Gruesome Endings and Comeuppances Received.
Still, it bugs me when people pass along these factoids of questionable provenance. Is it really illegal to camel-fish in Idaho??? I decided to find out.
First stop: Snopes.com, my usual go-to resource for urban legend debunkery. No dice.
So, I Googled “camel fishing Idaho” and found a handful of places where this is mentioned, mostly on discussion forums where other people are also asking if it’s true. In one thread, a guy had even copied a list of crazy laws from another site and made a few changes of his own, including “You may not fish on a camel’s or giraffe’s back [in] Idaho.”
This was going nowhere. Heck, why not mix metaphors and get it straight from the horse’s mouth? I emailed queries to the Idaho Legislative Reference Library and to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
A library research assistant replied that “the word ‘camel’ does not appear anywhere in the Idaho Code, nor does it appear in state agencies’ administrative rules.”
A representative from Idaho Fish and Game provided a little more insight:
This may sound absurd, but we did have a similar rule for a number of years in Idaho. In 1910 – 1920, it was “illegal to fish from the back of any animal standing in a stream in Idaho.” The reason, I was told by oldtimers, is A) there was concern about fish feeding on fecal material deposited by horses in streams and then the fish were consumed by humans; and B) a horse standing/moving in a stream created considerable turbidity downstream. Back in the 1910 – 1920 era, most people were taking drinking water from streams and didn’t appreciate all the sediment and organic/fecal material being stirred-up or deposited because it messed up their drinking water. Riding a horse through a creek to fish also stirred up and destroyed trout eggs.
While this restriction is not exactly camel-specific, it’s not so absurd once you put a little context around it.
Finally, I found a whimsical news item titled “Idaho Frowns On Fishing On Camel,” published in the St. Petersburg Times on October 4, 1944:
BOISE, IDAHO–(AP)–If you bring your camel to Idaho, don’t expect to go trout fishing on it. It’s illegal.
Attorney General Burt H. Miller said so in reaffirming a previous opinion for the benefit of Sgt. Gordon A. Ray, Idahoan now in New Guinea, who said buddies “ribbed” him on finding the state statute in a list of odd laws.
The law makes it a misdemeanor “to fish for trout from the back of any animal” which, Miller said, included the camel.
So apparently, at some point in Idaho’s past, for reasons of public safety and natural resource protection, it was illegal to fish from the back of an animal (whether it be horse or pony or mule), and some enterprising journalist decided to make the law sound ridiculous by over-specifying it with an exotic animal. One could equally claim that because animal cruelty is illegal in the state of Georgia, it is therefore against the law to spank a platypus. (“Did you know it’s illegal in the state of Georgia to spank a platypus?” Let’s see if we can get that little trope circulating on the web!)
At any rate, it does not appear that such a proscription is currently on the books in Idaho, so if you live up there and own a camel and a Zebco… have at it.
Urban legend: debunked.
[Originally posted at AmericanFreethought.com]