Chocolate bobbers

We had just begun to decorate the Christmas tree, when it struck me. A rather heavy Santa Claus fishing ornament.

Some collections are achieved; others are thrust upon you. The latter usually arrives on special occasions in the form of gifts from friends and relatives who have deduced that all your wishes can be fulfilled merely by remaining within the parameters of a certain, constant theme.

Many active collectors, like rabid sports fans, have a desire for anything with their team's mascot and colors that can never be satiated. I have a cousin who has a massive collection of frogs.

But find a frog knick-knack with the Steelers logo on it, and you have my wife's aunt's next birthday present. Mom likes lighthouses; my mother-in-law, snowmen. My wife collects refrigerators.

But it is better to give than to receive. Especially if it is a flipping bass ball hitch cover.

Some recipients are reluctant collectors. They resist the concept that the essence of one of your great passions can be symbolized through a mail-ordered set of duck sheets.

For example my brother, a professional musician, finally put his foot down with the opening of an "I'll be Bach" T-shirt. So now we just buy him grilling accessories.

However, disposal of these items can be tricky. It is difficult to remember who gave you what ... so be conscious of who might visit your garage sale.

I have chosen to embrace the paraphernalia. Since a very early age, I have loved fishing and this did not go unnoticed by my aunts.

On one hand, I guess I actively collect various fishing tackle but the closet full of T-shirts with fishing-related phrases and images was collected for me.

Why should our stuff identify ourselves? According to psychologist Jason White, symbols, even a muskellunge refrigerator magnet, "could be related to our social needs to separate 'us' from 'them.' "

Where do you stand on the issues? Pro or anti- fish with teeth?

Or perhaps, because gift giving can be such a stressful situation during the holidays, we purposely promote products within a theme as almost a kind of community service project. It reduces the anxiety for a friend who just wants to show affection or gratitude.

"What does he like ... ?! Hunting rabbits!" So off we go in search of any accouterments remotely "rabbity."

"This knitted shotgun shell holder should keep his ammo nice and toasty."

I interviewed some professional anglers, wondering if they suffer through the same gifting issues.

Bassmaster Elite Series angler Ish Monroe no longer receives fishing T-shirts and such since he went pro. Visit Skeet Reese's place and you will notice that is not how they decorate.

But John Crews now has the full set of Yamazaki "Gone Fishing" place settings, and still gets the occasional service piece from his mom. And Mike Iaconelli receives mountains of lamps, mugs and talking fish.

"I used to get semi annoyed," Mike e-mailed, "But now I love it! The standout of all the gifts I ever received is an oil painting that someone made me. It has an image of my Ike logo and a fish jumping over a castle. And in the background it says 'All This From Fish.' "

He also wrote that he and his wife plan on displaying every "goofy fishing related gift I ever received" in an upstairs loft in a barn they are going to build.

Cynics might argue against getting/receiving curios due to their often-limited practical use. But practical or not, it does stimulate the economy, supporting a whole industry of "craftsmen."

I was considering this when I came in from fishing tonight in my "Grababrewski and fish" T-shirt, and wiped my feet on the "To fish or not to fish" doormat below the "Gone fishin'" door sign.

At the trout-shaped hat rack, I traded my "Women want me, fish fear me" hat for the one that looks like I've been shot through the head with a catfish like an early Steve Martin bit and shed down to my "nice bass" boxers.

With the rainbow trout salad tongs, I dished fish-shaped pasta on a red plastic tilapia picnic plate, nestled a cold one in my bass koozie, and headed upstairs to my office, where I used my squeezable largemouth bass flashlight to locate my mahi-mahi engraved lighter in the back of a drawer.

The leaping carp candle illuminated the various ichthyologic posters, plaques, woodcarvings, and photographs around the office and complimented the crappie-shaped air freshener. I adjusted my plush bluegill pillow for more lumbar support, grabbed the northern pike pen from my creel-shaped pencil holder, and began to write on walleye stationary wondering…

Just how good do I have to be for Santa to bring one of those bass-shaped mailboxes?

Andy Whitcomb, a freelance writer and designer, can be reached through his Web site, justkeepreeling.com.