It’s hard to pinpoint the origins of the “Women Want Me. Fish Fear Me” mantra, and it’s even harder to pinpoint the exact time when it was co-opted by young people — especially young queer people.
In its early days, the phrase graced T-shirts and the backs of pickup trucks along with other goofy fishing mottos, from the chaste “Good things come to those who bait” to the cheeky “Of course I come quick, I’ve got fish to catch!” Documented finds saw it appear at an Alan Jackson concert in 2002 and in a 2009 column The Daily Oklahomain which writer Jackie Papandrew shared that her dad was “probably in his ‘Women Want Me. Fish Fear Me’ shirt.”
In the late 2010s, as the hat became ubiquitous from Bass Pro Shops, the fishing motto seeped into the mainstream. But Google searches for “fish fears me” really started picking up in June 2020. Anika Padin, a Northeastern University student and a fan of the hat, once thought it was an inside joke that sprung from a mainstream show The office. However, the birth of Fear Me a Fish is far more elusive. Perhaps, in a Jungian twist, it has always been within us.
Know Your Meme, an indispensable chronicle of internet culture, attributes the hat parodies “Women Want Me, Fish Fear Me” to a photoshopped meme of a baseball cap emblazoned with the following copypaste: “Women want me, fish fear me / Men turn their eyes.” away from me as I go / No beast dare make a sound in my presence / I am alone on this desolate earth.” One cap is comically high (perhaps befitting the wearer’s massive brain); another (from Cool Shirtz for $40) has an exaggerated bill. Today the slogan adorns pixels and textiles alike – often paired with grandpa sweaters, cargo and New Balance 990s.
Especially lesbians have accepted the sentence. Queer indie musician Lucy Dacus even released an official $30 merch hat that read “Lucy loves me, Dads fear me” and an embroidered rainbow trout.
“I refer to fathers. I would make a great dad, especially when it comes to stereotypical things like crickets, building, or dad humor,” said 21-year-old college student Lillian Pearce, who owns and frequently wears one of the said Lucy Dacus hats. “It’s not that queer people love fishing, it’s just that adopting the daddy-like expression is really fun,” she says, before her boyfriend Mik Dietz adds, “It’s about being playful about these.” kind of making fun of hypermasculinity.” When people recognize the hat, Lillian says she feels a sense of camaraderie.
The bucket hat is reminiscent of a platonic father: an aloof and unflinching patriarch who cares more about function than fashion; who takes pride in mowing the lawn; who eats the end of the loaf; who doesn’t want to part with his ancient grass-stained jean shorts and thinks fishing is the greatest thing in the known world. He’s uncomplicated. He’s macho. He is irresistible.
Fishing lore’s semi-ironic embrace — Big Mouth Billy Bass wall pieces, snazzy catchphrases and a broader trend from Fishingcore — flirts with mainstream appeal. And it’s not just bucket hats: it’s bulky cargos and wellies and sea shanties and cheesy mantras on tattered T-shirts. Young people are embracing the Dadcore principles of kicking back and enjoying a light beer by the lake, even as they fish at lower rates than previous generations (a statistic that has prompted concerned Kansas lawmakers to hilariously slam Wi-Fi to propose in parks).
The tongue-in-cheek motto splintered into variations and had a Cambrian explosion of its own: ‘Mermaids have mixed feelings about me’ and ‘Fish love me, women fear me because I fuck the fish’ and ‘I want fish wives’. There are Fishingcore products for DB Cooper lovers or Animal Crossing. Let every fish that meets my gaze learn the true meaning of fear, for I am the harbinger of death,” a variation begins. Back in 2009, a column from the Sun Port Charlotte noted an inverted statement, “Fish fear me, women worship me,” seen on the backs of cars, and since then the variations have become endless. The Pisces evolve rapidly and lapse into deranged gibberish. Warning, “the fish and I have formed an uneasy alliance against women.”
One day last summer, I ordered a black baseball cap that I saw on Instagram with the words “Women love fish, I’m afraid.” Of course, I don’t particularly love fish, nor do I fear it enough to get a hat over it, I just fell prey to the temptation of semi-ironic meme gear.
In just a few days, a photoshopped meme-y concept art can become a real piece of clothing on your doorstep — a meme you see on Monday could be in your closet by the end of the week. The journey from internet joke to tangible product is lightning fast compared to the dot-com days when running a virtual store required computer servers, programming skills, and a commitment to logistics. Today, around 1.7 million people run shops on Shopify. Other low-code sites like Redbubble will take care of the dropshipping logistics once you’ve uploaded the image you want stuck on a product.
“Fishing memes are hilarious and I’ve never really gone fishing before. Frightening aquatic creatures is sexy, that’s why women love me,” says Jackson Weimer, a 24-year-old recruiter who runs the Instagram meme page @hugeplateofketchup8.
Gabe Hockett, a 15-year-old high school student from Minnesota, bought himself a super tall hat because he likes things to be shredded until they no longer make sense. “Bucket hats are so absurd, but they suit modern humor perfectly,” he says.
John Manheimer, who runs various ultra-popular social media accounts via graphic t-shirts, thinks that a lot of fishing humor fits into a “whole genre of tongue-in-cheek meme-things that are super-based, super-fried memes.”
“After more than a decade of social media, we’re all kind of wild,” he says, “so we start saying things like, ‘Women love fish, I’m afraid,’ you know?”