Why on earth would anyone get so worked up about a bunch of fish getting sick and going around in circles?

A legitimate question. It was asked not long ago by a nonangler curious over all the hoopla about the latest report of whirling disease getting into the Provo River.Two reasons really. One, money, and the second, recreation. And when it comes to recreation, it's both the quality and quantity of time spent.

First, let's talk money. The latest report by the National Professional Anglers Association, based on 1996 figures, showed sportfishing was worth $108 billion - yes billion - to the U.S. economy. Fishing accounted for 1.2 million full-time jobs, paid $28.3 billion in wages and $3 billion in federal income tax revenue.

The American Sportfishing Association broke the numbers down by state and reported that in 1996 the economic impact of angler expenditures in Utah was $468,403,271 . . . yes, $468.4 million. With the growing interest and the robust economy, that figure will probably top $500 million this year.

The report added that this accounted for 6,773 full-time jobs, $124 million in wages and $16 million in state tax revenue.

No fish, no money. Even facing the possibility of fewer fish, the result would be fewer jobs, lower wages and lost tax revenue.

Face it, sportfishing is vital to Utah's economy, despite how some treat it.

Fishermen spent $37.5 million on food and drink in 1996, bought $11.3 million in fuel and spent $4 million on ice - a good chunk of it to keep their catches cool. No catch, no ice.

More important than the financial reasons, however, is the pure enjoyment fishing offers. And it really doesn't take a lot of money to participate.

Go Fish Utah offers rod and reel rentals to kids for free, along with a packet of sinkers, hooks and bait. A good rod and reel can be purchased for under $50. A license for a day is $4 and for 365 days is just $23.

Fishing offers the elements of relaxation and surprise that you can't get anywhere else. Fishermen never know what to expect. It could be good fishing or it could be bad. There could be a fish tugging on the line or it could be just wishful thinking. It could be a small fish, but then it could be one of the trophies we all hear about. It's all part of the intrigue.

And it really doesn't matter if the fish are bitting. Sure, it's nice to catch a fish once in a while. But, most of the time spent fishing is focused on the process, not the catching.

The Utah report showed that there were 405,943 adult fishermen in Utah in 1996, and that together they spent 4 million days by or on a water with a fishing rod in one hand and line held tightly in the other.

That's 4 million days away from ringing phones, traffic jams, problems at the office or a lawn that needs cutting.

That's 4 million days where the biggest decision is what lure to use and whether to cast off the right side of the boat or the left. And really, you never know which is better. And that's part of the intrigue.

Too bad that it takes the threat of disease or damage to remind us of what an impact fishing makes in the state.