Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recalling the Main Idea

There's a perception that to embrace "tradition" in fly fishing is to look to the past - fish a certain way, perhaps with wet flies in the style of yore, or to carry a creel and fish with a split cane rod - but away from these obvious differences to the "modern" incarnation, I've a feeling there's something more intrinsic about the sport that we’re letting slip by. I've been thinking about this for a while - I think about it when I look at most fishermen - but it came to roost recently with the advent of a wonderful new "app" for the iPhone, which the stream-side angler can turn to for the answers to meddlesome issues such as: which fly should I tie on? How do I tie a knot, or cast just so? Which are the rivers with the best chance of catching? Friends, this modern helper can even tell you which way the wind is blowing and if it is raining, the most perplexing of angling puzzles.

I know I’m getting old, and I'm probably becoming too rigid in the way I like to fish. I should move with the program like the others. But I got to reading a book - a fascinating but soon to be downsized device made of paper and print - by the challenging angler/author Thomas McGuane. And in a trice I remembered that it isn't  me after all.

"Getting rid of stuff is a matter of ceremony. The winter has usually made me yield to dubious gadgets, and I’m at war with these if the main idea of fishing is to be preserved. For example, the net can go; it snags in brush and catches fly line and if it’s properly out of the way, you can’t get it when you need to. Landing fish without a net adds to the trick and makes the whole business better. Make it one box of flies. No mono-filament clippers. Teeth work great. Trifles like leader sink, fly-line cleaner, and geegaws that help you tie knots must go. You may bring the hemostat, because to pinch down barbs and make quick, clean releases of the fabled trout help everything else make sense. Bring a normal rod, with a five- or six-weight line, because in the early season the handle you have on hatches is not yet sufficient and you must be prepared to range through maybe eight fly sizes. Weird rod weights reflect fantasies and often produce chagrin on the water.”   
This reminds me to not get distracted by the need for more stuff. Not just because we don't need it to be good anglers (we all know we don’t needmore stuff, right?), but because with each addition we cut more small corners that help further our detachment from the main idea. I like to think McGaune and other good anglers are still "at war" with the endless trappings, though perhaps now there's no need to be, such is the glaring absurdity of the trinkets on offer to the modern angler, who will soon have no need to think about fishing at all, much less care. 

Perhaps some traditions are everything in fly fishing.



  1. glaring absurdity of the trinkets on offer to the modern angler

    I could not agree more...
    Nice post.

  2. Chatham touches on this as well in one of the essay collections.

  3. Have you ever read Fly Fishing Through The Mid Life Crisis?
    Excellent book IMO.
    He touches on the conflict of traditions.