Monday, April 25, 2011
Pleasant and Interesting and Satisfying Things
Somebody, in an internet discussion forum, recently inquired of another fisherman, "Well, if you're simply going to cast and strip the fly in, why not just use a spinning rod?" or something to that effect. I believe the original offense was fishing a Clouser Minnow on an intermediate line (two offenses, really). My initial reaction to the question is one of befuddlement. I have done both, and the reason to favor one over the other is simply that they are not the same thing. Like masturbation and intercourse, if you cannot tell the difference, you are doing at least one of them incorrectly. But in some ways, these sorts of comments are variations of the "But it's not fly fishing!" shrieks that we hear all too often. And this, in turn, brings us round to the debates over what the definition of fly fishing is. We, that is fly fishermen, have spent a lot of time arguing over whose definition is sound and whose is horseshit. But what strikes me is that it seems nobody really ever seems to question the initial premise, which is that defining it is something that needs to be done. Perhaps it's the question, not the answer, that is horseshit.
Now, now - I can hear the objections already. We need a definition if we're to enforce the "Fly Fishing Only" regulations on certain waters, you say. But the Fish & Game regulations booklet has as much bearing on what fly fishing really is, or is not, as a speed limit sign has on the meaning of velocity. I have driven 25 miles per hour in a 20 mile per hour zone because that's the sort of rebel that I am - but I never had any illusion that I was going fast.
“But what about the fly fishing record books!?”, you say. The definition of fly fishing, for the purposes of records, is a form of rule-making, and rule-making is necessary for competitive games. And that's what the fishing record thing is all about. But even competitive games can have different rules, without losing their identities. The rules for basketball in high school, college, and the NBA are not identical, but nobody seriously entertains the idea that only one form is basketball. And since I'm not interested in competitive fly fishing, I don't care how it's defined.
I think there's something else going on here, and in my opinion, it speaks to a deeper issue (pathology?) among fly fishermen. Those who are terribly concerned with the definition of fly fishing, and in particular with how other people define it for themselves, seem threatened by the thought that somebody who doesn’t “do it properly” might be called a fly fisherman.
Why this is so is puzzling, unless perhaps it’s because these people are asking fly fishing to define them. “If that guy over there casting and stripping his so-called ‘fly’ can say he’s fly fishing, what does that say about me?”, they implicitly ask, with furrowed brow. Indeed, what does it say about you? If a guy standing on a street corner peeling a banana wants to call that fly fishing, it makes no difference at all to me. Why would it?
I myself happen to enjoy fishing with a fly rod and fly line in a variety of ways, but my favorites of these varieties usually have two things in common. First, I enjoy casting a fly line, particularly if the casts required are at least long enough to allow me to see a nice loop sail through the air. Second, I enjoy the feel of a fish’s strike in my line hand. For these reasons, something like high-stick nymphing, where one might have little if any fly line out of the rod tip, and the hook is set not by a strip-strike but by a quick lift, holds less appeal to me. I do enjoy seeing a fish take a surface fly, but I prefer the explosive strike of a largemouth, striper, or bluefish, which I can both see and feel, over the gentle sip of a trout to a small dry. What this all means, then, is that I particularly enjoy stripping a fly through the depths, waiting for the tell-tale “tap tap”, or better yet, the socket-wrenching tug, that tells me that through this hand line - and that's what it really is, under these circumstances - I have connected to something unseen and mysterious. When that tug no longer excites me, I'll likely not give up just my sinking lines, but fishing altogether.
In “Fisherman’s Spring”, Roderick Haig-Brown explained that the reason he fishes is because “pleasant and interesting and satisfying things happen to me whenever I go fishing.” This seems reason enough to choose that method which pleases one most. I’ve always referred to what I do as fly fishing because it seemed the easiest way to describe it, but the reason I fish the way I do is because it seems to insure that pleasant and interesting and satisfying things happen. So call it what you will. It matters not the least to me if The Committee should someday decide that, according to The Definition, what I do is not fly fishing; it won’t change the way I fish, and upon returning home, I won’t feel compelled to ask my wife “But do you still love me?”
[Photo: Brayshaw casts dries to fickle browns during an evening hatch on Michigan's famed Au Sable River. How does that make you feel?]