June 22nd, 1998
The Quiet Sport
Memory is an odd thing, I don't think it can be trusted to be
accurate; at least I don't think mine can be. It seems the times and places in my
past linked to fly fishing were quiet times. Times of peace. Times of serenity. A
vivid image of the Au Sable stream lazing just feet from my position on a down-fall
cedar tree. It was afternoon, trout were nappin' and as I leaned against the gnarled
old 'sweeper' the world seemed like a nice place to live. It is the Main Stream of
the famous blue-ribbon Au Sable in Michigan. Roots clinging to the bank, boughs
protesting the current; generations of fuzzy moss accentuating the up-swept profile;
I leaned back into it's inviting contour and got out the book.
This is to be savored, treasured, not 'gobbled-up.' Not this, not my
chance to start reading 'The Compleat Angler, A Contemplative Man's Recreation.'
A water strider is scudding across the shimmering back eddy at my feet. Nothing
seems to wish to eat him. Strange bugs, the water-striders. Don't appear to have a purpose;
so, anyway, who does? I do... Now. The diminutive medium green book opens in my hands.
The text is strange, Old English, or something; it's strangeness adds to the moment. Time is
standing still. The page is number five. It reads...
Not just any book. I had set this up. Waited weeks to go here,
get here, and sit here. This was no accident, this was an appointment. My appointment
with me. The 'fiddle-head' ferns floated above the needle carpeted floor of my chosen
retreat. Stark still in the mid-day doldrums. Only sound is the whispering of the stream.
Sun is high, nearly over head. Nothing stirs on the cedar swamp shore. No partridge, no
'timber-doodles, (they will dance later this evening). Air smells warm, a bit dusty, fern
pollen perhaps. A good smell. Some 'bottle-gentian' are struggling their blue bonnets
defiantly thru the forest duff. Nearly inconspicious nymph cases adorn a few of the scrub
branches defining the waters edge. They were not here yesterday; will be gone soon. And
I will be gone tomorrow; but, I am here now.
"I think fit to tell thee these following truths, That I did
neither undertake, nor write, nor publish, and much less own, this discourse to please
myself: and having been too easily drawn to do all to please others, as I propos'd not
the gaining of credit by this undertaking, so I would not willingly lose any part of that
to which I had a just title before I begun it, and do therefore desire and hope, if I
deserve not commendations, yet I may obtain pardon."
The discourse took me many hours, no, weeks to read. I carried it with me
often. I would transport myself to the stream-side again and again as I digested the antique text
and truths, the wit and wisdom of times past and yet perhaps present. My attitudes where most
assuredly being formed by that which I allowed ever so eagerly to enter my mind. In it's odd
phrases and archaic twists I found the link for which I had searched. The connection to my inner
self, until now all to elusive. A manner of living, a system of ethics and honesty; not replacing
today's standards, but rather supplanting and enhancing. I have the book with me now as
I write this; it was a gift from a fly fishing friend.
I was to be married only fifty feet from this exact tree two years later. A
birch has fallen twenty feet behind me during the winter, about a foot and a half thick. In the
future I would cut it up and make seats for those who would join us for the evening
ceremony. A stream-side union which would include family, close friends, crossed bamboo
fly rods, a champagne punch bowl illuminated by Coleman lanterns, bugs (may flies) dancing
on the bubbly surface, a judge protesting he should have to exit the stream and change from
waders to slacks for the event. "Hell, the damn fish are rising; dorotheas everywhere!" Had
I not a 'best-man,' he would have done well. He was a fine gentleman. They all were back then.
There was, as I remember, a humility to fly fishing then. There were
those who were accomplished, but, though I met several who had written books, tied flies,
given lectures, caught big trout, several trout and rare trout, there was a humility of
character in them. At least the ones I knew. A friend returned from Florida extolling
the fly fishing of tarpon. "It's not an intellectual experience; it's an athletic exercise. It's
not fly fishing, but it was a great time." I suppose there were casting championships
going on somewhere; maybe fishing contests too. I didn't know of them, and would
not have cared about them. What would be the point? What would they have to do
with trout fishing? Does it have anything to do with it now? I don't know. Perhaps
yes, perhaps no. Your call.
There seems to have been a time when fly fishing was a 'quiet-sport,'
unpretentious, un-assuming, a way of communion, and of communing. One did not
learn 'fly fishing' and then go out and do 'fly fishing.' He purchased a
modestly priced selection of equipment and spent the rest of his life enjoying the
pursuit of 'fly fishing.' Times were different then; so were attitudes, ethics,
goals, and values. Why?
I don't know what happened. I didn't see it happen, but it did.
It split; right down the middle into two factions. And they didn't like each other. They
still don't. But, it's starting to turn around. There became the guru's, the fly shop owners
who know all and everything of any possible value about fly fishing; the 'Lords of the Fly.'
They are still out there. On the other side stayed the fledgling, budding fly fishers. The
ones who would not frequent the 'pro-shops.' The guys who just went out and fly fished.
Both ends of the spectrum; little in the middle..
Emerging from the past, seems to be a group of fly fishers who have
decided it is time to re-introduce the sport to those searching for that which their fathers
treasured. To instill the balance of wisdom, stewardship and completeness of our recreation.
"It's not numbers, it's not sizes, it's not records, it's fly fishing,' one said. And they are
winning with the help of the full-range fishing stores, the 'cross-over' shops, as they are
called in the trades. The shops which replaced the bait-shops. These guys are not 'Lords
of the Flies,' but 'Loyal to the ties,' the ties to traditions, to values, to the real reasons for
the recreation. To 're-create,' that is what it means. To re-create ones self. Fly fishing can
do that. You can do that; there is still time..
Obviously all of us who fly fish find some enjoyment and reward in
the sport at our present level. That each of us have a slightly different perspective may
be the single common thread which binds us in our diversity to support and promote the
esthetics and the values we each have found.
Till next week, remember ...