HAVE WE LOST OUR WAY?
I have recently spent some time checking out the latest and greatest new rods, reels, lines and various other "must have items" that were presented at the latest Fly Tackle Dealers Show. Then we received an article from Warren Patterson "Are We Making Fly-fishing Too Difficult?" [FAOL – October 10, 2011] Warren asked an excellent question, "How much do we really need to know about the 'technical' side of fly fishing before we can start doing it? My follow-up question is: "Have We Lost Our Way?"
Like many of my contemporaries I grew up doing 'outdoor stuff.' I'm hard pressed to remember a time when I wasn't doing something that involved some outdoor activity. I started fishing when I was 6 or 7 years old; poking around the brooks that ran through my parent's dairy farm in upstate New York. With the most basic of fishing equipment and a tin can full of worms that I dug out of our manure pile I pursued the trout that lived in the small pools and beneath the undercut banks. Native brook trout were common in those small rivulets. Later I graduated to larger waters where I was introduced to brown trout and even an occasional rainbow trout. With my folks I moved to Michigan when I was 13 years old, and then I discovered warm water fish; bluegills, bass, crappie, perch, pike, and a plethora of other interesting fish that inhabited the ponds and lakes.
I started hunting when about the same time as I started fishing. I still have the single shot 22 rifle that was my first real firearm. I became the scourge of the woodchuck population that chomped on my mother's garden and I became amazingly adept at shooting the pigeons on the wing when they circled around our barn. A brother-in-law introduced me to the wonderful world of upland game birds; pheasants and grouse. A 16 gauge Mossberg bolt action shotgun was added to my collection of firearms, a present from an older brother. When we moved to Michigan I added waterfowl to my list of desirable things to hunt, and ultimately I graduated to big game.
I remember when I started fly fishing. I didn't know squat about fly casting, presentation, fly selection, hatches or any of the other myriad of things that seem to be so essential today. I had a cheap fiberglass fly rod, a single action reel, and a level fly line. My fly selection consisted of flies like Parmachene Belle, Scarlet Ibis, White Miller, Royal Coachman, Adams and a considerable number of non-descript patterns. With canvas waders, my motley collection of fly patterns, 7½ nylon leaders, and a fly rod that was better suited for poking bats out of a chimney than casting flies I hit the stream. And this was not just any stream but the hallowed fly fishing water of Michigan's Au Sable River. Now being somewhat of a naturalist I had a grasp of entomology and I could at least tell a mayfly from a caddis. Everything else was pretty much Greek to me. However, since I had a firm foundation of fishing with bait and lures before I started seriously fly fishing it was not a real big stretch to start fishing with flies.
Looking back on those humble beginnings I wouldn't trade those years of trial and error learning for an all-expense paid class at a world-famous fly fishing school. You see, eventually I figured it out. When I started reading the available fly fishing literature I discovered that I had learned by accident what they were writing about. Along the way I hooked up with the late JC and between the two of us we honed our skills, perfected our casting, and started tying flies. Most important we were having a whole lot of fun. We were like two beggars that had discovered a source of bread and we wanted to show other beggars where to find it. We started teaching fly tying classes, we offered free clinics on basic fly casting and knot tying, and eventually we even offered 'on-stream' fly fishing classes. The emphasis was always on having fun by taking the basics and running with them wherever they might lead. We ascribed to the quote from Arnold Gingrich, "Fly-fishing is the most fun you can have standing up."
In the fall of 1971 three guys piled into a Pontiac station wagon with a tent trailer in tow and headed west for what turned out to be a turning point in my life. We fished the Henry's Fork, Madison, Firehole, and Nelson's Spring Creek. We were introduced to Gulper fishing by Pat Barnes when he directed us out to Hebgen Lake and we discovered trout cruising along the shore line gulping down tiny Trico spinners. While I have forgotten most of the fish that we caught I have never forgotten the excitement and the sheer joy of discover. Three years later I was literally living the dream when I moved with my family to Montana.
Today the emphasis seems to have shifted. We are a more urban society today, and kids don't grow up poking around in the outdoors. They don't spend idle summer days drowning worms or chasing bugs with a butterfly net. In a recent book, Skeena Steelhead, by R.S. Hooton, I read a piece that struck a chord about what has happened to angling. While the author was talking about steelhead fishing his conclusions are spot on about what has happened on the angling scene.
"There is one more feature of the changing steelhead landscape that has as much bearing on angling traffic and distribution and angler efficiency as roads, helicopters and jet boats ever did. I'm talking www here. The internet offers up instant updates on water and weather conditions, fish supply, latest and greatest equipment and techniques, where, when and how to 'get em', who to hire to guarantee success, yada, yada, yada. ------Nothing is left to chance or self-discovery anymore."
Fishing in general, and fly fishing in particular, is a form of recreation. A quick check of the accepted definition of recreation reveals that "it is an activity that a person takes part in for pleasure or relaxation rather than as work." Further, it is defined as "the refreshment of the mind and body, especially by engaging in enjoyable activities."
Perhaps what we are seeing in today's world is best summed up by a Thomas McGuane, in his book The Longest Silence, A Life in Fishing.
"The sport of angling used to be a genteel business, at least in the world of ideals, a world of ladies and gentlemen. These have been replaced by a new set of paradigms: the bum, the addict, and the maniac. I'm afraid that this says much about the times we live in. The fisherman now is one who defies society who rips lips, who drains the pool, who takes no prisoners, who is not to be confused with the sissy with the creel and the bamboo rod. Granted he releases that which he catches, but in some cases, he strips the quarry of its perilous soul before tossing it back in the water. What was once a trout – cold, hard, spotted, and beautiful – becomes number seven."