Neil Travis - May 21, 2012

In one way or another I have been involved in the sport of angling for over 60 years. Forty-seven of those years have been spent fly fishing. While this is not as long as some, during those years I have covered the gamut of fresh water fly fishing from bluegills to salmon. In the course of time I have spent time working in a world famous fly shop, been a Montana river fly fishing guide, taught fly tying, fly casting and aquatic entomology classes. Along the way I served as a board member and state council chairman for Trout Unlimited, been a publisher, editor, and author for a couple fly fishing rags. Now approaching my three score and ten I find myself increasingly reflective, increasingly questioning the relevance of the sport that has consumed most of my leisure time for several decades.

The only thing that we ever truly possess in this life is time. During our working years we sell our time, and to some extent our talent, but the real exchange is in the equation – time = money. King Solomon, set down some excellent observations in The Book of Ecclesiastes as preserved in the Bible. His observations regarded most of our human pursuits wherein we exchange our time to accumulate things. After careful consideration he concluded that most of human endeavor is vanity, a striving after that which is worthless. He noted that some short pursuits have short term value and some are ever necessary, but he concluded that the line between value and vanity is tenuous.  

One of the things that I have observed is our human tendency to ascribe worth to those activities in which we invest our time, especially our leisure time. I have also observed that we tend to clothe those pursuits with a cloak of difficulty. We use this concept of difficulty to justify the time that we invest in attempting to master it. The more difficult it can be to master, the more subtle and numerous the various nuances that can be attached to it the better, because, with difficulty comes value, and with value comes justification for all the time, money and effort one expends pursuing and mastering it.

This brings us to the sport of fly fishing. What causes a grown man or woman to invest hours of valuable time pursuing a cold blooded creature with an IQ that is barely measurably and feel very proud when they manage to hook and land one? We have vested this creature with intelligence, cunning, selectivity and a degree of difficulty that makes the investment of the time that is involved in its capture a worthwhile exchange for our time.

In addition, we have wrapped up the sport of fly fishing with all manner of subtle nuances, we have made the mastery of the sport as difficult as possible, and we have bequeathed those that we perceive as having mastered the sport with hero status.

Then there are the special tools that are necessary to become a true aficionado of the sport. While it's possible to take part in the game with basic equipment if you truly want to become 'a player' you need 'the good stuff.' Now, the 'good stuff' is expensive but, we have already justified the time that we spend pursuing this sport because we are pursuing a creature that is intelligence, cunning, and selective. Therefore, it is now possible to justify spending whatever is necessary to have all the special tools that are necessary. If we are going to spend the time we need 'the good stuff.'

If you are a 'real fly fisher' you have to tie your own flies. For most of us the original justification for tying flies was related to cost. Commercially tied flies are expensive, and with a few pieces of equipment and some fur and feathers, why shucks you could save a wheel barrow full of cash. Several thousand dollars later any idea of saving money tying your own flies went out the window, but now you justify it because, well, fish are intelligent, etc., etc.

In reality, fly fishing is not really very important. We are, in fact, expending vast amounts of time and money trying to catch a really dumb creature that, most likely, once we have caught it we let turn it loose. We don't catch them to eat; we don't catch them to remove them because they are a pest, we simply catch them to prove that we can.

However, fly fishing really is important, but for none of the reasons that we might use to justify the time and money we expend on it. Perhaps the greatest reason for spending time and money to catch a fish is that it really is unimportant. Your ability to catch a brown trout that is sipping size 28 midges along the edge of a big brush pile will not solve world poverty, erase unemployment, eradicate homelessness, or find a solution to any of the other great world problems. It will not help you pay your bills, get a job promotion, improve your ability to communicate with your kids, or any of the other multi-faceted problems that are part of your everyday life. Nonetheless, the hours that you wile away at this basically unimportant activity may be the most significant thing that you do.

You are never going to solve the world's problems, when you get one set of bills paid off new one will appear to replace them, and your boss and your kids will likely never understand you. Doing something that really has nothing to do with any of the problems of the world, something that is totally irrelevant to any of the everyday pressures may be the most important contribution that fly fishing can make to your life. After a few hours of attempting to match wits with a brown trout, a bass, a salmon, or a bluegill if you return home refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose then you may well have accomplished what is truly the most important thing possible. Perhaps John Voelker [aka – Robert Traver] said it best when he wrote: "I fish - not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun."

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