IGNORANCE IS BLISS
So said Thomas Gray (well, actually, he said "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise";close enough). It makes perfect sense to me, and contrary to the saying's usual interpretation, I'm not sure it's necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it's just the overload of this Information Age, or whatever they call it, but do you ever wonder if knowing about everything is really such a good thing? Fashion, I guess, would be a corollary; I might think I look pretty good until my wife says something like "You're not gonna wear THAT old stuff again, are you?" and suddenly we're up to our armpits in catalogs from Gap or J. Crew or some such place, trying to find something she thinks is acceptable for me to wear in public. To me, things would have gone along fine (and my bank balance would have looked better) if she'd just stayed out of it. Now, I believe in preventative maintenance, but I also wonder if the old, If it ain't broke don't fix it couldn't be expanded to include If you don't know it's broke you may not have to fix it. That led me to the idea that ignorance can be a virtue, and in fact may be highly undervalued.
A situation giving validity to this idea arose recently with regard to my fishing gear. I'd owned and used most of it for a while, and I'd always been (ignorantly) pretty happy with it. But then I started looking at advertising, reading equipment columns and how-to books, looking at the fancy new stuff I saw other guys using and all of a sudden I began to have some doubts.
I had bought my first ever fly rod at a garage sale; paid $2.50 for it. It is a 3-piece bamboo South Bend with extra tip, in the original canvas bag and cardboard rod tube. It didn't have a line weight marked on it, so I asked around, and I settled on a double taper five. I thought it was pretty cool when I later found a South Bend single action reel of similar vintage to the rod; I had myself an outfit! Now, John Gierich, talking about casting in his fine book, Fishing Bamboo, says something about not spending a lot of time trying to find the sweet spot in a rod like this because there isn't one, and I know John has to be right. But I also know that at least a gazillion fish have been caught on rods just like this one; I've even caught a few myself. The only explanation I can come up with is that those particular fish didn't know any better either, and didn't realize that this old junk wasn't capable of catching them. Ignorance is bliss; I mean, what other explanation could there be?
My next rod, an early Browning Silaflex 7-weight flea market find, was a much larger investment: twenty bucks. An old book I have says "The Browning Silaflex rods claim actions equal to the finest bamboo rods" and never having cast a fine bamboo rod I had no reason to doubt it. I loaded it up with a brand new weight forward line on an old Bronson reel (one of those dated-looking red and silver ones) and happily set about catching fish with it. But when I began looking closely at all the new rods I realized that Silaflex was really ugly! Fiberglass looked so chunky and heavy compared to the skinny, ultra-light graphite rods, and the fittings reminded me of the trim on the Edsel my dad used to drive. True, that fat old rod could really throw a bass bug, which I guess I had (mistakenly) thought was the object, but who knew it was a rod you wouldn't want to be caught dead with? Ignorant as I was, I could only imagine the embarrassment I'd caused some equally ignorant stripers and large mouths over the years.
I had stopped at a pawnshop to look for shotgun treasures when my next fishing equipment purchase caught my eye, it being a lot longer than the collection of spinning and bait-cast rods in the barrel they were all jammed into. I fished it out (no pun intended) – a Fenwick HMG 3-piece 5-weight. The tag said $15; I got it for ten, along with a cheap Pflueger Medalist copy nearly frozen solid with gunk, a worn out level line with no backing, a long hunk of really heavy monofilament, and a rubber spider missing a leg or two. The finish was a little nicked up, and somebody had rather crudely re-wrapped a couple of guides with what looked like varnish-coated sewing thread; I always meant to have those fixed but I never got around to it. The reel cleaned up fine and would have worked, but I had an old J. C. Higgins that was looking for a home. If you stand back a ways – say about as far away as a fish might be – the whole rig actually looks pretty good. I now know that I should have left it in that pawnshop barrel, and since I didn't, that I probably should have stuck it in the one I put out by the curb every Monday morning. But as hard as I tried to get rid of it, it just kept finding its way into my gear on fishing trips, and I just kept catching fish with it. Ignorance. Go figure.
Nowadays I've got some more "technologically-correct" gear in my cabinet: a few nice graphite rods, a few decent reels to go with them. I know I must catch a lot more fish with them than I did with those old outfits (otherwise, how would all those equipment manufacturers stay in business?), and what's more, that I look a lot better doing it. But you know, I still have all that old stuff, and if I'm totally honest, I still love it. There are a lot of memories there; memories of when I knew even less than the little I know now, of when I believed that if you just went out with a rod and reel and a line and a fly, didn't do anything really stupid and approached things with a little common sense, you could actually trick a fish into believing you knew what you were doing. I didn't know that the only fish I was catching were the ones that were as ignorant as I. Now that I think about it, though, I was probably too ignorant to care.
So I'll make you a deal: If, once in a while, you see an old fellow downstream, trying to hide back in the shadows while he flails away with some cheap old bamboo rod, or a clunky, outdated fiberglass one, or the ugliest graphite rod you ever saw, don't say anything, will you? That'd be me, and I'll try not to embarrass you by letting on that I know you. If anybody figures it out, you can just say, "Don't pay any attention to him; he doesn't know any better. You know; ignorance is bliss!" Talk quietly, though. There might be a few fish out there that are still ignorant, too, and I wouldn't want anything to wise them up.