You don't get to be a zealot without
stepping on a few toes along the way.
Fishermen, particularly fly fishermen, are
zealots. Don't try to deny it, you know it's
true. We are not emphatic about our hobby, we
are not enamored of it, we are infatuated, we
are obsessed. We are zealots. Fanatics.
But what gets me is people who, in the interest
of small talk, leave themselves wide open when
asking something like, "So, did you get to go
fishing this weekend?" while having lunch.
I'm sure they intend it as innocent small talk.
Then, when you launch into a tirade about where
you went, what fly, what rod, what leader, the
weather, the feeding patterns, and so forth,
their eyes glaze over and they are suddenly
very fascinated with their pasta.
People don't understand us. People who don't
fish, that is. And the inevitable extension
of that is, people who fish but don't fly fish
don't understand us.
Admittedly, I don't understand us sometimes either.
This whole fishing thing. What's the point? Oh,
don't give me that speech about communing with
nature, touching our heritage, appreciating the
battle of wits and skill. I'm the one who writes
all that dribble remember? Much as I believe it's
true, there are moments when I sit back and look
at myself and wonder to what possible end does
becoming such a fanatic serve?
I am lucky in the respect that I no longer have
a wife who tells me I should not or cannot buy
that new rod. On the other hand, such safety
features would probably keep me from getting
the electricity cut off. My girl does her best
to keep me in check, I have to give her due
credit. Yet there's no control mechanism for
my fanaticism. I am mostly untethered, unencumbered,
without oversight. I can get up and go fishing
practically anytime I want when I'm not at work.
I can gleefully leave the house behind with a
sink full of dishes, a laundry basket full of
dirty clothes, the lawn up to my knees and the
truck having changed colors due to the grime on it.
My father was not quite the zealot I am, but I
do come by it honestly. My mother recently
observed to my girlfriend that, "I think he
likes fishing even more than his daddy." This
is quite a statement, for in my mind, my father
was the most dedicated fisherman I ever knew.
However, he had the priorities of a wife, family,
demanding work at the plant, and two or three
part-time at-home jobs for extra money. Still,
there were many weekends I recall dad getting
bit so severely by the bug we didn't see him
from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening
during the daylight hours.
Last year, I fished almost every single day. After
work, before work, each day of the weekend, unless
something absolutely unavoidable caused me to miss
out. If my job as a journalist required me to cover
a city council meeting or the like, I had my rod
and tackle bag in the truck, sitting in City Hall
anxiously watching the clock and trying my best
not to suddenly scream, "Oh, get on with it, will
you?" during some tiring discussion among council
members regarding employee health insurance while
dusk was fast approaching. That's not obsession?
Sure it is. And when someone asks me, "Did you get
to go fishing this weekend," over lunch on Monday,
you can bet your bottom dollar they're going to get
the whole play-by-play with emphatic zealotry.
Those like me go through great pains to go fishing.
We juggle schedules, people and responsibilities.
Say it's Wednesday after work. You know you have
a dinner date with your girlfriend or wife, and
you need to stop and get groceries because the
refrigerator is about as barren as a tundra. On
top of that, you are wearing your last clean pair
of jeans. What you do is, invite the girlfriend
to go fishing with you until dark, which she'll
either decline or accept, either way, you've gained
her approval because it's going to take her until
dusk to get ready to go out anyway. So you throw
an ice chest into the back of the truck or car,
race through the supermarket for your groceries,
throw it all in the ice chest with a bag of ice,
then haul butt down to the pond to fish for two
hours. When the sun goes down, you high tail it
back to the house, put up your groceries, shower
while your jeans are running through the dryer
with a wet towel and four scented fabric softener
sheets, dash out, get dressed and finish tying your
last shoe just in time to answer the door when your
girl knocks. Of course, if you have a wife or
live-in girlfriend, slight alterations to this
plan are in order.
Football fanatics have it made: They only have
to make such arrangements when the game is on.
The best we can hope for is rain to achieve
some semblance of a normal, responsible lifestyle,
but then, we all have a slicker suit, don't we?
So we slap at the alarm clock at 6 a.m. Monday
through Friday, groggily complaining that we
have to get up to go to work, fall back asleep,
the alarm goes off again, this process repeats
itself until we haul ourselves out of bed,
cussing about the injustice of it all, still
so half-asleep we make coffee with flour, all
the while complaining about having to get up
so early. But on Saturday morning we leap out
of bed an hour before sunrise and stand there
at the boat launch or on the water's edge,
patiently, eagerly awaiting for just enough
light to shine so we can cast, or drive the
boat without running into a barge.
This is our lot in life, as fishermen. What I
find especially odd is that while I was a
dedicated tackle and bait fisherman, fly fishing
has made me all the more obsessive. I guess that's
to be expected, since I enjoy the fly rod so much
All of which does nothing to explain why we brave
stinging and biting insects, snakes, bears, falling
to our deaths, drowning and all other manner of
risk to chase fish. Our non-fishing wives, girlfriends,
friends and co-workers look at us as if we're some
sort of head case, mildly amusing but to be pitied.
Pity me all you like. Just don't ask if I had a
chance to go fishing. Your pasta's not nearly
so interesting as my fish stories! ~ Roger