January 12th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Got Style?

By Ron Eagle Elk

Almost 45 years ago, when I was a hundred pounds lighter, I was a climber. I lived to pit myself against rock, ice and the elements. Life existed at the end of a climbing rope. When I started climbing I was under the tutelage of an old man, of about 30 years, from England. We trained constantly. When I wasn't in school, I was in the gym or on the boulders that lined Mission Gorge, practicing moves over and over again. At a time when iron pitons were hammered into rock cracks to protect the climbers, we used chocks made from nuts purchased at the local hardware store. We weren't flashy climbers, nor were we always successful, but we always climbed with style. That intangible, unexplainable something that marks you as one who practices your craft. During my years since, I have tried to do things with style, no matter what I was doing. I haven't always succeeded, but when I lost, I lost with style.

That's great, you say, but what has that got to do with fly fishing? Am I suggesting we all show up on the river in white shirts, ties and our tweed coats and caps? Nope, but it would add a touch of elegance. Nor am I suggesting we all become purists with bamboo rods and silk lines.

What I am suggesting is outlawing the use of weighted flies. This is a real sticking point for me and, in my opinion, violates the ethics and style of fly fishing. I know this will draw some flak from some of our members here, but let me give a couple of illustrations.

At a popular spot on the Nisqually River I watched a so-called fly fisherman use weighted flies to foul hook or snag salmon. Another gent showed up with his fly pole, stripped fifty feet of line off the reel, tied a weight on his leader that would anchor a boat and tried to cast his corkie like it was a spinning rig. These two not only violated the style and ethics of fly fishing, they violated the law. Their actions, however reflected on fly fishers as a group, not just those two idiots.

Early last year I watched a younger guy fish one of my favorite sections of the Deschutes near Tumwater, Washington. He was casting with very wide loops, often ducking his backcast, and several times hitting himself with his forward cast. More than a couple of times there was a loud crack, similar to a .22 rifle being fired as a heavily weighted fly hit his rod. Every time his fly hit the water there was an audible splash. When he took a breather I went down for a streamside chat. His bead head Hare's Ear was suggested by a department store clerk as a good casting, fish catcher. When I offered to show him a couple casting tips, he declined, he even declined the un-weighted versions of the nymph he was fishing. Mine weren't heavy enough to cast.

The use of weighted flies makes it easy to fish. We can just cast it out there, toss a somewhat adequate mend and the fly is down where we want it. But we loose something in that process. We loose style, that certain something that shows we have worked hard enough and long enough at our casting, presentation and line mending that will allow an un-weighted fly to sink to the proper depth in the water column. Using weighted flies we can be apathetic about casting, presentation and line control which are the cornerstones of fly fishing. More importantly, to me at least, fly fishing as a whole suffers. What has been a sport of gentlemen and ladies who fished with style, grace and elegance is reduced to something less, and we are all poorer for it. Outlaw weighted flies/leaders and we may have to practice more, we might not catch as many fish, but those who hunt for that perfect drift will get better.

There may be a financial boon to using un-weighted flies also. If we quit cracking our rod tips with weighted flies, maybe the rod manufacturers won't have to honor so many warranties and reduce the price of rods. Nah, never happen.

I've known a lot of people who did things with style. One was John, my climbing mentor, another was the elderly Scotsman who taught me how to play snooker, and then there was the guy I met on the Yellowstone River who took time from his fishing to coach me, and emptied his fly box to fill mine. Still others are JC and Deanna who came to a Pow Wow where I was singing and took the time to help my wife and I with our double haul out in the parking lot. All of these folks are or were masters at something they were passionate about, yet they took the time to share what they knew to help me and many others learn and progress. There is nothing elitist about pursuing perfection in fly fishing. To fly fish with style means that we have to be willing to help out those who are taking their first steps in our sport, and to do that with patience and an open friendship.

I guess I've rambled enough about this. If your ever down at River Park in Nisqually Pines out in Yelm, Wa., I'll be the guy in the white shirt, tie, tweed jacket and cap practicing my casting and line mending. Okay, I'm kidding about the attire.

See you on the river. ~ REE


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