By Ed Zern
Excerpt from How to Catch Fishermen, (1951)
I met a fisherman on the Shoharie
last May, and he showed me his fly box. It housed the
sorriest assortment of sloppily tied, soft-hackled dry
flies I've ever laid eyes on. While pawing through
this feathery mess he spotted one March Brown that
was fairly well fashioned, with good stiff hackle, and
he picked it out and gave it to me.
"You'd better keep it," I said.
"It looks like the only decent fly in the lot."
"That's why I want to get rid of it,"
he said. Then he told me about his approach to fishing.
I thought it was interesting.
This man felt that, with hundreds
of tackle manufacturers lying awake nights trying to
think up new, improved ways to make catching fish easier,
the emphasis is being put in the wrong place. His idea
was that with anglers on the incease and available
fishing waters on the decrease, the only sensible
thing to do is to make the catching of fish more
difficult. This, he felt, would discourage a lot of
oafs who aren't happy unless they can snag their limits
on every expedition, and who don't care much how they
get their fish just as long as they get them. He thought
that a lot of alleged fishermen would give up and turn
to some other sport if the emphasis were to be put on
painfully acquired skill and knowledge rather than on
"improved" tackle and lures.
And so he had taken it upon himself
to try to start the ball rolling in the other direction.
He told me that when he found a trout-fly pattern that
was consistently productive, he threw away all flies of
that pattern - until in the course of several seasons,
he had got his collection of flies down to an appalling
collection of odss and ends, any one of which would make
a good fly tyer, or even a bad fly tyer, shake and
shudder with horror.
When I showed him the flies I was
lugging around, he said, "Shucks, bub, anybody can catch
trout on those. Now, you take these flies of mine. I've
spent hours at a vise, trying to invent new patterns that
would be absolutely fishproof. I've spent whole afternoons
pawing through hackle necks at various shops, looking for
the worst feathers in the batch. Why, I've looked
through five hundred necks without finding a single one
poor enough for my purposes. When I read somewhere
that wool is no good for a dly fly body, I tie up a
mess of wool-bodied flies. When somebody comes up with
a theory that pink fox fur is especially effective as
a dubbing material, I gather up all the pink fox fur in
my kit and burn it. When I read an article by Lee Wulff
saying light tackle didn't give the fish as much chance
as heavier tackle, I sold my 3-ounce fly rods and broke
out this 6-ounce club that used to use only for bass
"In fact, I do just about everything
I can to give the fish the advantage, mechanically.
And then I try to substitute streamcraft and skill and
strategy and stalking and sagacity - enough to make up
for the handicap. And when I catch a trout I know it
isn't because my tackle was foolproof, but because
over the years I've acquired a certain amount of skill
in casting and understanding of trout behavior in various
types of water and under all sorts of weather conditions.
Say - that's a terrible-looking fly over there in that
corner of your box!"
"It sure is," I said. "I've tried it
eight or ten times and never had a fish show the slightest
interest in it. In fact, it often scares trout clear
out of a pool."
"Hand it over," said the man, and
after adding it to his ghastly collection he said
thanks and went on his way.
~ Ed Zern
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