Lighter Side
October 12th, 1998
"Crazy Man"

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 bugging.

"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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All About Entomology| Fly Tying Types|
Brook Trout|
"Going crazy; the World's Smartest Fishing Dog (#1)"

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