Neil Travis - May 7, 2012

Recently, in another context, I read an article that asked the question that forms the title of this piece. It really is an interesting question to contemplate and when you beginning to think about what you know – for sure – about a certain subject the more you come to realize how much you know in general and how little you know for sure. In addition, there is a disturbing trend that confuses theory with fact. Fly fishing is full of theories that many people have come to accept as fact. In reality, we think we know but we don't.

For example, I know that if you throw a rock up in the air that it will fall down to the ground. However, I don't really know why. Oh sure, I understand that gravity is the cause, but I don't really know much about gravity and I certainly don't really know – for sure – why it works. There are forces at work that I don't really understand, at least not for sure.

All this got me thinking about what I know – for sure – about fly fishing, and what do I only assume that I know. I know that fish will attempt to eat artificial flies and I presume that they attempt to eat them because they think they are edible. However, I know that fish will eat all kinds of things; like sticks, fluff from trees, bits of plastic, which are obviously not edible. So while I know that fish will attempt to eat artificial flies I really don't know – for sure – why they do.

I know that fish can see things beyond the water where they live, but I really don't know – for sure – what that means to them. Can they see color, perhaps, but I don't know that for sure, and even if they can see color I'm not certain how they perceive it. That I know for sure.

One thing that I know is that there is a lot about fly fishing that I don't know and I know that for certain, however this doesn't mean that I can't enjoy fly fishing. In fact, part of the appeal of fly fishing is the mystery. Why does a trout let my best imitations drift by unmolested only to take an attractor pattern that, from my perspective, looks nothing like anything in nature? Why does a largemouth bass slide up beneath my popper and nudge it with his nose and then swim away? Why does that same bass charge out of his deep water hole and inhale that same popper on the very next cast? Do you know or do you just think you know?

I know that observation can make a person a better angler, but no matter how closely I look I cannot enter the mind of the fish I'm trying to catch. The secrets of why it does what it does are locked in that tiny pea sized brain, and even though it is only a few feet away we are separated from each other by a colossal, impassable gap. Somehow it knows and I do not, and that's how it should be, a proper balance that I'm not certain that I would want to upset, even if I could. And I know that for sure.

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