Neil Travis - May 7, 2016

In the last issue I wrote an article entitled "The Fun Factor" in which I lamented some of the practices that I have recently observed while pursuing trout with a fly rod. I also quoted another angling writer who has observed the same things. Some of our readers took exception to my conclusions and perhaps I'm to blame for their reaction.

Fun is a rather nebulous term, and it can be defined as a time or feeling of enjoyment or amusement. As one of our readers noted "fun for one may not be fun for others or you," and he was absolutely correct, however the intent of my observations were not really intended to define fun but to make a comment on my observations and that others also concur with those observations. The heart of the issue is what is fly fishing?

I found the following simple definition by using my computer driven dictionary: Fly-fishing – to fish using a rod, reel, and line, and a lure resembling a fly [Encarta Dictionary]. At a basic level this does define the how of fly fishing but not the what. In grammar the root meaning of the word "what" is 'to request information about the identity or nature of somebody, or about the purpose of something.' It was the purpose of fly fishing that I had hoped to get at in my article but by using the word "fun" I failed to connect with the reader as I had intended.

So, rather than trying to define what fly fishing is I will give the following example:

Those of us that knew him called him Old Joe and I met him in the mid-70's when he started to work at Dan Bailey's Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana. He was from Pennsylvania and he started making an annual trip with angling friends to Montana in the 60's and when he retired he hopped on a bus and came to live in Montana. He got a job as a sales clerk at Bailey's to help supplement his retirement income and I soon came to know that he was a superb fly fisher.

I had the privilege of fishing with Joe for several years. He was an old time wet fly fisherman and very skilled. He was not a pretty caster doing most of the things that would cause a casting instructor to pull out their hair, but he could drop his cast of flies in a circle the size of a tea cup time after time. He never used a strike indicator but he would fish down through a run with a cast of wet flies or bouncing a nymph along the bottom and hook trout after trout.

Old Joe did not have a car for several years after he moved to Montana so he rode his bike down to the river to fish. Joe tied most of his own flies and most of them were rather crude but they worked consistently. There was a back channel of the Yellowstone that was his favorite place to fish and during the winter months it was reduced to a series of small braided runs and most anglers would not give them a passing glance. On the warmer days during the winter Joe would fish this area several times each week and from this water that other anglers passed by he would catch trout after trout, and not just small ones. Using old style wet flies and an occasional nymph he probed each pocket and small run and on several occasions I saw him catch several trout over 18 inches from a trickle of water that looked like it would barely conceal an 8 inch fish. Even after he got a car he continued to fish that area.

Joe fished because he loved to fish. On many occasions I observed his angling prowess but I never heard him brag. He cast like he had a broken wrist, his old waders often looked like they were made of patches, and his flies were certainly not a thing of beauty but he knew how to catch fish with flies.

What distinguished Joe from many of today's fly fishers is that he fished with flies because he loved it. Joe did not fish with flies because it was the "in thing to do," he did not fish with flies to boast his ego, or to brag or boast about his prowess and skillful angling ability. To Joe fly fishing was not something you added to your itinerary just to fill out the day, or to take some pictures to impress your friends. He could select and tie on his own flies, make the proper cast, mend and adjust the drift of his flies, hook and land each fish without the assistance of a guide. He did all this without the latest equipment or gadgets. In short, Old Joe defined what it means to be a fly fisher and we need more of his kind today if the sport that we love has any hope for the future.

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