A recent conversation with a client made me consider writing this particular blog, it isn’t a new idea but it may well offer some explanation as to why fly anglers are the way they are, if nothing else it might provide us all with a good excuse for our apparently peculiar behavior and stave of the straight jacket.
So why on earth did we focus on fly fishing in the first place? there are after all a good many other ways of catching fish, certainly a few may outlawed, and where I grew up for example the license actually specified some illegal methods such as “bailing”.
That is the blocking off of a pool with rocks and then bailing out the water with a bucket until such time as all the fish were high and dry and simply netted or picked up. You have to consider that although perhaps not sporting, it must be pretty effective and equally demanding of both time and effort. I was always somewhat moved to admiration for anyone who would go to that much trouble.
Truth be told however you can catch fish with nets, worms, float tackle and even dynamite I suppose depending on your ethical tendencies and consideration of the law, but us fly anglers decide to make it tricky from the start. We may not actually recognize this when we set off on our quest but what has happened, even subconsciously is that we have already decided that “How” we catch fish is more important than simply catching them. It is a complexity that is likely to worsen with time.
We all go through phases and despite the implication to the contrary, in reality no particular phase is better than the next, it is simply a natural progression over time and most of us have and indeed are still working our way through those phases.
To start with one simply wants to catch a fish on fly gear, this isn’t that remarkable, even when one considers the evidence. When you set off it seems highly improbably that one can hook and land a fish on such dainty gear or with such a tiny hook and for the first year or so each fish is something of a miraculous surprise. As though one still can’t quite believe that it is possible, a sort of “pulling an aquatic rabbit out of a hat”, generally accompanied by a good amount of grinning into a camera.
Then once one gets used to the idea things change a little and we all want to catch lots of fish, (this phase can return at any given moment and there are few anglers who given the chance won’t want to catch masses of fish at least on occasion, although as a concession to more modern ways we generally don’t want to kill and eat them).
Again this will eventually pass and become “too easy”, then we start to target a specific species, generally trout but it could be bass or yellowfish or leerfish or whatever. This will absorb another season or two before we start to fine things down further and want to catch big fish. The big fish urge can turn us backwards, re-evaluating on which species we are going to focus our attentions. It is easier to catch a big largemouth yellowfish than a big trout for example and some anglers will then deviate from their freshwater beginnings to the salt in the expectation that most saltwater fish are larger than freshwater ones. Equally, and I myself certainly did this at one point, we switch to fishing stillwaters, again because the size of the fish on average is greater.
At some point it is likely however that one starts to recognize that catching large fish that were stocked into a small pond a week previously and which will take anything that hits the water on account of imminent starvation really doesn’t cut the mustard and we move on to more “tricky” quarry.
Size becomes more of a relative measure as we realize that an 18” trout grown out naturally on a catch and release stream is in some way a more valuable trophy than the ten pounder from the stocked pond. Or that a bonefish from the flats is rated above a mackerel that has been brought to the boat in a chum line. Perhaps we walk further into the mountains because that in some manner implied greater commitment, or target impossibly tangled streams simply because it is difficult.
These progressions continue for us all, perhaps not in the same order and some of us will branch off into esoteric pursuits only loosely linked to fishing in the first place. On- stream photography, entomology or fly tying that really have little to do with our actual success on the water but provide an interest and entertainment none the less.
I am not sure where the point of actualization comes, if it ever does but most of us end up wanting to catch a particular fish in the way we desire. So we will eschew the easy trout or the chumline, we will avoid the faster runs in pursuit of a fish rising on an impossibly difficult flat. We will decide to fish lighter line, smaller flies or target impossibly large salt water species for little more reason than it is something we haven’t yet achieved. Perhaps even that no one has achieved.
Perhaps there is an end, maybe one day we cast at a ten pound trout, sipping tiny trico spinners. Lay out a degreased 25ft leader with 8X tippet onto the calm waters and after an extended battle land the fish only to let it go again anyway. At this point I suppose one will disappear in flash of white light and ascend to the next level of consciousness, give up fly fishing and start working towards something really tricky like telekinesis, or spoon bending or even immortality.
I suppose we are all trying to improve, maybe reach some understanding and control, but I hope that moment of enlightenment doesn’t come too soon because for now I am still rather enjoying catching fish. To me that seems about enough for the present but I am still a little fussy about how I catch them and I suppose that in the end that is what it was all about in the first place.