There are a couple of near all-encompassing activities for the fly angler outside of the simple fiddling at the fly tying vice or casting over a river somewhere. They equate to things like “painting the Forth Bridge”, “Home maintenance”, or “Mowing the Lawn”. Endless pursuits, absorbers of time and effort offering temporary reward and a short lived sense of accomplishment only to turn back on you and leave you with a sense of deja vu as you go through the process in endless cycles of rebirth. A sort of karmic wheel of eternity, never allowing one to progress to the next level a veritable hamster cage,where one is constantly running without the view changing.
One of them is of course the “sorting out the fly boxes game”, this can be endlessly fascinating and is even more exciting if accompanied by the purchase of yet another fly box,(Who amongst us isn’t trying to be the Imelda Marcos of the fly box world).
The idea is that you sort out all the fly patterns in such a way that you can find what you want, when you want it, even if you are staring down the rod tip at a trout the size of your arm. It starts off with a pragmatic sense of organisation, minimalism and functionality and generally (at least in my experience) rapidly degenerates into something very closely aligned to acute Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Or in my case CDO, which is the same but all the letters are in alphabetical order where they darn well should be.
I well recall opening one of my fly boxes in front of a client and his wife, standing next to a beautiful clear and remote trout stream in the Western Cape. The clients, that rare partnership of husband and wife who actually enjoyed fishing together, looked over my shoulder and the husband says “are all your spices and herbs in the kitchen cupboard in alphabetical order? Because hers are”… I suppose that pretty much sums it up.
I like neat fly boxes and I kid myself that it is a practical requirement for effective fishing, but perhaps it isn’t quite so pragmatic after all, not when you get to the point where you throw out perfectly functional patterns just because you don’t have six all the same and they don’t look nice in the box when all the others are in neat little rows of half a dozen at a time. Mind you I’m not that bad, I know anglers who would chuck out a pheasant tail nymph because it had four tails and all the others in the box only had three, and at least one associate who uses forceps to place all his flies in neat little rows in wonderfully artistic order. Removing a fly from one of those boxes is like taking the first slice of an ornate wedding cake, it seems somehow dreadfully destructive, so you end up using a tatty one that is in your hat instead. In short sorting out flyboxes can rapidly become something of a psychosis.
The other closely allied activity is “arranging the fishing vest”, similar to the fly box version but with a little more variety. In general it starts out as a juggling act, trying to find suitable pockets for all the nick naks (and now neatly arranged fly boxes), but do you put your forceps on the zinger or inside the vest so that they don’t flash. Should your fly floatant be on your lanyard or in your pocket and would it be best to reach it with your left or right hand? It generally takes a season or two to sort out the finer points and settle into a norm where you can for the most part find what you want.
Eventually a bond of familiarity forms, although that only holds true if you are actually wearing the vest, try to find something or put something away with the vest hanging over the back of a chair and it takes on the form of a Rubik Cube. I am quite sure that you could lose an African Elephant, never to be seen again, if you put it into the pocket of a casually hung fishing vest on the hook behind your door. Fishing vests when not being worn have pockets that act like black holes; put something in one of those pockets and it will be lost forever.
Just when you have settled down, you have had the same vest for a season or two and finding objects can be achieved without having to raise your eyes from the stream and risk losing sight of your quarry the vest generally wears out.
Fishing gear seems to be spinning into an ever intensifying spiral of product development and as such the fishing vest will certainly not be directly replaceable by the time you need a new one. All of a sudden you find that your fly boxes no longer fit in the pockets of any new vest, if you are very unfortunate you will find that your favoured tippet spools won’t fit into the pockets either. Frequently a new vest then necessitates the purchase of different fly boxes which then leads you back to the “sorting out the fly boxes game”, as said, it is endless, on a worse day I would say “bloody endless”.
Now it so happens that I recently needed to replace a fishing vest, having done too many trips with too much gear the seams parted and the shoulders took on the integrity of damp tissue paper. Items would emerge from the pockets caught up in streamers of loose threads, spider webs of frayed cotton and nylon, I pushed it well beyond stipulated retirement and had patched it with very limited sewing skills more than once, but in the end the need for change was inevitable.
Fly vests have now apparently taken on the guise of fashionability, and although locally we have avoided the garish pink and purple ones that seem to be popular with some lady anglers they still have all manner of bits and bobs sewn in, tied on and generally cluttering up what should surely be a practical piece of fishing attire.
My new vest, a copy of a number of other similar brands of piscatorial clothing, sports some sort of “hard shell structure” to the pockets, and millions of little tags, strings, hooks, urethane springs and lord knows what other nasty little line catchers of questionable import.
Fully loaded one staggers about the river like Mae West, seriously considering breast reduction surgery, wading proves impossible because one’s centre of gravity is all to hell and the risk of tipping over head first into the current has to be constantly controlled through the habitual development of a pronounced backward list. (the primary cause of FIBBS…Fishing Induced Bad Back Syndrome)
This one sports an “expandable rear pocket” for more gear or a “Drinks bladder” but that makes wearing a back pack when guiding dreadfully uncomfortable, the zips dig into my already troublesome spine, and it gets as hot as Hades on a warm day. One can no longer reach the net, particularly in extremis when actually landing a fish and it simply won’t fold up to be put into the bag which I always used to do on the walk out.
Actually the darn thing may looks sexy as hell in the car park, to the uninitiated it may well label me as a serious player, but actually it can’t have been designed by anyone who actually fishes.. When you are on the water with a breeze into your face the tippet material catches any one of the gazillion little toggles or finds its way behind the zips. One can barely see one’s feet when wading for the overhang of the front pockets, and if you actually did fill all of those you would be unable to walk more than a few hundred yards up a moderate incline without requiring CPR. Getting the darned thing over your shoulders is more like some Olympian “Clean and Jerk” than actual dressing.
My mother used to tell me that you “act in haste and repent at leisure” and I did buy this vest in something of a hurry, it was an ill-conceived purchase and I am ruing it more with each outing. Funds don’t allow for a replacement just yet, but I have at least finally taken the razor blade to the darned thing and removed some fifteen, tippet catching, wind waving, jiggling and jangling tags from the zips as well as a couple of totally ineffectual and annoyingly troublesome “spring type zingers”, which seemed to serve no functional purpose other than to catch in everything from the fly line to mesh of the net.The surgery will solve a few of the problems and if I sort out the fly boxes further I may be able to reduce the bulk a little, but much of that is inherent in the design.
Truth be told, I miss my old vest, it was comfortably worn in, faded by the sun and smelled slightly of damp fish. I knew where everything was and it was sufficiently spacious to hold all that I needed without being so over endowed with additional recesses that one felt compelled to carry more.
As one of my good friends commented on a recent hiking trip, “If clothing is getting lighter, waterproofs thinner, and accessories more efficient, why should it be that backpacks are getting bigger?” It is a good point and it seems to apply to fishing vests in much the same manner.
I think that I am going to have to cast about for something a little more old fashioned, a few tippet pockets and four for fly boxes. I will happily skip the drinks bladder, the springs, tags, nick naks, strings, toggles, zingers and such and I really don’t want anything on the back which is going to try to perform a cerebrospinal fluid tap on my lumbar spine every time I lean back against a rock. Something that allows me to stand upright and not end up hunched over like some still evolving ape only recently descended from the trees.
I won’t look quite as sexy in the car park perhaps, but at least I won’t end up crippled after a day on the water.
I can still recall an ancient fishing book, ( you may recognise the description), where an angler stands wearing a shirt to which he has added two large and poorly sewn pockets to the front. The caption read something like “The author with his home designed fishing shirt”, actually at the time I thought that he looked a right tit, but in hindsight perhaps he was a lot smarter than me. Seems to me that we need to make these things simpler not more complicated. Good design of anything should include pragmatic functionality, on a trout stream I can well do without all the “whistles and bells” that just get in the way, and I am already tiring of looking as like a US marine dropping into a “Hot LZ” in some desert fracas.
Perhaps one of these manufacturers should run a competition for us real fishermen to send in designs. That would surely be better than something dreamt up on a CAD program by a landlocked artistic wannabee who can’t make up their mind if they are designing a wedding dress, a parachute harness or the latest in desert combat gear.
Right; now where are those forceps? I need to sort out the fly boxes again.