Friday, May 1, 2015

The Trout Industrial Complex

AT left, a copyright-free image from wikicommons thanks to the Queensland State Archives.

From the film The Magnificent Seven, screenplay by William Roberts:

If God didn't want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.


Hello lambs.

I tell you here in these pages that you are being mislead, deceived, and lied to.

The Trout Industrial Complex is no different from the automotive industry, the consumer product industry, even the durable goods industry.

We miss the label "brighter, whiter" or the old salt "new and improved" or my favorite "new for 1958." That's about the only difference.

When you are a public company and you have investors who are interested in growth, as a CEO you have to produce growth. Most common institutional investors are generally loathe to invest in declining markets - those industries whose comprehensive gross revenue number decline year-over-year.

SO, we come to the recreational products industry and the segment near and dear to all of us: fly fishing.

You have noticed the uptick in the frequency at which gear catalogs appear in your mailbox. 

 You go to your local fly shop and see gear and gadgets which your father would not be able to identify. Hell, you might have to ask about some of it yourself.

Worse, you pull up to your favorite stream and there's a suburban in the lot covered - and I mean covered - with manufacturer's stickers like some 70's era Winston Cup stock-car and you don't recognize most of them.

You're being "marketed."

There is the prevailing notion that newer is better. There's the idea that the right gear makes the fishing better because it makes the catching better.

There's the idea that if you are not spending to keep up with the latest gear, well. You're a second-hand Joe and maybe ought to consider a different sport because, after all, serious anglers use  a Helios 2 tip-flex 10' 4 wt or, well. I guess dry fly isn't for you.

Guys that make fishing shit generally have to keep selling you new fishing shit, attract new guys to the sport to sell new fishing shit, or advance model/design/styling/label to make your old fishing shit old embarrassing fishing shit so you buy ... new fishing shit.

I know a guide (who doesn't like me at all) whose gear was frequently held together with tape and who can catch more trout off rusty bits on his sun-visor in a tea cup than most of us will catch in a season. He uses an ancient RPL 6wt a bamboo-loving client declared as shit back in the day and gave it to him in lieu of a tip.  He hates the thing. Won't spend money on his own gear, though. He knows that the gear doesn't matter.

You won't find that particular sensibility within a hundred miles of a fly-fishing show, however. Gear "is here."

The guide's an old front-range communist who was just smart enough to keep his mouth shut about it  until some young kid showed up with a recon-cut wearing a painted leather jacket that said "this machine kills communists" on its back.

I'm bitching, so I'll get to the point.

What makes your fishing enjoyable? Not catching - I'm not talking about catching. I'm a fly fisherman. Catching is immaterial.

What makes your day enjoyable?

I like Squadron Leader in a beat-up briar and Glenfiddich old enough to vote.

I like a slow flexing rod that reminds me of a crappy piece of fiberglass I carried around until I crushed the top section in a door for the third time in her life (cabin screen door this time) and she de-laminated for good.

I've got a couple damn fine pieces of fiberglass now. Glass is not dead.

I like warm feet and cool knees. I like enough breeze to keep the worst of the mosquitoes away but not enough to cause my light casting any trouble.

I like the last hour of almost-light. I like the first hour of that, too.

I'm delighted over 8" brookies.

I like a warm beer I forgot about in my bag late in the day. I like a cold beer at 9 AM I'd intended to save for lunch. I love finding hot coffee left in the thermos after lunch.

I like cinnamon jolly ranchers and spicy beef jerky.

I like threading and tying a fly in about fifteen seconds. Doesn't happen nearly enough.

I like hearing my buddies laugh at jokes I didn't hear.

I like fishing so quietly I don't flush the chickadees from streamside brush.

None of this has anything to do with a Sage TXL-F fly rod.

What the duck does that even mean?  TXL-F? Christ, you're not going to shoot down a MIG with the thing. Can we please shit-can the "tactical" naming around here?

Fly fishing is expensive. I'm not going to defend that.

It's a couple hundred dollars to step in the water and another couple hundred to catch your first fish and that's if you've got a buddy who can protect you from the marketing hype of  "might as well buy good gear" when you personally know exactly shit about good gear.

Nobody starts with a Jim Payne or a Bob Summers - and that is good gear. The rest of it is just "ok" gear which frankly, is good enough.

Cheap is usually crap and expensive is usually - well. It's sending someone else's kid to college.

Expensive gear sure isn't more fish than a kid on the bank with a cane pole and worms. It was a long time until my biggest trout was not one caught with worms as a kid. I still haven't caught one bigger in Michigan and I've been here seven years.

The circumstances which make fly fishing fun are the places in which we tend to practice the sport, the times at which we do it, the people we gravitate towards to do it with, and the solitude of standing in cold water waving a stick and largely not catching fish.

I stole a bunch of that sentence from better writers I've read, I'm sure.  They probably aren't surprised or upset, either.

That's part of it.

The new gear, the sponsor labels, the hottest "new" fly - none of that shit in the catalogs or the ads means any more than the pile of crap in your yard from your neighbor's labrador. You knew he was going to shit in your yard the day you saw the puppy out with his kids and you hoped he might turn into a decent duck dog because you could sure use one come November.

I don't have any problem with the cost of solidly built gear that you learn to enjoy. I don't see why a decent rod doesn't have a fifty-year horizon of use. Keep throwing it, and chances are you'll learn to use it just fine.

Don't buy something that makes you hot and sweaty. You'll regret it. Think of having it on your person when it is eighty and sunny (I'm in Michigan. 80 and sunny is now "hot." Yes, I know it isn't hot in Georgia. I lived through a summer stacking hay when we had 30 days in a row over 100 so I know hot, mister. 80 is now hot).

Don't buy gear you have to baby. Don't buy camo anything. Digital camo fly box? Really? Silver - maybe not. Green is good. Go with green.

I spent money this week on a Hardy Marquis reel. Nothing too bad for price  - but it hasn't been made in fifteen years (this one is forty years old) and the gentleman I bought it from wrote me a letter and told me how he'd bought it for a grandson who doesn't fish and now he himself cannot wade any longer and hoped I'd enjoy its use.

New. In. Box.

Leather case. Paperwork. Kid's name in pencil on the bottom.

I'm not sure I know a sadder story right this minute but I'm damn sure that a new Lamson ULA Force SL reel at three times the price will never mean as much as this Marquis I have on my desk.

The Trout Industrial Complex understands exactly shit about "the why." If they did, they'd try to sell you that, too. Maybe packaged like a candy bar.

Try new Redington Solemn Reverence ZV-DNW Mk3 in salted caramel. It'll melt you heart. Casts 70' in a parking lot, too - in case there are any trout hanging out 70' feet away in a parking lot.

Dog knows I've caught a shit-ton of fish there.

Would I like to you, Lambchop?


  1. You speak the truth! There is so much "gear" out there, that a new fly fisherman goes into information overload just trying to decide on a line choice.

  2. You are so right, Cliff. Fourteen lines alone under "trout" at the Rio site without considering sinking, sink tip or - dog forbid - specialty lines.

    This is not helping our sport. This is selling the "magic beans" of gear.

    I call bullshit on the TIC.

  3. Good. Gotta go but will be back for this one. Save my seat.