Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Four Anglers

Above, rainbow trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service as hosted on wikicommons. Copyright free image.

There are four anglers one meets with a fly rod.

The Infrequent Angler.

The infrequent angler is solely in the purview of recreation. We meet a great many of this sort. Unfortunately, we meet them in fleeting acquaintance too often. Mayflies share a great many traits with these folks.

The infrequent angler is usually recognized by new gear, squeaky boots, and a single-minded desire to wade directly into the water most likely to hold fish. They usually have a poor sense of space wandering through water they ought not to wander into, wading past anglers they should walk around, and crowding holes that "look fishy." 

They mean well. They false cast too damn often. 

Usually, they take to reasoned instruction like fly to flypaper though caution is needed lest the pursuit of fly fishing seem too much a mechanical process (tab A into slot B and ... trout!). You have to give them space for the mysticism of the water to take hold.

Sometimes it doesn't take hold.

Infrequent anglers are also full of the the enthusiasm everyone finds themselves envying at a later period of their angling career, even if the admission only comes under the influence of a substantial amount of whiskey.  

The call of the infrequent angler is known far and wide: 
"Hey, I got one!"  
Splashing and gregarious photo-ops follow sometimes to the fish's detriment.

I still love these guys though I've created too few. 

Fishing is a contact sport to infrequent anglers. Bigger is better and a fish is a joy. 

Isn't it always?

The Frequent Angler.

I, for example, am a frequent angler. 

Unfortunately, the label has too little to do with the presence of fish in landing net.

The frequent angler reads the trade literature. They cover the casts and techniques and can discuss the merits of a French leader on a ten foot four weight with a reasonably stiff tip. They can spell O.P.S.T and understand steelheaders as a special sub-culture of the sport who may or may not be expecting a fish on the line at any point in the season. 

The frequent angler considers the match-the-hatch and the presentation bias much as denominations of the protestant faith where, after all, isn't there a common end-goal?  Dry fly purists rate somewhere towards Catholicism. 

Wet-fly soft-hackle addicts? Welcome to temple! Mazel tov!

While we're on it, the frequent angler may proselytize angling as a near-religion. The fishing is an excuse to do something out of the day-to-day humdrum existence. 

It becomes a social bias and discriminator of affiliations leading to the spousal cocktail party opening question of "do you fly fish?" 

Knowing wives commiserate frequently with the one telling the other what a Bougle actually cost instead of what the husband said it cost. 

The "frequent" part of the label refers either to: (1) the rate of an individual's appearance in fly shops fondling gear; (2) the number of times "fishing" might come up in social conversation; (3) the occurrence of fishing related publications arriving in the mailbox or (4) all of the above.

Yes, there is an uptick in the number of fishing excursions of the frequent angler over the infrequent; but, fishing itself is merely an endgame whose anticipation is savored much as one might stretch the anticipation of an upcoming extravagant vacation they might not quite be able to afford. 

The call of the frequent angler is widely varied by geography and various seasonal factors but might be generalized as:
"Have you read Marinaro's In the Ring of the Rise?"
The Occasional Angler.

At the pinnacle of  recreational angling lives the occasional angler. The term comes from the west of my youth where severe understatement is a rule and is much a part of speech as the rhyme might be to a cockney cant. 

This individual is the one about whom it can be said "they can occasionally catch a trout ... out of a shallow mud puddle on a moonless night." These are anglers whom we mere mortals deign to imitate.

Unfortunately, the mass of internalized knowledge and experience --usually originating on several continents--from pursuing all manner of game-fish results in an unnatural sixth-sense about where, when, and what to fish. It is almost unfathomable as a science to the new angler.

Exchanges with them tend to be somehow exotic as if in a Tokyo whorehouse whose doorman has to recognize your friend only by face. Where else can you find a girl who will read German poetry all night wearing a Kimono revealing nothing but a smile with a ready willingness to pause in order to refill a masu  (that's a portioned sake cup for you old-school sinners)?  

Yes, you pay for her to read the German. No, you don't understand it at the time either.

The point here is that exchanges with occasional anglers can be surreal to the uninitiated.

"Hey, I just got this H2 lightening rod that'll cast a whole line in the lot over there. Want to try it?" 
"A whole line? Impressive. I'll just keep my Garrison here. Your rod might ruin me for the one just 20' away."
My favorite response from an occasional angler is the time I called over after a fellow I knew who hooked four fish in as many casts to ask "What fly are you using?"

The answer?
"I'm using the one that looks like what the trout are eating."
We went to the river together and the fellow had four flies on his hatband. That's it. No box. No bag. No net down a wading belt. A six weight and four flies on a sun-rotted Bailey hat. Kicked. My. Ass.

Of course, he wasn't even in the game I was playing. No point.

The Commercial Angler.

The fly shop owner, guide, instructor, boat builder, outdoor writer, or rod artisan. These sort of folks feed their family from the water. They're not messing around.

They're not recreational anglers any more. Sure, they love to fish. Tiger probably will say he still loves golf but on the course, you are never playing the same game he is. Not. Even. Close.

The game to the commercial angler usual has nothing to do about putting fish on the end of their line. They're so good, they can put fish on the end of your line even when you're not aware they're doing it.

I can't speak to the days and years on the water it takes to get the observational skill of the commercial angler.

Fish with one of these fellows socially and they'll say things you won't understand at the time.

"Wow, he almost closed on that one. Try that cast again and see if he take this time but slow down after every third strip."
You find yourself polishing your polarized lenses and looking through them queerly suspecting something amiss with the 3dx5 SuperClear coating this brand swears makes all the difference.

We've seen this most of the time when getting a new skill from a guide.

They'll tell you something like "Roll it into the foam line then count two-bugga-bugga after the indicator makes a half twist."

We look at them wondering what language that might be. We try the technique, hesitatingly. No joy.

"Here-- like this," they say taking our rod. "Right there, see that? That was the fish."

Blank stare.

"I'll do it again, slower," comes the assurance the guide offers and ... fish on. He'll then flick it off with a wrist move and presents the rod back to you.

"Like that," he says. Increasingly, she'll say it. Sometimes they smile sheepishly if they know you've paid a good used BMW in guide fees through your lifetime.


Like that.

We've all got places to go, just like the guys in the jet boats. I've an uncle that use to laugh at the jet boat guys.

"Where does a guy in a boat go?" he'd ask.

"I don't know," I'd say.

"Somewhere else," came the reply. Often, it came with a fish on the line.

I like days on the water best. Sent a buddy off to the coast this weekend. Probably won't get to spend very many more days on the water with him. Time. Distance.

Makes the days we enjoyed together special. At least he knows he likes water days too, now.

That's something.



  1. I love the your take on the various anglers. I'm having a bit of trouble trying to figure where I fit.
    I guess I'll reread it again.

  2. I suspect you could pull a trout out of any given puddle, from what Ive seen.

  3. Great piece. But you know far too much about Tokyo whorehouses.

  4. Please dont tell my folks that Im a writer. My mother thinks I play piano in a New Orleans cathouse and I wouldn't want to disappoint her.