Sunday, October 17, 2010

Evolution of an angler?

   I have been thinking about a particular question for a few hours. Namely, is there a place at which an angler will arrive at in the fullness of time? In other words, is there an "end", a "game over", besides death?

   If we assume that such a place exists, it it even desirable to attain it?

   Anthropological perspectives have shifted throughout the years from believing that one culture represented the pinnacle of evolution (western, anglo) to the idea that to understand another culture, we must evaluate that culture in it's own context. We may be informed by our own cultural experiences, but we must not allow ourselves to compare aspects of foreign cultures directly in an evaluative manner.  In this worldview it is not the case that one cultural model is superior, and another inferior. Cultural anthropologists call this relativism.

   What does this have to do with fishing?

   Perhaps more than meets the eye. If we assume that what is right for us is right for everyone, (or that what is right for us now will continue to be right for us for the duration of our lifespan) we are in for a  shocker.

   It is my understanding that in certain weather conditions, it is possible to catch bluewater fish like sails and dorado from the beach in Baja. In contemplation of this fact, I have sometimes made the statement that if I were lucky enough to land a sailfish, on a fly, from the beach, I would quit fishing and do something else with my life. But of course that is not true.

   There is no path walked by more than one, and it is to our benefit that this should be so. Even an earnest attempt to duplicate another's experiences, accomplishments, and understandings will be met with the most essential of failure. But this is not something that is to be lamented, it is instead to be celebrated!

   My choice as an angler is to be willing to go where the spirit moves me. I have no pre-concieved ideas concerning what my eventual destination will be. I do in fact question on a routine basis what it is that compels me on a visceral basis to go out an harass fish over and over and over and over and over and over and over... and I never come close to an answer. It just seems to ridiculous to contemplate. And yet... so is life!

   My opinion is that there is NO reason to fish that can be put into words that another human could understand. You either get it or you don't. As Sir Edmund Hillary said, we do it "because it is there." Being engaged in a pursuit both trivial and profound, we can no more justify our obsession than we can describe infinity. So to assume that there is a universal, sequential order to an angler's development, something that indicates our progress, is as useless as saying painting is art but photography is not.

   That is not to say that there is no way to gauge our relationship to the game. We may improve our skills. We may observe the development of abilities, and note that priorities have changed. But these things are as personal as they are subjective. In a material sense, I may improve my casting ability by an order of magnitude, but I will never cast as well as Joan Wulff. I may one day decide that the only way to fish is with traditional Catskill dries...

   But then again, I might quit fly fishing all together and just soak worms...




  1. Like life itself, everyone’s journey through our sport is unique. Personally, as the years have piled on and I’ve had the opportunity to wander down life’s path, often with fly rod in hand and can say that each new trip is a new experience, just like each new day will be unlike any before it. Each of us approaches the sport in a very personalized way, even if it’s our belief that we are following in the footsteps of a teacher or following the path laid down by someone’s writings or instructions. There is no correct way to fly fish, no technique that supersedes another, no local traditions or techniques that truly separates the individuals that partake in the sport. The commonalities of the rod, the fly and the fish all place us on the same boat. If any two of us board vessel in on the eastern side of the Atlantic and sail for New York, there is commonality, we may even set at the same table and eat the same meals, but if one of us chooses to ride the weather deck for four days while the other chooses to stay in their berth with a good book, who’s crossing had the most significance? At some point we will all disembark in New York, share a final commonality and, hopefully, have enjoyed our little cruise to the fullest.
    It’s inevitable that all of us will make a final hook set at some point in our existences. For some it will be the on a trip where we’ve spent the day breaking current and hoping for one more big fish before the day ends. For others it may be as simple as it was for one of my loved ones who simply sat down on the bank one afternoon, and after sixty years on the rivers, smiled and said; “It’s just too damned nice a day to fish”….
    Ultimately, fly fishing is a trivial pastime that can take us all on our own personal little journeys where we chose the path we take, what forks in the path we follow and sometimes into secret little places that belong only to us as individuals. In the broader view its only real significance may simply be that it is a very nice vessel to make the crossing on!

  2. I remember hearing a good quote recently:

    "We fish because of the places it takes us, the adventures it offers and
    the way it lets us escape!"

    When all is said and done, I believe this to be true.

    Plus i just really like to catch fish. Thanks Shaun for all the advice over the past few years.


    The Other Shaun

  3. Shaun, you continue to amaze me with your natural ability. I wish I had the knack for it that you have. You make it look easy. Up yours.