In my previous submission, I learned that it is not enough for a gentleman to simply own fine sporting equipment. Furthermore, it is not at all acceptable to seek profit from it. Instead, a gentleman should learn to use that equipment and seek the physical and spiritual benefits they might provide. I now owned a set of split-cane bamboo fly rods and all the necessary accoutrements, which was proof enough that I was now a fly-fisherman. It was time to venture afield. Unfortunately, there were no appropriately wild trout streams in my vicinity — the sort Norman Maclean described in his stories about fishing in Montana. And so, instead, I packed up my fishing things in an old-fashioned canvas rucksack and took a very short trip to a local public pond near my neighborhood. This local pond is a rather suburban affair — a near perfect circle with concrete banks around much of it and a picnicking pier that reaches out toward the center. Spaced evenly along the banks were bait-fisherman sitting on their coolers and watching their bobbers.
Bait-fisherman are a different sort than fly-fisherman as their sport is more passive. Instead of elaborately hand-crafted flies, they use worms, grubs, or some-such-bait on a hook. Instead of the constant rhythmic casting, they toss their bobber and bait into the water and wait. Sure I’d once been a bait-fisherman, but as I passed them one by one sitting along the bank, the technique seemed very boring to me. I walked around a bit before I found a space big enough to allow me to safely cast without hooking someone’s hat or earlobe. I placed my rucksack near the edge of the pond and ceremoniously, with great flourish, pieced together one of the rods, then attached the reel, and finally strung the heavy fly-line through each of the eyelets. The most exciting part of the procedure was tying on the fly (the lightweight lure with a hook in it) to the end of the “tippet” (the very thin line attached at the end of the fly-line). I had spent significant time learning the appropriate knot for this as I wanted to be certain not to lose my first catch to ineptitude.
Fly-line is designed to have greater mass than normal fishing line, so that it can be flung through the air as one whips the tip of the fly-rod to-and-fro. It is the weight of this line, and not the weight of the lure, that propels the lure. I raised and then thrust the tip of my fly-rod forward, and then backward, and then forward again letting out line a little bit at a time. My early casts were not at all disappointing. In fact, after only a few tries, I was able to fling the heavy line nearly 25 feet. I did this repeatedly, casting it out, then reeling it in. It did not matter that I was not catching anything. I was having a very good time whipping the line around and watching it cast out over the pond and then splash into the water. What’s more, I noticed that I was being watched occasionally by one of the nearby bait-fisherman. I was certain that I was putting on quite a show for him and became delighted when he walked toward me to speak. We greeted one another and he asked if he could take a look at my tackle.
“Split-cane bamboo!” I said, before handing over my fly-rod. I must have been a curious sight for him, I thought. Such a different sort of sportsman with my obtrusive casting and odd tackle. It would be my pleasure to assist in his curiosity.
“Yes it is,” he said, shaking the rod to test flexibility — as I had done in the fly-shop a few days prior. “Do you mind if I try this?”
“Not at all,” I said proudly, and gave him a short lecture about what techniques I had found to be successful. He listened and smiled with rapt attention. When I finished, he motioned to the water and I stepped back to give him room.
He raised the tip of the fly-rod with some authority, and upon doing so, entered into a sort of Zen-like trance. With great precision of motion and meter he began waiving the the rod to-and-fro, and at the same time, feet upon feet of fly-line began expelling itself from the eyelet on the tip of the rod until the line reached seventy or eighty feet out over the pond, landing gently upon the surface of the water. He snickered a bit—not smugly, but seemingly from embarrassment — and he reeled up the line and tried again. His second attempt was more grandiose in motion and eloquent in style and the line flew from the eyelet at the tip of the rod even more furiously reaching out well beyond one hundred feet, and again gently coming to rest on the surface.
I was transfixed. “How do you do that?” I asked, and so began a true lesson in casting. That evening I learned to back-cast, roll-cast, and “present” the lure to the surface of the water gently so as not to scare the fish. Above all, I learned how little I knew. Finally, when we were packing up for the evening, I asked him, “Why don’t you fish with a fly-rod in this pond?”
“There are no fish in this pond that bite on flies,” he said politely and left.
I saw that man only once more, but not in person. It was on the cover of a newspaper that you can read here.
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For further reading on the art of fly fishing, I recommend:
Maclean, Norman (1992), A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. New York, New York: Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster).