Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 17 - Ethos of Fly Fishing

So ever since I heard from a friend on Twitter that the topic of ethics should be addressed I've been trying to define what it means to be ethical in terms of fly fishing. Yesterday's post started out with today's title, but as I started typing, I realized that I was talking more about etiquette versus ethics. There is a distinction between the two.

Etiquette by my definition is based upon politeness. I see it as trying to be nice and to play nice. On the other hand, I define ethics as something that is based upon morals. These two terms often work with each other, and it is easy why the two can be often confused for one another.

My understanding of morals is that it stems from culture, history, and beliefs. If we apply this definition to describing ethics for fly fishing we have to look at what the culture of fly fishing is, what is the history, and what are the general beliefs that are held by fellow anglers.

Fly fisherman (and woman) have long been regarded by the masses as elitist. I hold this true in my own mind as well. Again, I must reinforce that I'm not talking about tweed jackets and affluence, but on setting restrictions upon yourself so that you can showcase your skill. Therefore, the fly fishing culture is considered to impose certain restrictions upon themselves so that they can champion the ideaology of personal ability.

When I look back upon the long history of fly fishing, I see men and women who tend to be seeking something bigger than themselves. I might have romanticized this idea a little. Yet when we look at Izaak Walton's book "The Compleat Angler" and see him argue that fly fishing has been blessed by God, or when reading George Black's book "Casting a Spell" and understand the bamboo rod maker's desire for perfection, or even in the closing lines of Norman Maclean's book "A River Runs Through It" of that "...all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." They all show an aspiration of something greater.

And as far as the general beliefs of fellow anglers, you don't have to search too hard to see concepts such as: conservation, catch & release, tresspassing, or volunteering. While some of these feelings are self-serving to the continuation of the sport, they do play at shaping the roles of ethics in fly fishing. As proof to this statement, I'm sure many of you have seen the old frontier photos of men with 30-40 trophy fish hung on a line. These black and white photos are often grainy and slightly out of focus. Today we see full color photos of "fish porn" gracing the covers of fly fishing magazines, yet we are reassured that these fish have been released shortly after the photo. Times change, and so do our values.

So, as I come to a close on today's post, I now realize why ethics has been never really addressed correctly by many fly fishing articles. It is because it dwells in that gray hazy realm of concepts and philosophy. That while certain things come close to the concept, it never truly does it justice. Suddenly I feel that I should be re-reading Plato's Republic again.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post!

    One thing I try to practice in my etiquette and ethics is elmering. "Some" of my favorite memories never included an actual fish however, in watching, speaking and learning from others who took the time to pass things along.

    No, I am not talking about where the fish are or what fly was hitting well that day, I mean, taking time out to understand my surroundings and mind set while enjoying the sport. I now enjoy watching a wild trout being released from my hand as I do hooking one!!

    Great topic and I am sure you will get some interesting points of view.