Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 56 - Future of Fly Fishing

Life evolves. Coming from a man who has an undergraduate in Biblical Studies and is married to a Presbyterian pastor, that might sound blasphemous. Before you throw stones, please hear me out as this isn't a debate of evolution vs. creationism. Instead, what I'm expressing is that life continues to change in ways that shed off old ways of thinking and acting and accept new ideologies. In philosophy, we see a change from modernity to post-modernity. In business, we seek the peaks and valleys of the S-curves. Even in theology we see a shift with entrance of Christ into this world breaking covenants of old and establishing a new covenant.

In much the same way that everything else in this world continues to change and evolve, so does fly fishing. There is of course the advancement of technology that has eliminated the woven horse tail fly lines and even the silk fly lines to the new plastic lines that have textures of shark skins and viscous coatings. Fly rods have advanced also moving from what I assume were wooden dowels, to tapered ironwood, to Calcutta cane, to Tonkin cane, to fiberglass, to boron, and to graphite. The modes of fishing with a fly has also changed from wet flies, to dry flies, and to terrestials. With all these changes, it occurred to me that the angler has changed as well.

In Izaak Walton's time, the angler of that day was the nobleman (or woman) who sought to seek entertainment in some form. Walton reflects that at the time there were three main categories (of the outdoors sort) that a person could choose from: falconry, hunting w/dogs, or the contemplative sport of angling with a fly. And if a reader chooses to read Walton's book "The Compleate Angler" he/she would soon realize that Walton chooses the sport of angling to be the most noble, the most Christian of endeavors.

My personal observation is that the next stage was that of the highbrows. They were the poets and icons of business power. These men and women who had enough money to allow them to escape into the pampered wilderness to test their skills of line and fly. They sought to seek adventure from the safety of a cabin retreat in the Catskills or the waterways of a New England stream, and they came by train and coach to reach these rugged outdoors. And they were met at these upscale cabins by hardened guides who sought to partake in a little capitalism of their own. This was the hey day of 100 fish days, where a fish that we considered a trophy today was a mere creek chub to them.

The next phase in the evolutionary development of anglers is what I call the Nostalgic Outdoorsmen. These were the men and women who travelled throughout America, with their silver Airstreams and station wagons, in search of escapism. The advent of an American highway system, mass production of automobiles, and a booming economy allowed access to many outdoor destinations. This was the time where the 1950's angler stood in the stream with their corduroy hats, horn rimmed glasses, a Dunhill Root Briar pipe in mouth, rubber hip waders, and a wicker creel over their shoulder. These were the days of our father's or grandfathers. They were ordinary men seeking sanctuary from the everyday trials of life.

Moving forward on the timeline, we see the development of the modern trout bum. These are the anglers who shrug off the demands of ordinary life in pursuit of a life worth lived. They value time alone on the stream (or among a few friends (very few)) to be higher than that of a business deal, or a new car, or sometimes even a family. They eat, sleep, and breathe fly fishing. They know more about hidden mountain lakes, unknown trout producing creeks, or seasonal mayfly hatches than anyone else. Some eventually find notoriety in fly fishing magazines or books, but most of them go unnamed and unknown.

What's really unique about this development is that each stage continues to live on in the next stage. There are still nobles today who seek comfort on the stream. To be honest I don't know of any, but I could venture a guess that it still continues today in those countries that engage in a form of nobility. I also bump into individuals today who are what I would call Weekend Warriors who are the descendants of the Nostalgic Anglers of yester years. They seek to fish only on the weekends and oftentimes bring their families to the stream. But what I think is really interesting is how the trout bum seems to have always been there in the shadows of history. They may have been previously known as guides or frontiersmen, but we know a trout bum when we see one.

So as I sit here typing, with my wife patiently waiting in the living room for me so that we can watch the Amazing Race, I wonder what does the future hold for the fly fishing anglers. Glimpses of the unknown may be found in the Warren Miller-esqe films of the Trout Bum Diaries. Or will there even be a future? Some business analysts see fly fishing as a dying sport. This may be true, however I truly hope not. Maybe the future involves greater conservation. The eco-angler with their non-hook flies and recyclable fly rods may rule the water. I don't know what it holds, but I sure intend to help shape it by teaching new anglers. I hope you do too.

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