© Wolf Avni MARCH , 2004
BRUNG UP PROPER
“You can fool all of the people, some of the time,
And some of the people, all of the time,
but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”
They, whom presume to know, assert that fly-fishers are born, not made. They opine that a silk purse cannot be fashioned from a sow’s ear. Count me then among the presumptuous for I too am a true believer, forged so by a lifetime in the merciless school of hard knocks. Sure, anyone can pick up a fly rod. One may even learn to cast a fly-line in the course of no more than a single morning, assimilating the fundamentals of its mechanics sufficiently well that one’s fly might occasionally find the water, eluding all snags and the enmeshments of a natural, rampant bank side vegetation at least one cast out of every three or four - and with one’s fly in the water, coincidentally, one might even hook a fish - especially a banal hatchery fish, stocked on Thursday to be caught on Saturday, bred for nothing else than to pander to the whimsy of some sorry-city sod-sucker who could probably not survive for five minutes in an authentic wilderness, stripped of all the insidious luxuries of the civilised, modern life. Whatever!
Of course, to gain true ascendancy over the cast in all its many elements takes a while longer - perhaps forever. The entirety of subtle nuance in roll casting, or line mending across lanes of variable current, of feathering, dapping and of the drag-free drift, reveal themselves reluctantly and to very few. Even the plain and fairly basic ‘double-haul’ seems to test the motor-coordination of many who think of themselves as accomplished fly-anglers. Having made the generalisation, one must immediately raise the rebuttal, acknowledging that these days, not infrequently, one encounters even sub-pubescent anglers who flaunt a pervasive proficiency with their fly rods.
But is there more to this business of casting than only pearls and swine? Is an adroit cast sufficient to catapult an apprentice into the exalted ranks of mastery, or is there something more to this fly-fishing thing?
My buddy, Salmo Nella, says that I pose answers to questions that no one ever asks, however; one may argue that confident line control in all circumstances, though a given, is but one small element of unfeigned virtuosity. Hell, I know guys who can lay their line half way across a rugby field, but still cannot keep a fly from hitting the water on every false cast, who flail away at the shrubbery behind them as if their rig were a weed-whacker, or, who can throw into the backing but couldn’t hit a target the size of a small hippopotamus at ten paces. Then again, there are those who could do it blindfolded, who could drop a fly on a dinner plate nine times out of ten, at an equal or greater distance. There are folk out there for whom the line between air and water was never a barrier, impenetrable and inscrutable, but rather, a portal into realms of endless challenge, a world of perpetual discovery . Among fly-fishing craftsmen, the cast is nothing but a detail of technique.
The question begged is simply one of ‘Nature verus Nurture’, whether the process by which one turns from a thoroughly normal and completely ordinary soul into an obsessive/compulsive fly-angling nutter, has more to do with environment or with persona, whether any old monkey can in fact be taught to play piano, or if his basic simian circuitry must first need the tampering of a mutant musical gene? I guess, as with everything, it all boils down to attitude as against platitude. On one hand, our DNA whispers than we might attain to whatever the mind can conceive and on the other, the helplessness of our humanity forever reminds us that we need supplicate to higher authority for the simplest of things; the strength to change what we must, the courage to endure what we cannot change...... and for the wisdom to distinguish the difference.
Perhaps the point is that true expertise is one of those things that just cannot be extemporized. Nor can it be bought, though one might follow the most dexterous of angling gurus up untrammelled rivers to the ends of the earth, recruiting them to help seek out the fattest of fish in hidden honey-holes. A good fly-fishing guide can connect a fish to the line of the most hackneyed angler on the planet, at least some of the time, but what does it actually mean? Though he may bear a trophy to rub everyone’s nose in, incontrovertible evidence of an angling vigour one might say, unfortunately, the prowess stays behind with the guide, where it belongs. The punter merely goes home in a flush of full delusion. No matter how many trophies he may nail to his mast, unless they be the fruit of a real internal process - made so more by the curious amalgam of an inquisitive disposition, an honest thirst for understanding and yes, a chaste life spent in perpetual practice of a chosen craft, rather than how much they might have cost - they remain no more than mementos of somebody else’s expertise. Bit sad, really.
Then again, casting a nice, balancing melancholy over any delusions of spiritual elevation, there are those who somehow perceive fly-fishing and all its associations as more an emblem of class affiliation than anything intrinsic to itself, as if its very fact were a happy and unambiguous idiosyncrasy of top-end social status - an unspoken insinuation of expensive educations , imperious lifestyles and of unashamed elitism. Well, if it is, then I, and many other ardent fly-anglers that I know (comrades all) are not the innocent fly-fishers that we think ourselves, but rather, we must be some kind of cunning, closet-secret weapon - alien, crypto-class-crossovers - a sort of fifth column aimed at the very heart of that affable icon of the middle-class; the conventional for convention’s sake, like hippy-commie scum sneaking in to hide under the beds in your inner sanctum, or worse, dating your teenage daughters. The point, no more than a small spike upon which pockets of pretension might pop, is that all of the very best anglers whom one may ever meet, whether by fly or any other means, are not so much to the Manor, born, as, “to the manna, borne”! One gets back precisely what one puts in, or, as old Surly Ghillie likes to say, “My karma just ran over my dogma”.