LESS IS MORE, ...(more or less)

“ Every day, in every way, I’m learning more.

The more I learn, the less I know about before.”  (1)

© Wolf Avni

2 FEBRUARY 2005

There was a time not so long  ago, where we flattered ourselves with  the notion  that we had a pretty good handle on fishing in general, on fly-fishing specifically  and on trout fishing in particular.  Such  is the full bloom of youthful ignorance.  It was an easy arrogance to affect.  After all,  before turning  to fly-fishing,  we had enjoyed singular success at every type of angling to which our  hand had ever aimed, from fishing for tiddlers and tadpoles in farm ponds to trolling for giant, warm-blooded tunas  out at sea...  And, over a course of fifty years, for everything in between.

 We  began  trout fishing in the early seventies,  and significantly - in a crescendo -  almost every single day for better than fifteen years,  had fished some part or another of the Umzimkulu and/or  its tributary system. In our conceit, we figured that we had the codes just-about-cracked.   We got so confident, that, heading down to our lake, or  out to one of the many  rivers which dissect the Drakensberg , we would call out to Caroline to find out if she wished us to keep some trout, how many and what size?  Invariably, her modest  orders  could be filled, though not always  with the  ease that we pretended. There were occasions where the fish might elude us for sessions on end, yet invariably, if we persisted for long enough, eventually we would find some fish. Sufficient unto the day were the fish thereof.  Looking back, we are now not so certain as to whether we  found the fish, or if they were finding us , or if,  in fact,  our successes  were no more than random collisions rooted in  coincidence.

Taff Price once told us that the surest way to lose interest in fly-fishing was to progress to a level of competence and  expertise where there were  no  mysteries left  to  unwrap.   He said that in his long lifetime he had known  more than one master angler, people who were so effective that they were more fishing-automatons than real anglers, and that sooner or later, without fail, such fishermen eventually lost interest. Their passion withered and they moved  on.  At the time, we thought him a little glib, and found his generalisation odious. In the interim, against all odds, we too have grown older and have come to understand the depth of insight and wisdom  behind his comment.

The real rapture in fly-fishing, its intrinsic value if you like, lies far less in the tallies of fish caught, in the glory of always catching the biggest,  or the most, than one might imagine.  No one can deny that the glow of the  kudos showered upon the  hot-shot  fishermen who always sit at the top of the leader-board might warm the ego like little else,  but  the fact of it is that the fundamental, long-term  payoff lies entirely elsewhere, far from the glare of public acclaim.   In the process of unravelling the subtle interplay between the fish and their environment, if we give ourselves wholly, honestly, we come face to face with parts of our world and  ourselves which otherwise might easily be overlooked.

 It comes down to the baggage. It plays but a small part in  shedding any light on the rudimentary process of coming to grips with a comprehension of the world we inhabit or the meaning of our individual roles within it.   So much of what we are taught to accept as gospel by convention and by  social ritual, is actually irrelevant - and unless it be shed, there is just no way  to get a feel of  the raw, driving  pulse of the thing.  The point is, how is one to know the difference? How might one divine the line between mere indulgence and actual fusion? The books  - and there are vast libraries of them - are no help.  Though they contain the boundless store of all human experience, it comes  as jumbled and confused as everything else. Sure the pearls are there, but all  mixed in with a great deal of  pig-shit; not easy to sift. 

Hold that thought!  When we began fly-fishing were we not completely seduced by the trinkets and the toys? I know I was. I would pore my life away in flashy tackle emporiums, lose myself for hours in the pages of  glossy magazines  touting fancy rods and reels, lines and lanyards,  flies,  feathers and flosses,  boxes and boots, jackets and jumpers, thermometers and gauges , fish-finders and floatation devices, waders and willy-warmers, knives and  nets, creels and comforters,  endless gizmos and  jars of proprietary preparations guaranteed to make your fly float higher, or sink faster, or last longer, or whatever. 

As time passes, we find that all this encumbrance, though it keep an entire economy afloat,   has but minimal impact upon the experiential fact of fishing. There was a time when I would take myself fishing, just like everybody else, overwhelmed with more  tackle and kit than is decent; the fly-vests - all 23 pockets jammed full with unessential trivia -  with two, or perhaps even three rods, each snug in its own tube, with  a dozen fly-boxes, each carrying hundreds of patterns;  one for nymphs, one for emergers, another for streamers and a couple for the dry flies.

These days, my fishing is different. For one thing, the urgency has gone. I might look up from a task or chore, and on impulse decide that the time is fortuitous for a fish. I will pick a light rod, probably of around 3 -weigh for which I  will select a single line, perhaps an intermediate or a floater, and will palm a couple of flies.  That is all one really needs.  With  no fuss, or bother, I will stroll down to the water’s edge.  All trials and tribulations will vanish as I melt into a  moment  defined by a transient hatch of midges or mayflies, or perhaps the call of a fish eagle and the rhythmic sound of a fly-line singing as it cuts through the line-guides. I will lay a perfect cast.  “At its end, where a precisely stepped-down leader and tippet terminate in the most lovingly tied imitation, when your presentation is the merest whiff, there lies your everything” (#2).    

The only problem with all this  Minimalism  is that  as a system,  to be a full-blown concept,  it would require  definition, and, once defined, it would perforce be more than minimalist!  Wouldn’t it?

 1.  UB40

2. Neels Blom - Business Day 24/11/2004