Wolf Avni Sept. 28, 2003

NATURAL SELECTION

Natural Selection: the process by which all life - in it’s vast diversity - defines itself, shaping  to  the environment around it, honing, component by component and specie by specie, to fit perfectly into every available niche.  That of course, is the conventional definition.  There  is another, equally veritable, as demonstrated clearly by when first we kitted Caroline (my dear, sweet wife)  out for fly-fishing. Over the years I had gathered a shed full of fishing gear and I was sure we would find everything she could possibly need in among my discards.  She knew nothing about fly-fishing, not the tackle, nor the prey, nor the garb, nor the trinkets and trivia  and I expected to barely miss the few paltries she might choose.  Silly me!  Straight off,  she reached unerringly past lesser sticks, selecting as her own, from among my collection, a four weight Hardy Sovereign  rod to which I was deeply attached. It had caught me many fine speckle-backs and more than a few Vaal river yellows. It was the first top grade fly rod that I had ever owned.  She continued to pick over my hoard and in no time had amassed a pile of the most select items of my equipment. In one fell swoop, I lost my Hardy, my float tube, a hand-carved rosewood fly-box, my Swiss-army knife with all its clever attachments and my very favourite fly jacket - the skimpy little half-belly - designed for float-tubers. What the hell, with the float-tube gone, what use would the jacket be? When it came to the reels there was no choice. It had to be the 4 weight lines,  which just happened to be wound on the best reels I owned - the ones machined by hand from pure titanium.

Talk about natural selection?  Do not doubt but that it is as real as a Wolf’s-wonderful-weighted-wooly-worm and it  goes right to the core of the double-helixed gene splice.  It’s a kind of a chick-thing. I still remember, many, many years back, when I was  quite new at this fly-fishing business. My grown children were just toddlers then, and it was my great pleasure to take them fishing everywhere.  I would sit them on a picnic rug back from the water’s edge as I practised my casting.  And so it came to pass, that one day I was wafting my line in great coils through the air when an anguished  wail tore through the foothills behind me. “Dad. How could you?”

For one terrible moment a vision floated up in the mind’s eye, of my beautiful child skewered and scarred by the cruel barb.

“ It’s Cashmere!” she keened in agony as I rushed to her side.  I had snagged my daughter, Corina, in the most painful place of all, smack in the middle of her peach-coloured pre-pubescent fashion statement - with a bloody great Kamberg matuka.  She could not have been much more than a couple of years old at the time, yet she has never forgiven me, not so much for the hook up, but because, in the recount of the event  I dared to mistake that jersey for mohair. 

Our relationship  has run a rocky course. She tolerated my fishing addictions not at all, until  she found herself at university - and suddenly a father with a bit of access to a slice  of prime trout fishing in the foothills became a high-value bargaining chip in the corridors of post-grad pecking rituals.  What has all this to do with natural selection? Precious little I would imagine, but for the example it sets. It shows the effects of the consanguinity  between  bad genes and good environment. 

The pith is, I believe, that natural selection is a process. And we are part of it.  I contend that fly-fishermen are not accidentally so, but rather,  a point beyond  in the evolution of an Ubermensch. I know that it is less than politically correct to suggest that fly-fishermen and fly-fishing are in any way elitist, but really, has it honestly never occurred to you in your deepest soul, not even for a second,  that your fly-fishing exalts you - and your entire existence?

If you doubt for a moment that it might, draw faith from the record of a recent fly-fishing festival held in Underberg.  What a convocation it was - a great gathering of fly-fisher folk,  drawn from the furthest reaches of our fair land. They came from the Cape and from the northern borders. They came from the midlands and from the coast and from the big-smoke-cities. They came in droves, mostly driving shiny upmarket 4x4's. In all my life, I do not believe that I have ever seen such a gathering of diverse wimp-wagons drawn into a single parking lot at the same time.

They came to sample the superb countryside and its wonderful fishing. They came to rub shoulders, imbibing the ambiance and the humanity of high-profile angling gurus, the master-casters and fly-tiesters,  the specialists in trout biology and in aquatic ecology.   Oh, and yes, they came for the freebies.

For three wonderful, chaotic days, the entire gathering was wrapped in a nonstop celebration of all that is best in fly-fishing.  But for me the defining moment of the entire festival  came on the big night when the winds of chance saw one lucky angler win ten thousand rand.  His name was pulled from a hat. The marquee was jam-packed and the crowd,  boisterous.  The public address system was somewhat inadequate, and so perhaps not everybody heard his acceptance speech, as the money was put in his hand.

But I was there, up on the podium and can happily confirm that the winner embodied all of the principles which make us fly-guys so unmistakably elite.  He grabbed the mike and sincerely addressed  the audience.

“Hell,” he bawled shamelessly, “I don’t know, but I must tell you ou’s... like life shows me some hard times. If the world  was a field of nookie, I’d still get handed a tailwind (#1)  but you ou’s... I’s proud to be up here,  between you and all.”

With that,  he dropped the mike and  turned to grasp me firmly by the shoulders.  I was expecting some discreetly  masculine show of gratitude, but then, sobbing fit-to-bust, the s-o-b  kissed me, not once, but again and again. His aroma was that of an elitist fly-fisherman who  had been fishing and drinking hard for three unshaven and unwashed days - and he seemed to think that I was part of the prize, which, incidentally, someone else can hand out next time. 

Naturally, it does not pay to draw too many conclusions from this natural selection thing. After all, today’s big splash at the deep end of the gene-pool may be tomorrow’s fossil bed, and for every species alive today,  there are a thousand that have gone extinct.

NOTE TO YVES;

#1. His actual quote was “If the world was a field of pussy, I’d still come up with a (sic) arsehole”,  - but I’m not sure you’d print that?????????