© Wolf Avni June 23, 2004


“We shall not cease from exploration, and returning again to our point of departure,

 see the place for the first time” #1.

“Fly-fishing is uncomplicated,”  said Surly Ghillie.  “It always  has been  and ever will be, notwithstanding any of the many  machinations on the part  of those who might hope to  exploit it commercially.  At its purest”,  he continued, “it is only  about doing simple things simply, like tying an efficient knot, or spotting a well-camouflaged, all-but-invisible trout where one might not have expected to find it -  laying a perfect cast in a tight spot,  raising the fish, and in its hooking and landing, keeping live in the  imagination a tangible proof  that in an imponderable world of improbabilities, nothing is factually impossible.” 

“At its most intrinsic,” I offered, “fly-fishing is about nothing so much as a lone soul in perfect harmony with surrounding nature - a single corpuscle synchronised to the pulse of  a perfect universe”.  I said that? Wow!  It’s as  gritty as  the ‘grain of sand’  analogy!  Of course, if true, it kind of puts paid to Surly’s ‘fly-fishing is uncomplicated’  theory, which is a pity, inasmuch as it has a pithy ring and at my mother’s knee I learned never to take the pith out of anything.

Perhaps, in the reading of water,  in  divination of its cryptic, enigmatic impenetrability,  we are inspired beyond our usual capacity to comprehend, and flowing from that, to respond to the nuances of perpetual and subtle change in the real space around us, transporting us, if only for a moment, outside the envelope of noise in our own brains.  In this  habitually complex modern life,  perhaps that  is precisely the source of fly-fishing’s strange addictive appeal to those who willingly lose themselves to it.  Perhaps we all carry a  subliminal idealised image of a self  interacting in an functional way with those primal  processes out of which our essential natures  evolved. Perhaps that is it.  It certainly seems so with Surly Ghillie.


And there it should end, but Surly was not yet done. “The essence of fly-fishing is one thing”, he said.  “Its popularity as a preferred recreational activity of the common or garden Yuppie is another thing entirely.  Here, what on the surface is  deep, deep down is shallow,  made so as much by seductive packaging as by the qualities of the religious consumer at whom the seduction is aimed.  And though the notion that opposites attract is a proven hypothesis, the paradox between the pure ideal and the character of the consumer who sets off with fly rod in hand,  in pursuit of that purity, is more than glaring. At times it seems all but irreconcilable”.   The old git often talks that way, saying stuff that is barely intelligible to a simple fly-fisher such as myself.

He raised a finger and took a deep breath. “The point was driven home fair and square recently where I found myself  an observer at a high profile corporate fly-fishing challenge held in the heartland of the Midlands trout belt”, he said. “The format seemed innocent enough.  Over three weekends of friendly competition, thirty  teams of four anglers fish against each other over two legs, with the top ten teams going on to a  fish off in the finals.  The prizes are mind blowing. Along with mountains of lesser booty there are a couple of biggies,  including a spanking new six cylinder luxury 4x4 as well as two weeks at an  exotic island fly-fishing  resort costing about 1,000 dollars per day per head.   In short, the anglers fish against each other for a share in a whopping three quarters of a million rands worth of value - all in the name of fly-fishing and its core ethos”.

When Surly gets like this, there’s just no stopping him, but as his friend, rancid or not, I give him audience.

“Right there lies the crux”, he blathered on, as unstoppable as a train. “I watched at the finale, as the competition crunched to its  crescendo. With the fishing all over bar announcement of the winners at the prize-giving  dinner,  a  room full of the corporate-world’s elite, many of whom had been drinking far harder than fishing for the best part of three days - distracted as much by greed as self-indulgence - put on a matchless display  of what defines this  elitism.  Overdosed on a potent  mix of testosterone and the  after-burn of  adrenalin left behind by three days of  brutal contest,  all sauteed in free hooch,  the high flying teams  outdid each other in creative debauchery,  degrading themselves,  each other and the most uncomplicated  precepts  of simple decency”. 

Though I never told him that I knew, I had long since heard on the grapevine what had gone down and so had some insight into why Surly bristled so.  Invited as guest speaker, and with his lovely wife at his side, he undertook the more than two hour ride from his home in the hills, arriving in due course at the venue, where things started badly and rapidly deteriorated. Though Surly  may be something of an enigma, his wife was always a personification of loveliness, as foxy as they come.  If ever there was  such a thing as bedroom eyes, then she has them, a fact not lost upon the gathered throng  notwithstanding their  ecumenical inebriation.  Some of the young bucks lining the bar, drunk on their own munificence, fell over themselves  in coarse flirtations  contrived to get into her pants.  That pissed Surly off, no end.  As if that were not enough, the poor bugger, when he took to the podium to render his address, was so drowned out by drunken boorishness, that perhaps for the first time in a long life, he shrugged his shoulders and just gave up.  He left, taking whatever wit or wisdom he may have brought with him.  Enigmatic though it  may all  be and notwithstanding that  I far prefer his definition of what fly-fishing is, one cannot help but ask the question. If Surly is right, and they were nothing but whore-mongerers, then he, who after all was there among them, what does that make him?


#1. John Fowles