Walking and Chewing Gum

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

inscribed "Lots of Money" walking through the warehouse district after dark. Trout suspect that anglers mean them harm.

I don't want my prey species to be that wary. I like a nice dumb fish that ambles along like Red Skelton's Clem Kadiddlehopper, muttering, "Doo de doo, hey, what's that big noise like something fell in the water? Looks like uh chicken tied on a hook, but maybe it could be a big juicy bug. I'll bet it's a big juicy bug. Reckon I'll swallow it and find out."

I tried fly tying for a while and proved as ham-fisted at that as I was at casting. Anyone can tie a bluegill fly, but trout prefer delicate imitations of mayflies.

Mayflies are grandly pathetic. They are doomed to ephemeral life because they have no mouth and cannot eat to sustain themselves. They are born to do one thing: breed and thus reproduce. They are ecological carbon paper.

Most live a day in the out-of-water stage, which may be an eternity in mayfly time. I'm sure they don't waste what little time they have wondering what a chicken sandwich tastes like.

But whatever a mayfly's problems, they're simple compared to those of the fly fisherperson who is trying to imitate the insect. A mayfly just needs to worry about love and death; the angler must worry about making chicken feathers look like an insect.

My brief fly tying career was a fever dream, like having been married to Madonna. All that exists from that terrible time is a photo of me at the fly vise. I wear a dazed expression and hunch over a hook that sprouts unwanted facial hair, like the Wolf Man in the full of the moon.

My daughter crouches in the background, with a look of frightened anxiety. Her hair is frazzled, her eyes apprehensive. She possibly is worried that I will attack her golden head for fly tying materials, for she has just seen me chop fur from our dog.

Put yourself in the mindset of a seven-year-old girl who sees her father leap on the family collie with a pair of shears and a cry of discovery. Next, clutching a fistful of dog hair, her father leers at a fishhook and begins to pin hair on it haphazardly until it looks like a possum centered by a semi truck.

I was glad to get out of fly tying, but I still maintain the fantasy of being a suave caster when I'm not busy fantasizing about playing second base for the St. Louis Cardinals or making enough money to survive.

I'd almost given up on finesse in fly fishing until I went to England a few years back. I was on a small stream in Wales, working my way upstream. There was one other angler and I passed him as I flailed fruitlessly at the sleepy water.

I tried a combination of every fly I had (four, I believe). I double-hauled and roll-cast and sidearmed and did everything else I'd learned over the years. Sometimes I even didn't snag a tree.

That night, in the lodge dining room, my fellow angler of the afternoon approached. He was a classic Scot, spare and frosty of eyebrow, face weathered from a thousand afternoons on the trout stream.

If you designed the quintessential trout angler of the fine split bamboo rod era, he would be your model.

He gave me a spare smile, the approbation of one old expert to another, and said, "Ye cast a gud line, laddie." I felt ten feet tall.

Except that when I had seen him, he was fishing with worms for eels.

There is a moral here somewhere...

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