Huddling with Fellow Manics
FLY FISHING TRANSCENDS DAY-TO-DAY, YEAR-TO-YEAR EXPERIENCES AND ALLOWS US ALL TO REGALE IN OUR BEST TIMES AND PAST TRIUMPHS AND FAILURES ON THE RIVER. BOB SOUTH RECKONS A FAIR SHARE OF THE ROMANCE OF TROUT FISHING EXISTS IN THE MIND AND RECOLLECTIONS OF T
IF TROUT COULD TALK, THEY COULD spin the best yarns of all,” pronounced Norris McDowell in a talk delivered at the fourth annual John D. Voelker (a.k.a. the inimitable Robert Traver) Foundation meeting at Northern Michigan University on June 25, 1993. But alas, trout can’t talk, so it is best left to anglers who pursue them to do the talking, right?
Traver himself posed a most important question in his book TraveronFishing, a question many a casting hacker has pondered since: “Do fishermen fish largely for fellowship, the comradely allure of later huddling with their fellow manics to brag a little and further cement their mystic brotherhood with bumpers of liquid glue?” Old Robert thought rather not.
But my experience tells me that at least part of the “allure” of fly fishing, aside from all the ‘ connect with Nature’ and solitude and serenity’ spin, and ‘it’s good for the soul’ gobbledygook, is to spend time after the fact ‘talking it up’, telling the tales, shaping and verbally photo-shopping the adventures into indelible memories by regurgitating them, sometimes ad nauseam, to mates, spouses, or family.
It’s an integral part of the game.
SERIOUSLY, GO TO ANY FORMAL OR informal assembly of fly anglers – or spin, bait, or salt anglers for that matter – and you will encounter stories (and remarkable fabrications) about that very day’s fishing, tales about past feats, including lies and exaggerations about special days and trophy fish.
At my very own local in Turangi – Spud’s bar at Parklands Motor Lodge – guides and anglers regularly can be heard yapping about fishing, trading one-ups, usually spiced by more than a little lubrication. This sort of playful, meaningless nostalgic discourse is, if not unique to our sport, absolutely significant. I mean, I know All Blacks of yesteryear, and Silver Ferns, Tall Blacks, the local first XV, all at some stage sit around over a few beers and fondly recollect big plays, big games, and so on. That’s normal, expected behaviour. But I’ll argue long and loud that anglers do these exchanges better, more openly, and more often.
Visit a luxury lodge, or some place as sparse TALTAC in Turangi, or just gather with a few friends over dinner and drinks, or around a fire, and anglers will almost instinctively start to share their accomplishments – a sad, misguided few with conceit, most with humour, others with undeniable, refreshing candour.
As Paul Quinnett wrote in Pavlov’sTrout – “When the sun is down and the flames dance and fishermen are encircled by their family and friends, they can and will speak of all the things deep in their hearts, especially life, love, the love of life, and, of course, fishing. So critical is this social, psychological and emotional communication between fishermen and the people they care about that, to anyone who thinks fishing is only about catching fish, I can only say: Huh?”
Whether a born angling raconteur, or just a plain old mumbling Joe, telling and intently listening to tales from the river, stream, or lake are glorious parts of our sport. All anglers look back on an experience – either that very day or in the distant past – and think of individual captures and of the scenes in which they fished, and given but an ounce of opportunity these anecdotes will be broadcast proudly, often loudly. As John Monniger put it in his book Home
Waters, “Most anglers… cast to remembered
trout on remembered summer days, reading water as it breaks over sandbars, wading in sunlight, a hatch of mayflies sugaring the water just upstream… and, to a man, they love to talk about it.”
I know you’ve all heard those hackneyed stories before… like this one told by John MacDonald in TheOneThatGotAway: “He was one of those trout over whom the fisher has no control whatever – every move an awesome phenomenon. As the line ran out, I pointed the rod down and straight after him, in a sign of resignation, waiting for the snap, which came in due course. So I wound up with just the story and without the fish and did the talking at supper that night.”
But other yarns are fresh, matchless even. A favourite of mine was humbly related among cobbers at Kinloch one autumn day by Richard, a gun fly fisherman who succumbed, like many continue to be today, to the growing attraction that is the Tekapo canals and its ginormous trout that balloon to super-size by gorging on residual fish pellets from the nearby commercial salmon pens.
This particular day Richard was among a long line of hopefuls spread tightly along the roadside waiting for the big hit, all situated within cooee of each other and all enjoying friendly banter. Being the newcomer, Richard was all ears at first. A fellow nearby soon hooked a behemoth and was forced to follow it as it sped down canal. Almost disappearing out of sight, the angler released his fish and upon his return to the group was asked: “What was it?” “It was a 10,” came the reply. Not long after another chap got smashed and off he ran chasing his catch, dragged much further away from the angling throng than the previous bloke. When he returned, he was asked: “What was that beauty?”
Pumping out his chest proudly, he said with good-natured bravado: “That, my good friends, was a 17.”
Suitably impressed, Richard could hardly wait to emulate his two comrades and soon enough his chance came. The hook-up was fierce and, like those before him, Richard was off after it. He nearly disappeared from sight like the first fella and, after photos and a release, he fair trotted back waiting for the usual question.
“What was that, Richard?”
“That, I’m sorry to say, was only a nine pounder, but a good fish all the same.”
Then came the inoffensive derision. “No, no, no mate, not how much did it weigh. How many roadside markers did it drag you down the canal – 11, 16, 12, 14? We all know the fish are big here, but we tend to measure ‘em by how far down the road they take you before netting, not by weight or condition factor.”
Of course, Richard’s anecdote has become folklore in them-there parts. Not too different to a local slice of history around the Tongariro that concerned yours truly, super South Island guide Tony Entwistle, and friend Chris Clenshaw.
‘YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS...’
FISHING STORIES LEND THEMSELVES FAMOUSLY TO EMBELLISHMENT, SAYS SOUTH
ONE INDISPUTABLE THING ABOUT EMBELLISHING FISHING STORIES IS THAT THE PRACTICE KNOWS NO SOCIAL OR PROFESSIONAL BOUNDS
ACCORDING TO ONE AUTHOR, THIS SOCIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL COMMUNICATION BETWEEN FISHERMEN IS A CRUCIAL PART OF THE PURSUIT
TELLING TALES AFTER A DAY’S ANGLING IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE GAME