I didn’t set out to hold the undisputed title of World’s Worst Fly Fisherman, the victory just fell in my lap. Kind of like winning the lottery, except in reverse. There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Perhaps it was my destiny. You see I was raised by a bait fisherman – fish eggs, worms, shrimp, you name it. If it was squirmy or gave off an unpleasant odor, we tossed it in an old soup can and later stuck it on a hook. Then we added a lead ball the size of a grenade, reared back, lobbed, and hoped for the best. I didn’t know what fly fishing was when I was a kid.
Then along came the movie A River Runs Through It, and everybody had a heart attack over how majestic it was. They immediately ran out and cleared the shelves of their local LL Bean, and then raced off to drown themselves in the nearest municipal culvert. It’s not so majestic when you’re standing on a concrete embankment and casting over the remnants of a discarded truck tire.
A river runs through the valley I grew up in too, but if they shot the movie there, they would have had to call it A Freezing River Runs Through It. Scientists who claim that life cannot exist below absolute zero have not been fishing with my father. My dad has a strict policy, no fishing when the weather is above absolute zero. He would explain to you that if you are serious about landing a steelhead, then you needed to set the Law of Physics aside and man-up. This policy will explain the first step in my achieving the World Title: I only fish when weather conditions are ideal – not for fishing, don’t be silly, for me. I enjoy a warm day – not too warm though. Preferably with a nice breeze. This is the first jewel in my triple crown.
My wife suggested I give fly fishing a try, because I had been living what you might call a sedentary lifestyle. (Have you noticed that the word “sedentary” is getting a bad rap all of a sudden?) My particular activity level at the time was just below that of a medium-sized baked potato. So she bought me a gift certificate to a local fly fishing shop.
My first visit to this shop was not a pleasant one. A clerk spotted me wandering around and gave me the onceover like I had just walked into a fine dining restaurant wearing bibbed overalls and a filthy t-shirt. In the middle of the shop was a wooden box containing a variety of fishing flies. It was a large display approximately the size of Kansas. It held hundreds of flies of every size, shape and color. Many appeared identical. I made the mistake of pointing this out to the clerk who was assigned to walk around behind me and make sure I didn’t steal anything. My observation was greeted with slightly muffled arrogant laugh as he lifted two of what appeared to be the same fly and held them in front of me. “A fish can tell the difference between this,” he shook the first and paused for emphasis, “and this,” as he shook the other. I then made the second mistake when I asked, “Well, if a fish can tell the difference between this one and that one, why can’t it tell the difference between either of those and the real bug?” My clerk then made a face which I interpreted to mean that I was hopeless. Which, in his defense, turned out to be true.
By utilizing the time-tested recipe for success – devoting time and attention to one’s new pursuit – and turning it on its head, I finally captured the crown. It was not an easy task, but if you would like to compete with me in the big leagues, if you would like to threaten my title, I have three pieces of advice. First, never set your alarm clock to wake you up at the “crack of dawn.” Sleep in, enjoy a nice breakfast, and peruse the morning paper. Second, if it’s raining, or even looking like it might rain, forget about it. And finally, only fish in “catch and release only” areas. That way, if some misguided fish has the audacity to strike at your hook and disturb an otherwise peaceful stroll along the river bank, you never have to clean it. Oh, and take plenty of snacks.
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