Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Dec 7, 2016


"It is interesting to note that the longer I fly fish and the older I get the more insight and knowledge I glean from the pages of the text written by the past Masters of this interesting and exciting endeavor we call fly fishing."
Tom Travis, Notes From the Fishing Journal, April 2013

Many times over the years I have written about fly fishing history and some of my ramblings have appeared here on the pages of Fly Angler's On Line. I have always been driven to explore both the current world of fly fishing for trout and the rich history which has spawned this delightful pastime.

In my library I have four thousand volumes with most devoted to subjects that are related to fly fishing and the various related activities of the sport. I also have over two thousand five hundred magazines that are related to the various activities of fly fishing along with over two hundred notebooks with contain clippings from newspaper and magazines and detailed notes on fly fishing.

Plus I have some ten thousand pages of my own notes, fishing journals and writings dealing with the various subjects dealing with fly fishing. Now I am not telling you this to impress you, I do have point to all of this, I am constantly reading and rereading various texts and magazine articles and checking my own notes and journals to gain a better understanding of the subject I am writing about or the subject I am teaching on the stream or in the classroom.

In 2006 I received a new book I had ordered entitled The Rise-Streamside Observations on Trout, Flies, & Fly Fishing by Paul Schullery. Over the years I have read most of Paul's writings dealing with fly fishing and have yet to be disappointed and I placed the newest book on the top of the pile of books to be read, eagerly looking forward to the time in which I could devour his latest work.

However, due to my schedule of guiding, writing, speaking and fly tying seminar it wasn't until mid 2007 before I sat down with The Rise and began the first reading, generally I speed read through a book and then go back and reread the volume taking notes in the margin or in one of my notebooks and highlighting passages which I find insightful, inspiring or important to an idea or project I am working on.

I began the seconding reading of the book and I proceeded through the text and there were many notes and highlighted passages, Paul's books are always full of great information. But when I arrived at Chapter Seven I read something that sent me back to my library to reread all of the important texts of the past masters of fly fishing looking at each text with a single point in mind.

The passage which sent me back through the pages of history was as follows:

"The longer I fish and the more I read the older writer and study the sport's history, the more I see fly fishing as a huge, multigenerational conversation. Our best fishing writers, even hundreds of years ago, conducted their instruction that way, pausing here and there to inquire into the sense of some earlier writer's theories or recognize another for an idea clearly realized."

"It's easy enough to just intone the names of the greats, but it's quite another to take up their questions and see where the inquiry leads."

"It's how fly fishing works. Someone pronounces a Great Angling Truth, and if others notice and agree, it becomes ensconced in the code many of us tend to follow. Then someone else comes along and turns the whole thing on its head." The Rise, Paul Schullery.

Now I was able to complete the rereading and note taking of the text before I began my journey back through the pages of time looking at each text for its original ideas and theories and then to see how those ideas and theories were accepted and when and if they were disproved or set aside for new "truths".

This is a journey that I am still traveling however I would say that only the boldest and best of the writers took up this challenge in the centuries since the sport began.

During the more shall we say modern era only a mere handful of the very best writers have willingly discusses this subject and commented on the theories of others. I believe this is because many writers are afraid to challenge anyone's theories or ideas because then their own ideas may come under attack.

But if we as writers who claim to be knowledgeable in the ways of the trout fail to challenge and examine the theories and ideas of others as well as the theories that we ourselves have put forth, then we have failed in our duty to advance the sport and give our readers a clearer understanding of the trout we so eagerly pursue.

Now, not all writers dabble in the historical aspects of the sport and therefore they are held to different standards and their works are judged differently.

There are truly few secrets in the world of fly fishing and any reasonable fly angler who is willing to do a little homework can travel to any trout stream in the world and be reasonably successful. Why?  Because trout are trout and trout water is trout water, sure the local expert may have some intimate knowledge of the water which you will not possess; however the lack of that intimate knowledge will not doom you to failure.

Now I have a question for those who have an interest in the history of fly fishing. Does the literature of fly fishing drive the sport forward or is it the advances in tackle and fly tying material that drive the sport forward or is it a combination of the two that advance the knowledge base of the sport of fly fishing?

What do you think?

"Youth is filled with the excitement of doing the fishing. Age can bring the desire to contemplate and reflect while we are doing the fishing." Tom Travis, Notes from the Fishing Journal, April 2007

Enjoy & Good Fishin'


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