This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
June 5th, 2006

Artificial Enhancement

There's been some buzz about Barry Bonds breaking the old home run record which Babe Ruth set many years ago. The main complaint is that he 'did' steroids. Some commentator said if someone was to break the Babe's record he should be fat and a drunk. And of course the number of games played in the Babes day was less than today as well. Name your poison, there isn't a level playing field.

We personally don't put much stock in records, and gratefully our sport doesn't really have any. Well, there are the IGFA records for big fish on different tippet strengths. But I don't think the average fly fisher is caught up in those. They seem to be for folks with a lot more money and time than most of us have. Or someone trying to make a name for themselves, credentials of some sort. But if a person was really picky, what kind of material were those 'old' leaders and tippets made from? How do they technically compare to the ones used today? For instance, are the new ones more resistant to abrasion? Should today's records have an asterisk indicating they were caught with artificially enhanced product? I suppose you could add the type of rod to that as well. See, it is endless.

Fly-fishing has been artificially enhanced too. The rods and lines we use today are a far cry from what was used even 40 years ago. I won't go into a discourse about cane rods, but most weren't much then but they were what 'was.' Silk lines actually cast quite nicely. But they did soak up water and had to be hung out (we strung them from tree to tree) then treated and polished for use again in the evening. The rich had extra reels already spooled up and just changed reels. The advantage was you could sit around in the shade mid-day (and maybe have lunch and a nap) and be recharged for the evening hatch.

The creation of plastic fly lines was a true revolution. The first ones Scientific Anglers marketed as floating fly lines had tiny glass bubbles in the coating over the braided core. And while they don't compare to what we use today, they were marvelous! They didn't sink like the silk lines and an angler could fish all day with it. They were fatter than our modern day lines 'tho, and didn't always fit as well though the small guides on cane rods.

After World War II, fiberglass rods were created first using the antennas from military vehicles. They weren't fly rods, but fly rods weren't far behind. If you are interested in the evolution of fly rods, there is an extremely interesting book, Fiberglass Fly Rods by father and son Victor R. Johnson. It really covers everything from bamboo to graphite. For those new to fly fishing, you have no idea of what us old folks had to put up with. Amazing we stuck with it.

It think it was in the 1970's when I bought my first pair of Polarized glasses. Talk about artificial enhancement! Being able to see INTO the water was a marvel. We take Polarized glasses for granted now, but I believe using the technology was originally intended for camera lenses. If you've never tried them, take a look at the photos below. Maybe we should charge points for fish caught using Polaroid glasses. Obviously an unfair advantage.

I suppose there have always been people who tied their own flies, some who carefully inspected the natural insects and matched them. But we are all beneficiaries of those who took the time to write it down. Matching the Hatch by Ernie Schweibert was the big one. Those who read it finally understood the relationship of the 'hatches' and could actually predict what insects would show up when - and be prepared to fish it.

I'm not sure if artificial enhancement includes fish too. But we certainly do have them. Hatchery fish for sure, and then the cross breeds as well. At least one of those is a 'natural' - I'm thinking about the Cut-Bows in the Rocky Mountain west.

But there are Triploids, sterile trout which just eat and get fatter, kamloops, tiger trout and palomino ones as well. Various created breeds of Walleye and Muskies, frankly I'm not sure of the intent on any of those, but they sure aren't 'natural.'

So what really is an unfair advantage? This generation will live longer and better lives than our fathers or grandfathers. Miracle drugs save lives every day. Food of all sorts is 'enhanced' by one method or another (including modern refrigeration) which gives us all access to better nutrition than our grandfathers could have imagined.

In fact, to get technical, some of the food we eat contains steroids. You or I may never have taken a steroid in our lives (that we know) - but we've used various prescribed medications, ointments, and even nasal sprays which indeed are steroids.

Perhaps we are all artificially enhanced. I'm sure I am. ~ The LadyFisher

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