None of us were living back in what was called
the Gilded Age, when the 'cottages' (more like
castles) were built by the DuPonts, Vanderbilts,
Rockefellers and Carnegies in Newport
which still stand today. The late 1870's -1890
were the beginning of the end for the 'class system'
The 1st World War, the great industrial revolution,
and then World War II all contributed to the end of
what had been "gentleman sports." Never developed
to the level of the sports in Europe, the American
'upper class' did have it's standards. A man of means
could sit a horse (and no not with a western saddle),
shoot a number of guns for a proper bird hunt, knew
which fork to use when, and dressed for dinner.
Including when at his private fishing club on some
fabulous trout or Atlantic salmon stream. He had
servants and knew how to use them.
Fly fishing for trout and Atlantic salmon was owned
by the upper class. Fishing for any other fish, was
left to the 'common man.' Those other fish, are still
called today in most of Europe 'course fish.' Except
In the day when the robber-barons ruled, there were
those who thought the bass was the best fighting fish
of all. I can't say that was debated over brandy and
cigars, but it is true. Bass in fact were highly
favored and many of the etchings and other art of
the period featured the very well-dressed angler,
with his faithful guide fishing for or catching bass.
There are still fortunes made, but the money doesn't
buy a seat at the 'upper class' table any more. The
high society lists are more likely to have people who
are high in government than the latest Silicon Valley
multi-millionaire. There are still debutante balls,
finishing schools and coming out parties, but outside
of a few big cities, they are no longer the focus of
a 'under-class' wishing they could be there. Hardly
The great leveler, war, brought together people from
all classes, colors, religions in a common cause.
Their shared experiences were stronger than the prior
separation of class.
In 1942 Aaron Copeland wrote a piece of music to honor
the soldiers going to war. He later included it in his
Third Symphony. It has been played for all sorts of
special occassions (if it isn't familiar to you by name
you can hear it here:)
Fanfare for the Common Man. This piece of music
was symbolic of the new freedom for the common man.
The elitist fly fisherman was on his way out.
Mass production, the introduction of new technologies,
the G.I. Bill, and the big blockbuster, leisure time
made fly fishing (along with shooting clubs, hunting
clubs, and more) accessible to the common man.
From the end of World War II to now, the fly fisher
has become an educated angler. Not only that, depending
on budgets, the angler can hop a plane and fish those
places most of the 'upper class' didn't know existed
a hundred years ago.
Somewhere, a attitude still existed. The idea that
if you didn't fish for trout or salmon, and of course,
upstream and dry, you weren't a 'real' fly fisher. I
don't know why the idea existed at this point at all,
but it was still around. It couldn't have been fostered
by the grand upper class because they are all long dead.
Perhaps some interpreted old historical ideas from
European books, but nothing which was promoted in
America. Americans were the independent thinkers
who fished the way they wanted for whatever fish
were available. They weren't wearing the proper
tweeds and tie on their 'beat' - there wasn't a
'beat' either! There barely were any rules!
But there has been a sort of snobbery - as some
have said - an elitist attitude that fly fishing
for panfish, warm water fish, and until very
recently any saltwater fishing (not including
off-shore blue water) simply isn't acceptable.
(In my opinion, the blue water stuff isn't fly
fishing either, but since I'm not God or Queen
for a Day my opinion doesn't count for squat,
and yes, I have done it.)
Fly fishers today have so many choices, technological
sticks and lines with which to fish, places all over
the world to practice their art, incredible flies
which can mimic or stimulate fish to strike and fish
galore! The re-located corporate employee or fish bum
can put a post on the FAOL Bulletin Board and not only
receive information on where to fish, but most probably
multiple invitations to fish with locals (who may become
their new fishing buddy.)
Those going on vacation can (and do) the same thing.
Advice is freely given, the best fly shop and guides
recommended, and quite often the vacationer returns
and posts the results of his adventure back on the
bulletin board. Neat stuff.
The Internet has brought the best of international
fishing experiences and information into your living
room (or where ever your computer lives) on demand
and mostly free. Today's fly fisher is the smartest,
best informed, and best equipped angler who has ever
Well, except for a few. Some who seem to feel they
are somehow superior because of which fish they target.
But trust me, they are in the minority. Drop them in
the middle of lower half of the United States and see
how long they last before they are looking for a fix.
Fly-fishing fix that is.
Unfortunately we still have some fly fishing magazines
who think their major readership would be somehow
offended if they ran some decent articles for warm
water anglers. But in my opinion, the longevity of
some of these magazines is very questionable.
Readership of national print magazines has been
dropping for some time - in part because of poor
and repetitive content - and because they do not
appeal to a broad enough population.
In fairness, I must say there are some regional
fly fishing magazines who seem to have received the message.
They have been gaining in popularity and do not
seem to have such a narrow focus. Good for them.
Frankly put, it is not just about trout any more.
Those who have 'adopted' the pseudo 'of the manor born'
with their attitudes might do well to remember they
weren't. They, like the rest of us in this country
are indeed the common man. Get over it.
I for one, am proud of it. ~ DLB
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