Readers Cast


Neil M. Travis - July 18, 2011

Orthodoxy - the practice of observing established social customs and definitions of appropriateness.

Recently the Ladyfisher was fussing and fuming about something that she saw on the Internet. It was a fishing website [which shall remain unnamed] where someone was demonstrating how to fly cast. I glanced at the video and admitted that it wasn't the way that most of us would consider the proper way to do it. [All wrist] In addition, the website had a "brief history" of fly fishing which was admittedly brief and mostly incorrect. Wow did this get the Ladyfisher's hackles up!

Now I admit that I don't like to see misinformation propagated and fostered upon an unsuspecting public as being truth. It wouldn't have been that difficult to do a bit of research and present an accurate short history of fly fishing, and it wouldn't have taken much more effort to get someone to demonstrate a more acceptable method of fly casting. However, as I pointed out to the Ladyfisher, in the big picture how much does it really matter?

Our conversation set me to thinking about how much of what we consider sacrosanct in fly fishing is really just so much fuss and bother. How much of what we profess is nothing other than dead orthodoxy and how much is really practical?

I suppose that there has always been a certain desire to establish recognized parameters, rules of practice and acceptable form in any social activity. Whenever people come together in a collective forum there will soon be a few individuals that will insist that rules and regulations need to be established to insure that the proper form is observed. Fly fishing is rife with orthodoxy.

A few years ago a national fly fishing organization decided that they would begin to offer a "certification program" for fly casters. On the surface it sounded like a good idea – put together a program that would allow individuals to learn and demonstrate their ability to cast a fly and then get a certificate. The first problem that reared its head was the definition of what constitutes a proper method of fly casting. A cursory examination of the literature on fly casting will quickly reveal a plethora of "casting styles." Pushing on beyond this rather obvious sticking point the next issue that needed to be decided was how proficient is proficient? Must the initiate be able to double haul and spey cast in order to be certified? What about roll casting, hook and puddle casts, reach casts, curve casts, side arm casts, tuck casts, slack lines, and steeple or skip casts? At this point things began to get a little sticky. Ultimately they did settle on a format, but the question remains – are the criteria that they use to determine an individual's 'competency' really nothing more that orthodoxy?

We can trace this need for orthodoxy in fly fishing back to the Dame Juliana but it really took a giant leap with the appearance of F.M. Halford and the upstream and dry school of fly fishing. The 'powers that be' decided that the only proper way to catch trout was to cast upstream with a dry fly to visibly rising trout. It mattered little that men had been catching trout with a wet fly fished across and downstream for several centuries before this edict came down. Wet fly fishing was no longer "orthodox" and as such could no longer be tolerated. This orthodox decree impacted the growth of fly fishing for decades, especially in Europe and to some extent even in this country.

In truth, fly fishing is a pragmatic sport. Within the parameters of what constitutes 'fly fishing' whatever method produces a fish to take your fly is acceptable. A dry fly fished upstream to a rising fish may be the preferred method, and perhaps even the most challenging, but if a fly drifted downstream, or across and down will do the trick most of us are not averse to doing it. If a wet fly or one that is slightly damp will produce the desired results who are you or I to say that is unacceptable?

Likewise, these observations are not new. These battles have been fought since the first two anglers got together to discuss angling techniques. There will always be those who believe that their way is the only proper way and everyone that does not agree should be anathema. I say let them fume and fuss over what is proper, I'm content with just trying to fool a fish into taking my fly.

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