Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

February 16th, 2003

The Vulgar Angler
By Roger Emile Stouff

I am, it has become painfully obvious, the epitome of the vulgar angler.

Though I raise my hackles when I am surrounded by Philistines on the pond who have no respect or dignity in their pursuits of noble fish, when I sit at home on cold winter nights and read the Internet bulletin boards, I realize I am not so lofty as I would like to believe.

After reading Mr. Castwell's column on purists, I began to realise this. I wear no waders, no fishing vest. Waders are useless to me here in the swamps of south Louisiana, for their use would result in little more than sinking three feet into mud, suctioned without escape until some bait casting angler comes along to rescue me. With my luck, my would-be savior would be a Philistine I chastised on a pond somewhere, and he remembers me. Instead of executing my rescue, he will pluck me in the head with Texas rigged worms.

Fishing vests have no use to me, since I use no waders. I keep a small tackle bag with me on the bank of the pond, or in the boat, and all my fly gear is in there. It is compact and light, and serves me well, even though it was designed and sold as a baitcasting tackle bag. I keep no flies on the band of my fedora, either. I paid $40 for that fedora, I ain't about to go sticking hooks in it. A $40 hat may not sound like much to the purists, but it's a good night at the waterin' hole to me.

I do not use float tubes on the ponds around here. Float tubes are little more than a billboard advertising a free meal for alligators. I do not use pontoon boats, either, because I am fearful a ten-foot gator might mistake it for another challenging his claim to the territory.

My waders are knee-high mud boots, known locally as "Cajun Nikes" and available at any department store, the black ones with red soles like commercial fishermen use. These are only necessary for trekking to the pond through a muddy sugar cane field, where sometimes I have to run quickly to avoid crop dusters.

My tackle is budget-conscious as well. Among my graphite and cane rods exists the essence of the price-saving angler. The most I have ever paid for a rod was $150, and that for a restored cane rod. My flies come from Wal-Mart or the Internet, because in south Louisiana there are few fly shops, and the nearest to me is New Orleans, more than two hours away. This little Indian off the Rez avoids New Orleans like small pox blankets.

I do not tie. What little time I am allowed to pursue my fishing I intend to use to fish. It is worth it to me to purchase flies and use my time for being on the water. I am too busy to tie. I am a newsman, I cover meetings three nights a week usually. Tying does not relax me, fishing relaxes me. No offense to tiers! But given a choice between tying flies and buying them, I'll chock up the dough. It's easier on my eyes.

Add to this long list of vulgarities is the ultimate insult: All this is used to fly fish for bass and bream. I've never seen a trout in my life, and sometimes I doubt they truly exist, a sort of Shangri-La of fishing. The El Dorado of angling. The Brigadoon of...well, you get the idea. Trout, to a south Louisiana fisherman, are speckled and they do not live in streams.

When I fish out of a boat, it is a twelve-foot wooden bateau my father built two years before I was born. The sparkly bass boats pass me by without notice, their 150-horsepower engines screaming, their drivers' faces all intensity and concentration and determination to go to the lake and relax, and everyone else better get the hell out of the way. Many times have I been swamped by these boats that come up upon me in a tidal wave of wake, the fisherman throwing lures the size of toaster ovens, and screaming, "CATCHING ANYTHING?"

But it occurs to me that to the gentleman angler of the fabled North, I am as much a Philistine as the sparkly bass boat anglers I so demean in my own waters. Were I to join a Montana fly fisherman on the river, I would probably put my waders on backwards. I have only a vague idea of hook and leader sizes. I wouldn't know a #12 Coachman if I backcast one into my earlobe. When I buy flies, I look at them and say, "That looks about right." When I buy knotless leaders (necessary because of my fading eyesight) I have to use a conversion chart to figure out the "pounds test" at the tippet from all that 1x, 2x, 3x nonsense.

I am, after all, the kid who learned how to fly fish with a fiberglass Heddon and Martin automatic reel. I am quite proud of the progress I have made thus far. I now know that "action" in a rod is defined as "the amount of flippity-floppity movement in the tip when you shake it." I now understand the rod weight system, defined further as "a bass'll break that one" and "a bass won't break that one." And best of all, I now realize that a "fly box" is a tackle box with Styrofoam in it.

None of my crude ignorance detracts from my enjoyment of fly fishing, of course. I have a little class. I have never put live bait on the end of a fly leader. Okay, there was that one time the bull bream were chomping down on caterpillars falling from a maple tree...but there are no witnesses so I cannot be convicted in any court in the land.

Around my part of south Louisiana, I often run into anglers who claim to fly fish. I nearly invariably learn that their idea of fly fishing is using a fly rod with a leader of long mono, a bobber, and a hook with a shiner impaled on it to jig for sac-au-lait (that's "crappie" for the bluebloods). When I do encounter the rare fisherman who uses a fly rod like I do, it is like meeting a long lost friend.

I have never owned, cast or laid eyes on a Sage, St. Croix or Winston product. I suspect they are as mythical as rainbow trout. I did see an Orvis combo at a shooter's store in Lafayette once, as part of a going out of business sale. I watch the fly fishing shows on television, further lowering me into the bowels of vulgarity.

All of which leaves me in a predicament. While I am probably the Philistine of the fabled North, I am the blueblood snob of the deep South, considered aloof and downright foolish. I am told I cannot catch bream or bass on a fly rod. I am told that I would catch a lot more with conventional tackle. I am told that there are probably laws in this state against fly fishing.

But I plod on anyway, because like the simpleton I am, I enjoy my fly fishing more than any other type of angling I have ever done. Just the other day, as I was casting at bass in a shallow pond, another vehicle pulled up on the road nearby. The driver got out and opened the trunk, pulled out a seven-foot heavy action bass rod with a Zebco 202 on it, loaded with what looked to be thirty-pound line, and a white five gallon bucket. Gleefully he marched over to the pond, sat his bucket down on the ground bottom up, parked his behind on it, and proceeded to throw a two-ounce spinner bait with three blades at the water.

"I sure would like to try that one day," he yelled over at me. I didn't hear the very last few words, because at that exact moment his spinner bait hit the water and the splash was deafening.

"It's a lot of fun," I said, without much enthusiasm.

"Looks like it!" he said. Just retrieving his lure, the heavy action rod was bent over. "You using shiners or worms?"

I turned around and went home to sulk. A vulgar angler in a land of Philistines, I am doomed to the obscurity of eccentricity forever. ~ Roger


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