Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

June 28th, 2003

The Fine Art of Zealotry
By Roger Emile Stouff

You don't get to be a zealot without stepping on a few toes along the way.

Fishermen, particularly fly fishermen, are zealots. Don't try to deny it, you know it's true. We are not emphatic about our hobby, we are not enamored of it, we are infatuated, we are obsessed. We are zealots. Fanatics.

But what gets me is people who, in the interest of small talk, leave themselves wide open when asking something like, "So, did you get to go fishing this weekend?" while having lunch.

I'm sure they intend it as innocent small talk. Then, when you launch into a tirade about where you went, what fly, what rod, what leader, the weather, the feeding patterns, and so forth, their eyes glaze over and they are suddenly very fascinated with their pasta.

People don't understand us. People who don't fish, that is. And the inevitable extension of that is, people who fish but don't fly fish don't understand us.

Admittedly, I don't understand us sometimes either. This whole fishing thing. What's the point? Oh, don't give me that speech about communing with nature, touching our heritage, appreciating the battle of wits and skill. I'm the one who writes all that dribble remember? Much as I believe it's true, there are moments when I sit back and look at myself and wonder to what possible end does becoming such a fanatic serve?

I am lucky in the respect that I no longer have a wife who tells me I should not or cannot buy that new rod. On the other hand, such safety features would probably keep me from getting the electricity cut off. My girl does her best to keep me in check, I have to give her due credit. Yet there's no control mechanism for my fanaticism. I am mostly untethered, unencumbered, without oversight. I can get up and go fishing practically anytime I want when I'm not at work. I can gleefully leave the house behind with a sink full of dishes, a laundry basket full of dirty clothes, the lawn up to my knees and the truck having changed colors due to the grime on it.

My father was not quite the zealot I am, but I do come by it honestly. My mother recently observed to my girlfriend that, "I think he likes fishing even more than his daddy." This is quite a statement, for in my mind, my father was the most dedicated fisherman I ever knew. However, he had the priorities of a wife, family, demanding work at the plant, and two or three part-time at-home jobs for extra money. Still, there were many weekends I recall dad getting bit so severely by the bug we didn't see him from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening during the daylight hours.

Last year, I fished almost every single day. After work, before work, each day of the weekend, unless something absolutely unavoidable caused me to miss out. If my job as a journalist required me to cover a city council meeting or the like, I had my rod and tackle bag in the truck, sitting in City Hall anxiously watching the clock and trying my best not to suddenly scream, "Oh, get on with it, will you?" during some tiring discussion among council members regarding employee health insurance while dusk was fast approaching. That's not obsession? Sure it is. And when someone asks me, "Did you get to go fishing this weekend," over lunch on Monday, you can bet your bottom dollar they're going to get the whole play-by-play with emphatic zealotry.

Those like me go through great pains to go fishing. We juggle schedules, people and responsibilities. Say it's Wednesday after work. You know you have a dinner date with your girlfriend or wife, and you need to stop and get groceries because the refrigerator is about as barren as a tundra. On top of that, you are wearing your last clean pair of jeans. What you do is, invite the girlfriend to go fishing with you until dark, which she'll either decline or accept, either way, you've gained her approval because it's going to take her until dusk to get ready to go out anyway. So you throw an ice chest into the back of the truck or car, race through the supermarket for your groceries, throw it all in the ice chest with a bag of ice, then haul butt down to the pond to fish for two hours. When the sun goes down, you high tail it back to the house, put up your groceries, shower while your jeans are running through the dryer with a wet towel and four scented fabric softener sheets, dash out, get dressed and finish tying your last shoe just in time to answer the door when your girl knocks. Of course, if you have a wife or live-in girlfriend, slight alterations to this plan are in order.

Football fanatics have it made: They only have to make such arrangements when the game is on. The best we can hope for is rain to achieve some semblance of a normal, responsible lifestyle, but then, we all have a slicker suit, don't we?

So we slap at the alarm clock at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, groggily complaining that we have to get up to go to work, fall back asleep, the alarm goes off again, this process repeats itself until we haul ourselves out of bed, cussing about the injustice of it all, still so half-asleep we make coffee with flour, all the while complaining about having to get up so early. But on Saturday morning we leap out of bed an hour before sunrise and stand there at the boat launch or on the water's edge, patiently, eagerly awaiting for just enough light to shine so we can cast, or drive the boat without running into a barge.

This is our lot in life, as fishermen. What I find especially odd is that while I was a dedicated tackle and bait fisherman, fly fishing has made me all the more obsessive. I guess that's to be expected, since I enjoy the fly rod so much more.

All of which does nothing to explain why we brave stinging and biting insects, snakes, bears, falling to our deaths, drowning and all other manner of risk to chase fish. Our non-fishing wives, girlfriends, friends and co-workers look at us as if we're some sort of head case, mildly amusing but to be pitied.

Pity me all you like. Just don't ask if I had a chance to go fishing. Your pasta's not nearly so interesting as my fish stories! ~ Roger

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