Almost 45 years ago, when I was a hundred
pounds lighter, I was a climber. I lived to
pit myself against rock, ice and the elements.
Life existed at the end of a climbing rope.
When I started climbing I was under the tutelage
of an old man, of about 30 years, from England.
We trained constantly. When I wasn't in school,
I was in the gym or on the boulders that lined
Mission Gorge, practicing moves over and over
again. At a time when iron pitons were hammered
into rock cracks to protect the climbers, we used
chocks made from nuts purchased at the local
hardware store. We weren't flashy climbers, nor
were we always successful, but we always climbed
with style. That intangible, unexplainable something
that marks you as one who practices your craft.
During my years since, I have tried to do things
with style, no matter what I was doing. I haven't
always succeeded, but when I lost, I lost with
That's great, you say, but what has that got to
do with fly fishing? Am I suggesting we all show
up on the river in white shirts, ties and our
tweed coats and caps? Nope, but it would add a
touch of elegance. Nor am I suggesting we all
become purists with bamboo rods and silk lines.
What I am suggesting is outlawing the use of
weighted flies. This is a real sticking point
for me and, in my opinion, violates the ethics
and style of fly fishing. I know this will draw
some flak from some of our members here, but
let me give a couple of illustrations.
At a popular spot on the Nisqually River I watched
a so-called fly fisherman use weighted flies to
foul hook or snag salmon. Another gent showed up
with his fly pole, stripped fifty feet of line off
the reel, tied a weight on his leader that would
anchor a boat and tried to cast his corkie like it
was a spinning rig. These two not only violated the
style and ethics of fly fishing, they violated the
law. Their actions, however reflected on fly fishers
as a group, not just those two idiots.
Early last year I watched a younger guy fish one
of my favorite sections of the Deschutes near
Tumwater, Washington. He was casting with very
wide loops, often ducking his backcast, and several
times hitting himself with his forward cast. More
than a couple of times there was a loud crack,
similar to a .22 rifle being fired as a heavily
weighted fly hit his rod. Every time his fly hit
the water there was an audible splash. When he
took a breather I went down for a streamside chat.
His bead head Hare's Ear was suggested by a department
store clerk as a good casting, fish catcher. When I
offered to show him a couple casting tips, he declined,
he even declined the un-weighted versions of the nymph
he was fishing. Mine weren't heavy enough to cast.
The use of weighted flies makes it easy to fish.
We can just cast it out there, toss a somewhat
adequate mend and the fly is down where we want
it. But we loose something in that process. We
loose style, that certain something that shows
we have worked hard enough and long enough at
our casting, presentation and line mending that
will allow an un-weighted fly to sink to the proper
depth in the water column. Using weighted flies we
can be apathetic about casting, presentation and
line control which are the cornerstones of fly
fishing. More importantly, to me at least, fly
fishing as a whole suffers. What has been a sport
of gentlemen and ladies who fished with style, grace
and elegance is reduced to something less, and we
are all poorer for it. Outlaw weighted flies/leaders
and we may have to practice more, we might not catch
as many fish, but those who hunt for that perfect
drift will get better.
There may be a financial boon to using un-weighted
flies also. If we quit cracking our rod tips with
weighted flies, maybe the rod manufacturers won't
have to honor so many warranties and reduce the
price of rods. Nah, never happen.
I've known a lot of people who did things with style.
One was John, my climbing mentor, another was the
elderly Scotsman who taught me how to play snooker,
and then there was the guy I met on the Yellowstone
River who took time from his fishing to coach me,
and emptied his fly box to fill mine. Still others
are JC and Deanna who came to a Pow Wow where I was
singing and took the time to help my wife and I with
our double haul out in the parking lot. All of these
folks are or were masters at something they were
passionate about, yet they took the time to share
what they knew to help me and many others learn and
progress. There is nothing elitist about pursuing
perfection in fly fishing. To fly fish with style
means that we have to be willing to help out those
who are taking their first steps in our sport, and
to do that with patience and an open friendship.
I guess I've rambled enough about this. If your ever
down at River Park in Nisqually Pines out in Yelm, Wa.,
I'll be the guy in the white shirt, tie, tweed jacket
and cap practicing my casting and line mending. Okay,
I'm kidding about the attire.
See you on the river. ~ REE