There are no hero pictures on display here
in the fly shop. As I visit fly shops around
the country, I have invariably seen these pictures
showing grinning anglers and the hard-working folks
who guide them proudly offering their catch for
display and I'm sure that you have seen them too,
you might even be in one of them.
Even here in the Midwest, there are photos of
Bonefish, Tarpon, hard-won Permit and Roosterfish
honoring those proficient anglers who have the
where-with-all to travel to the waters where these
species live. Giant Pike from far away Canadian
waters as well as toothy Musky are almost always on
display along with the hog trout and an occasional
picture of a diminutive tiddler that was taken just
I have one of my own smiling self holding a female King
Salmon caught on the Sheboygan River as a screen saver on my
office computer but not on the bulletin board. It serves as a daily
reminder of the Circle of Life Thing. Salmon spawn, die, the fry
go away; come back again as adults, spawn anew. To me, it's an
affirmation that God wants life to go on, that's why it appears
every time I boot up.
Some of the hero pictures in fly shops are of
the Barry & Cathy Beck variety, almost a complete
travelogue on 4X6 stock. Some are blurry and
out of focus because the harried angler was
probably screaming advice on how to operate a
camera un-familiar to the guide all the while
holding onto a trophy. Also, a lot of trophy
fish are taken in low-light conditions that are
conductive to fishing but not photography but
that makes them kind of fun to look at as well.
Cynics among us might take a gander at all of
this fish porn and wonder if the guy in the
picture is thinking that he is a better angler
than we are, after all, there's the proof. I
doubt very much that the expressions of the
anglers in the pictures have anything to say other
than "Look what I did" but in more than a few the
angler is all puffed up like a toad with pride. I
probably would be, too.
Fly shop owners post these pictures as a courtesy
to their customers thereby giving them bragging
rights. Nothing short of actually being present
when a large fish is landed is more proof positive
that an angler caught this beast than picture and
that's why we take them.
Perhaps shop owners post these pictures as subliminal
advertising as if to say if you bought flies from this
fly shop, you too, could catch fish this big, and for
the most part, it's an advertising strategy that works
Fly shop bulletin boards are not the only place that
hero pictures appear. With improved digital technology,
they now appear on most fly shops' websites as well,
"Shop here, catch big fish!"
Print ads in the fly fishing magazines are slickly
produced to show the big fish but mostly the product
being advertised. The angler is holding up for
display the fish but also the rod/reel/waders they
used to catch such a big fish and if you bought the
rod/reel/waders being advertised, you too could catch
a big one.
The give-away to these types of pictures is almost always
the red hat or brightly colored shirt featured along with
the fish. This is the fault of photo editors who demand
a more pleasingly composed shot, never mind that most
anglers would never fish for trout wearing a fire engine
red shirt nor a ball cap that makes them look like
anything other than Bozo.
There are no visible scratches on the anglers face, sunglasses
are off, the fly rod is not hanging askew off of the side of the
drift boat and the fish is almost always in the center of the shot.
Heads are not cut off in a professionally produced shot but in
hero pictures they quite often are.
I'm mystified as to how these fish were ever caught
in the first place. Did an honest-to-God fly fisher
catch the fish and then hand it over to a model to
pose with or perhaps the angler handed the fish to
someone for safekeeping while he changed shirts and
I can identify with the pride shown in the smiles of anglers
shown in hero pictures. I, too have a fish that I am very proud
of. There is a photo album buried somewhere on my desk
bulging with pictures of the beautiful fish that I have caught in
equally beautiful surroundings but these are not on display, they
are for me.
The only picture on display in my shop is of a fish I did not
catch. I am in the shot, proudly grinning, and I am not the one
holding the fish. It is a hero picture of Darling Betsy (make that
a heroine picture) holding a stunning brown trout.
Betsy came to us when I was an instructor for the Big O,
teaching the On-The-Water Trout School. She bounced across
the meadow looking so damn cute that she was nicknamed
Darling Betsy on the spot. She was carrying a forty-year-old
Orvis bamboo fly rod given to her by her father.
She related to us that she tried to fish with it but her father
saw her cast and told her to go get some instruction so as not to
embarrass herself, the fish nor disgrace that beautiful fly rod.
We took the rod away from her for the time being, gave
her a graphite school rod and proceeded with the course work.
Only after the two-day class did we return it to her and then only
after every instructor had the chance to try it out, it was a
She was an enthusiastic but mediocre student. Full of
excitement but with more energy than talent; she was delighted
that at the end of the weekend, I led her downstream for a
private fishing session with her Dad's glorious bamboo rod. I
chose to wear street clothes and leave my own rod and waders
in the truck; I wanted the afternoon to be about Darling Betsy
catching a fish with her inherited rod.
I got her to read that section of stream on her
own, select her own fly and tie it on her tippet
by herself. She had the wrong fly tied onto a
tippet that was way too stout, her shadow was
directly over the pool and it shaped up to be
a fishless afternoon but I let her prod on. She
whispered, "This is for you, Daddy," whipped out
a respectable cast and drifted her fly too far
away from the slot that I was sure held trout but
her cast was so short my confidence was erased.
A 16-inch brown rocketed across the pool and
absolutely inhaled her fly. She fought that
trout for ten minutes, gamely running up and
down stream, the both of us giggling like school
girls until I waded in up to my hips to bare-hand
it. Wet wallet, ruined hiking boots but a landed fish.
The commotion we caused alerted her husband who
came over and snapped our picture, the two of us
smiling wildly. With great reverence, Betsy revived
the trout, wished it well, and sent it on
its way. "Thank you Daddy, thank you so very much."
Hearing her whisper this, I had to turn away, I must have had a
piece of dust or something in my eyes that made them water.
Even though I have the picture on the wall as proof,
I rarely look at it. I don't need to, I will remember
that trout the rest of my life. ~ Joe Meyer