. . . Are we having fun yet?
By Michael "The Boxcar" Widener
"One could not say which was the more instructive, to watch his fishing
or listen to his talk; no one had more information to give, no one
was more generous in giving it, his knowledge seemed the result
not only of observation and experience, but of some peculiar insight
into the ways of trout. In the management of rod and tackle he displayed not only skill but genius."
Lord Grey of Fallondon speaking of his mentor George Selwyn Marryat of the River Itchen
from the book RISING TROUT by Charles K. Fox, 1967, my mentor
of the written word.
Laurel Falls, Laurel Fork Creek Tennessee.
In the beginning, there was pain and agony . . .
Insanity, pure insanity is the best description I can come up with. If I had
to define fly-fishing and/or fly-casting for Webster's word book, I would
state that (1) fly-fishing and/or fly-casting is a state where an individual,
or a group of individuals, self-inflect severe stress or discomfort upon themselves
resulting in both a positive and detrimental state of health simultaneously.
(2) Fly-fishing and/or fly-casting can be classified as a mental condition or
physical illness that has a habitual, irreversible effect on the infected individual.
(3) A mental and physical disease with eventual terminal results, one way or
How does one determine if he or she is infected with this no-name disease?
Victims can be easily identified by their display of single-minded attitudes, desires,
goals, dreams and obvious nervous disorders. The twitching of the appropriate
casting hand, when the subject of fly-fishing and/or fly-casting is presented in
open conversation easily identifies the victims. Additionally, some individuals
may become openly aggressive to the point of becoming combative when group
opinions or methods do not meet their own. What is unique to those suffering
from this self-inflicted condition is the continued confirmation by the individual
infected to call this degraded state of health "fun."
Since it is impossible to correlate or statistically present quantifiable data with
objective accuracy as to the affect of what fly-fishing or fly-casting has on people,
I will assume I am qualified to address this no-name disease. I have diagnosed
myself as clinically insane about anything with the word "fly" associated with it.
Yes, I will readily say that all of this is "fun" and completely necessary for my
The level of insanity and physical disability I have achieved has been caused
by many factors. Equipment syndrome, technique inadequacies, self-persecution
and the associated peer pressure are just a few influences that can infect the
victim. Hopefully, I can convince those suffering from the no-name disease
there is nothing to be worried about, and things will be all right as long as
they can respond in a positive way to the question, "are we having fun yet?"
Nantahala River, North Carolina
God, my head hurts!
Denial and other inadequacies are normal mental reactions when one is
first exposed to angling with rod and fly. The initial thrill and euphoria felt
when one is first introduced to fly-casting and wading in water are usually
replaced by doubt and paranoia. The reason for the associated mental
and physical decline of the victim is due mainly to a continual barrage of
information exposure. The mentally weak and technically inept are weeded
out and die quickly because of the degree of difficulty and strain on the brain.
Being a true, red-blooded American, I started fly-casting with some twisted
and less than accurate ideas. When I started flipping flies, I did not initially
prioritize my attention to the immediate task at hand or the requirements of
the local environment. I just wanted the biggest, best gun (rod) I could get
my hands on. It is unfortunate that many of us fall into this trap about fly rods
and other equipment. Without knowledge and experience, my first rod met the
requirements for what I thought I needed. Actually, I was woefully over-gunned
for a novice, and I was too stupid, excuse me, ignorant of the skills required to
cast or present an artificial representation to my intended prey.
The time and bother most of us spend on the purchase of a rod and the associated
gear is probably far more than that spent on researching the conditions and
requirements of fishing the target area of operations. Not that this practice
is all bad, but the result could be a mismatch of factors against the fish. This
mismatch can result in a nervous breakdown of the participant and a complete
loss of the "fun" that is supposed to be ever present.
East Prong of the Little River, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.
. . . How to treat a brain tumor
My initial self-education was through books, magazine articles, videos and
other media that reinforced practices applicable just about everywhere except
where "I" was actually standing. Additionally, I have learned, at great expense
and having spent many hours falling into the water, that nothing will take the
place of long-term experience. However, all the experience in the world will
be meaningless if the individual accomplishes it without study and record
Pride and ego should never be a factor on how one learns or shares information.
If infected with pride and ego, the victim could enter into the darkest side of
fly-casting and become what is generally known as a "poser." A poser is
the most vile and evil mutant of the no-name disease. The poser syndrome is
identified when one expresses himself or herself without source or basis, and
becomes recognized as a false prophet among their fly-fishing peers. Posers
end up alone outside of their peers as one without credentials. Additionally,
their failure to admit that a technique was wrong for a situation or a mistake
was even made can accelerate the terminal effect of the poser syndrome.
Any individual afflicted with poser syndrome will die alone in a desert of
guilt without having any "fun." This is as close to fly-fishing hell as
anyone can achieve in mortal life. To have "fun" and be a truly infected victim,
one does not have to pretend or prove anything.
In the pursuit of "fun" with a fly rod, the only stupid question is the
one not asked. Friends, fly shop visits, instruction, watching those who actually
catch fish on a regular basis and READING are cures to be sought. Reading
will put more "fun" into the experience and lessen the initial shock of
infection with the no-name disease.
I recently, about six years ago, found the local university library was a hospital in
hiding for the severely afflicted like myself. I have spent many weekend hours,
not on the water, but at study. The works of Brooks, Marinaro, Fox, Koch and
others that have been long forgotten taught me more than any other visual training
aid cure to date. To study and visualize a master through their written word has
a level of worth and "fun" that cannot be obtained through any other medium.
Practice on the water brings experience, but without some guidance little is gained
in the way of sustenance. I have to smile when I find a technique described from
decades ago presented as "a new idea" in a monthly fly-fishing periodical.
If one spends their training time watching "how-to" videos, Saturday morning television,
and travel videos, the danger that brain damage could occur is greatly increased.
Society makes excuses for the mental damage done by brain-sucking video games,
wrestling, and other audio-visual mediums on the youthful minds of America.
Likewise, fly-fishing mediums present methods and techniques that condition
and train us (mostly condition us through the word and intent of the sponsor).
What audio-visual training aids lack through their "tell mostly & show little"
format is the ability to cause the viewer/user to pause and reflect. Musing
over past techniques while simultaneously developing new ideas may be a
little difficult for the watcher of a video. Ever try to cross-reference several
videos? You can severely hurt yourself mentally trying to do that.
The experience of written word study has truly multiplied my enjoyment because
it brings to focus all the aspects of the disease. Casting, tying, techniques,
locations, and entomology all come together in one blissful headache. I am
certain I would have even more "fun" if I could only remember what I have
read over the years.
Nantahala River, North Carolina
. . . The devil and mental disease
All victims of the no-name disease are liars and thieves. Let us face the
truth and embrace the darkness about everything associated with fly-fishing
and/or fly-casting. To honor and paraphrase the words of Green River guide
Emmett Heath, "what the guide said yesterday or an hour ago does not
necessarily apply now" is applicable to us all. It is not that victims of the
no-name disease lie intentionally; it is just that the truth seems to change
on a continual basis. Dementia caused from chasing the truth is "fun"
to me. As I see it, there is absolutely no need for name calling by anyone
during the chase.
Let me exemplify the complexity of the "truth variance syndrome" as caused
by the no-name disease. Upon your arrival to a stream, I come up to you in a
friendly manner, a total stranger. I inform you that EHC #16-18 in olive and
tan are the only working choices for this day. Then, you go down stream a
little way and run into another caster who is yelling for you to tie on a BWO #18
and get into the water fast. Then, you run into yet another caster who informs
you there is not a fish for fifty miles. Did those folks lie to you? Probably not,
but that is the beauty of the no-name disease. Everyone was having "fun"
at what they were doing. Even the caster who was thrashing the water and
without the benefit of a single fish hooked would probably say he would rather
be no other place. I know this to be true since I was he at one time.
Originality and the desire for ownership of something fly-fishing are also severe
detrimental mental factors only if one allows them to become a problem. I have
to smile at people ("fun") who desire to have a fly or technique named
for them. I can see having a desire to have a monument like a building or ship
named after one's self, but a fly? Good grief, I would rather burn calories finding
and catching fish or read a good book than seek notoriety by having dead animal
parts named for myself. I suspect an unhappy childhood may have something
to do with this urge by those who pursue this undertaking (and possibly the
desire to eat and pay bills).
I had to smile when reading Mary Orvis Marbury's Favorite Flies and Their
Histories, 1892. J.H. Stewart, 1887, gave testimony (p412) that the
Cherokee Indians were tying what I equate to comparadun-like deer hair flies
generations before the nineteenth century. His descriptions were of flies tied
with deer hair strips pointing away from the hook point. Hence, I have doubts
the true unique originality or true ownership of anything that combines hook and
I will be honest and say I have had "fun" with "special" flies with my peers.
I am certain I will have to atone my sins for my "fun" before the Great Maker
one day. I love to be with someone and gingerly take a separate box out of a
pocket and announce the arrival of "the" secret fly. My favorite is my
Major Mike's Secret Emerger that works like a charm on my
local tailwaters (unless you happen to be fishing with Grizz, then it does
not work at all). Am I the originator? Heck No! I got the basic pattern
from a western guide who probably got it from . . . well, you get the picture.
It is like trying to trace the "begets" in the Old Testament of the Bible, you
just cannot get there from here. I will just close this part by saying you
can really hurt your mental health very badly by trying to be famous over
something as simple as a ball of thread and feathers.
Be careful what you tell people. Having loitered entirely too long in my local fly
shop, I was put to work as an employee. This experience has been an eye opener
for me. Almost daily, individuals come in and announce with great voice and
conviction they have hooked and landed great numbers of trout that always
seem to be at least twenty inches in length. I fish the same water and come
up with nothing over fourteen inches as supported by the state stocking report
(after a major fish kill). So, I just stand there and say nothing since the customer
is always right. I listen while I am thinking to myself El Toro Crappo on you old
buddy. Yet, I find great joy ("fun") in listening to victims give their public
orations of their adventures. I just wish my fellow victims would learn to count
and measure things with some minimal degree of accuracy.
. . . May the Force be with you, always
I have little fear of anyone using the title of "expert" and my name in the
same sentence. I am not nor shall I ever be such a despicable creature.
To admit or attempt to take credit for mastery of all aspects of fly-fishing
would be the ultimate sin to me. I know that the "fun" would cease
to be if such a low and impossible level of all-knowing knowledge were ever
achieved. With all that one can pursue or be involved with while enduring the
fly-fishing infection, I am secure in the fact that there is no danger of this angler
ever achieving "expert" status. For someone like me, that would take divine
intervention. May I never be perfect.
I will strive to achieve new levels of competence and mastery of techniques
old and new, and try to remember those things I have forgotten. However,
I will never support the poser elite, the solicitors, or the presentations delivered
through a video media as a single source of information. Whether you fish for
western trout in Montana or bluegills in Alabama, fly-fishing is a food for the
soul. No victim of the no-name disease should ever have his or her status
degraded because of the species they pursue or what species they have available
locally. No victim should be slighted or criticized for their casting, fishing technique,
or the way they tie, but only be the recipient of a friendly word or shared idea.
This no-name disease is not an NFL or NBA affliction open to armchair
quarterbacking or non-participatory comments.
The no-name disease contamination has allowed me to make new friends, speak
with many anonymous comrades in chance streamside meetings where flies were
shared, priceless memories with my children, and my own anticipation for the next
sunrise. Fun? It is much more than that. It is life. If you ever ask yourself
the question, "am I having fun?" and find you cannot answer positively, please, you
should seek another infection.
The book Rising Trout was Charles K. Fox's representation of
Theodore Gordon's lost and unpublished manuscript. In the book, Fox illuminates
us to the fact that Gordon fished until the end. Though he choked on his own blood
and fished in a greatly reduced physical state, Gordon thought enough of his fly-fishing,
his water, and his trout to fish until the end. I pray that the Almighty might grant me
such an honorable passing. In that passing, I would seek no recognition as being
someone special. I would rather be another thankful and anonymous victim of the
no-name disease who was allowed the privilege to participate and share.
Have fun and as they say in New Zealand, "good on you mate." ~ The Boxcar, May, 2001
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