I have a confession to make. The cover photo on You’ll Need a Guide, available from Amazon for a paltry amount, shows me gleefully displaying a rainbow trout to the camera. The photo leads the reader to believe that trout leap into my hands on a regular basis. Steady yourself: I do not always catch fish when I go fishing. This may surprise my more credulous readers, along the lines of the shock they felt when, as a pre-teen, they learned that Mom and Dad did it. The crack publicity department here at the Craig publishing empire felt a book on fishing (even one that is “not much about the fish”), should have an actual fish on the cover, with me holding it. Opting for honesty, I argued for the above photo on the cover – the raw, unvarnished truth – showing me empty handed, but they would have none of it. The public must be served.
Confession #2: it has been several years since I last caught a trout. My trout catching took a harsh blow when the US Postal Service decided that a carton I shipped from St Pete, containing waders, boots, vest, and boxes of flies, addressed to Denver, CO, should go instead to the postal terminal in Newark, NJ and disappear. Like The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, my box of fly-fishing gear vanished in the bureaucratic bowels of the Newark PO. Maybe someone will buy it one day at the PO’s lost-and-found sale and go try his luck on the banks of the nearby Passaic River. Unfortunately, he will find no fly in the tackle bag to match the daily beer can hatch rising on the waters of the Passaic.
It is true that fly fishing is not as productive a way to catch fish as chucking nature’s own, organic goodies in front of a fish. It is all about skill, mastery of a craft. This allows me to feel superior when I fish to no effect with my fly rod and see a guy downstream from me in cut-off shorts and trucker’s hat on backwards nailing them with a can of worms.
Confession #3: one day my son Hutch and I bought a bucket of shrimp, got out our spinning rods, waded into Tampa Bay on an incoming tide and caught humongous redfish and snook one after the other, releasing them all with a sore lip. I was ashamed of my fall from grace and had to go afterwards to Cliff, the fly-fishing maven, at St. Pete Outfitters, fall on my knees and confess my sin. “Did you have any fun?” he asked sternly. “Of course not!” I said, crossing myself. When I return from a morning of abusing the water surface with a fly rod, clumping in the front door with gear, My Life’s Editor asks, “How’d you do?” Pals at a fishing lodge ask the same question when everyone gathers for an after-action briefing with fortified beverages in their mitts. This question gives me pause. Should I do a full-on George Washington? Fess up? Under the eye of My Life’s Editor, I wilt like day-old cabbage and admit to going O-fer.
Recounting the day’s results to the guys at the lodge with beer in hand, the dynamics change. Peer pressure for inflation, like tenth grade boys discussing dating success, enters the picture. This brings us to the Theory of Fishing Relativity: the number of fish you caught (y) grows logarithmically with (a) how far your fishing companions were from you and (b) the time that has transpired between when you went fishing and the time you retailed your story to an audience:
Log(a) + log(b) = y
Fishing theory scientists point out that the AFF (Aging Fudge Factor) can also influence recollection of the number of fish you caught but is less measurable than time and distance. It is instructive that when you hear a pal talk about the number of fish he caught on a trip when you were in the same boat with him for eight hours, you wonder if he lives in an alternate universe.
There is also the question of size.
Guys spend their entire lives concerned about this. Guys like to buy pickup trucks so big they require a lift gate to reach the driver door. If you drive past auto dealerships on US 19, you will see not only a sea of small American flags flapping in front of a line of gleaming hoods, you will see one impossibly huge American flag rising erect in the middle of everything. This signifies the enormity of the dealership’s American-ness, so you don’t mind buying the snappy Kia you got a deal on versus the Chevy from the dealer who had a less prodigious American flag. In the literary world size counts, viz. Captain Ahab and Moby Dick and Santiago and the swordfish. Of course, in those examples redemption and angst are involved. Note to fishermen: these are called “feelings.”
Fly-fishing magazines cater to size. The photos show bearded, macho dudes dressed in all the cool fly-fishing duds, cradling enormous trout/tarpon/bonefish. Fly-fishermen stash these magazines under mattresses, hide them in office drawers and bring them out furtively, eliciting heavy breathing and a desire to buy fly-fishing equipment. Fly-fishing porn is a growth industry.
I have more to say, but I think my latest copy of Trout for Men: Big, Bold and Bare just arrived.