When you’re new to a sport it’s easy to get sold a bunch of crap. Take, for example, the first time I went fly-fishing. I figured I’d read a copy of Fly Fisherman, get down with the latest trout-speak, head to the store for all the requisite gear, and within minutes of hitting the stream I’d be ripping the lips off five-pounders and laughing derisively at my rich friends. Halfway through the magazine, I almost gave up on the idea. Christ, it was depressing, filled with nothing but stories of manure runoff, fish kills, forest fires, bear attacks and pictures of places that were only accessible by helicopter. I thought, What’s the point of paying out the wazoo to be airlifted into a place where I could get smothered in crap, buggered by a grizzly and then incinerated? But there was no resisting the opportunity to abuse my fishless buddies, so I set off to get all tackled up.
Helmut, the sales assistant down at Verman Tackleberry Outfitters, looked the part in his nose-hair and Shetland wool sweater, studded with chunks of granola and a picture of a guppy on the front. They say you can tell a real fisherman by his hat, and Helmut was topped off with a beauty, a lightly toasted English muffin that looked like it had been run over by a cement truck and then boiled, probably with his head still in it.
Asking a nimrod like Helmut for fishing-gear advice was clearly out of the question, so I casually wandered around the store, nodding knowingly every now and then and making the small grunting noises closely associated with expertise in any field. But my cunning plan collapsed when I embedded a fly the size of a giant gnat in my left thumb and couldn’t get the little bastard out. “It could happen to anybody,” said Herr Nosejungle, trying not to blow a snot bubble.
With the ice and my thumb now broken, Helmut proceeded to sell me a manual entitled, How to train your trout-pointing schnauzer, several weighted trout decoys (including a 2 lb. floater), a 5-denier landing net, a pair of rubberized, barbless underpants (with front-mounted neoprene tackle-protection pouch) and an 18-foot two-weight rod. Or at least that’s what the damn thing felt like.
After the first morning on the river, when I’d stopped weeping, I called the Old Woodsman himself, Tom Weiskopf, for advice. He told me flyfishing is a sport because both sides know they are playing. If your fly hits the water like a frozen chicken on the end of a jump rope those cagey trout apparently know the difference.
Worse yet, you have to be quiet, which is difficult for me at the best of times, but when I stepped onto a snot-covered rock and fell arse-backwards into the river? I may not have caught many fish, but when that 48-degree water made contact with my 98.6-degree raisins, I would have won the World Yodeling Championship at a canter. The shrieking was so high-pitched it neutered the entire wolf population of Yellowstone, and now I’m not allowed back during ski season, either.
It was a harrowing first experience, but maybe I should give it another go. I could get better, just like I did at quail hunting. I bought all the stuff for that, too — pretty double guns, orange leotards and assless chaps. I had no idea how hunting birds with dogs worked. The first time my pals Buck and T.D. took me out, I remember thinking how in the hell are they going to throw a 60 lb. German pointer high enough to hunt frigging birds? I mean, shouldn’t a bird-hunting dog be something you could get a tight spiral on, like maybe a wiener? Or a Chihuahua? Idiots.