When I started fly-fishing, I thought that I had become a member of a club, a club of brother anglers, a club of gentlemen, men like Robert Traver and Nick Lyons. I would be embraced by kindly old men dressed in tweed who would take me under their wings and give me fatherly advice. I would sit at their feet on the banks of a river, in the shade of magnificent Oak trees, where the secrets of the sport would be revealed. Fly-fishing, courtesy, and respect would go hand in hand; I was living in a fantasyland of bullshit.
I was rejected. My bib overalls, ditch boots, and thirty-dollar rod were like signs around my neck declaring me unworthy. It was clear that I hadn’t paid the initiation fee. I didn’t look like a fly-fisherman. When I saw a guy putting floatant on his fly and asked him what he was putting on his fly, he said, “Nothing.” When I would walk up on other anglers, they would cup their flies in their hand to keep me from seeing what they were using. When I gave a friendly wave to other fishermen, I would get a curt nod in return at best—when I wasn’t totally ignored.
I knew enough not to jump ahead of somebody who was already fishing and to go below him, giving him the unfished water ahead. I knew to keep a low profile and give an angler a wide berth when I did have to pass and not spook his pool. I knew not to wade out and approach a guy who was in the act of fishing; however, I myself was not given these considerations.
I was making my way along a hillside on a river in central Utah when I hit a patch of scree that sent my feet shooting out from under me and me sledding on my butt thirty-feet down and over a ten-foot embankment into the river. I landed, still on my butt, with what seemed like half the hillside, making a huge splash about ten-foot from two guys who were fishing. One of them charged over to me, I thought to see if I was OK, with veins sticking out on his neck and eyes bulging, and shouted, “Hey!” “We’re trying to fish here!”
There is a stream that I love to fish because it’s close to the house and access is easy. It has plenty of turn-outs all along its course and it’s easy to spot other fisherman and stay out of their way. So I was surprised one day when I rounded a bend in the creek and ran into not one, but fifteen anglers, along with a guide who was conducting fly-fishing class. He had a net strung across the creek and was giving a lesson on entomology. The little turn-out where I had parked had ten vehicles in it and I was blocked in and couldn’t leave. All the guys were brand-new, with unstained hats, unrepaired waders, and creases still in their vests. You needed sunglasses to look at them. They had their vests stuffed with stuff, which they would lose the first time they tried to bust through the brush, and I thought that if I followed them for a while, I could make a killing on e-bay. I walked up to the group and stood there until I got the instructor’s attention when I asked, “When do you get to the course on stream etiquette?”
I have a fishing buddy who is the Crabby Appleton of fly-fishing. If he runs into another fisherman on the stream, it ruins his whole day. He refers to the movie, “A River Runs Through It”, as “That Movie”; because he blames it for the crowds of fisherman it encouraged to take up the sport. If somebody asks him how the fishing is, he’ll say poor, even if he caught fifty. If somebody asks him where he’s been fishing, he’ll lie and tell them someplace else. He was fishing on the Provo River one day and had a nice bend-pool staked out when he heard a splash behind him. He didn’t see anything and figured it was a fish jumping, but when it happened again he stated looking around and caught some guy on the hill above him in the act of throwing a rock into his pool. The guy was a guide and he had a couple of sports with him that he wanted to put on my friend’s hole. My friend reeled in and climbed up the bank to where they were standing and suggested that the guide had been having inappropriate sexual relations with his own mother. When that failed to produce a response my friend called him a punk. The look on the faces of the two sports was priceless.
Over the years I have found myself ranging farther into the backcountry in order to avoid the crowds, but, unlike Crabby, it doesn’t ruin my day to run into a fellow angler. I’ve met some super guys on the stream and made friendships that are decades old now. I met a real nice guy just the other day. His gear was shiny and he was obviously new to the sport. I cupped my fly in my hand when he walked up.
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