Literary and artistic allusion in fly fishing

As someone constantly wrestling with the eternal question why, I recently found myself wondering why it is that so many of us who are fly fishers, also appreciate art, literature, poetry, and music. It is not that I think everyone who fishes with a fly is automatically considered a polymathic genius, it is just that if you studied the demographics I think you would find that among fly fishers there is a larger percentage of folks who appreciate art forms with subtlety and nuance than there is in the general population. So much so that it’s almost a cliche.

But why is it that we who fling a fly are so in tuned with the subtlety and nuance in these high arts, and seek them out more so than say the average person? Maybe there are aspects about fly fishing that predispose us to these types of things.

First, we should look no further than the actual fly cast. Most of us know that what separates fly fishers from the wretched worm dunkers of the world is a weighted line. Those mouth breathing knuckle dragging bait slingers put all the weight in their lure and let the weight of the lure pull the line right off of their reel. True, it is simple and direct, but it is also crude and pedestrian. However, a fly fisher must throw the weight of the line and let the line do the work of carrying your fly to the target. This most fundamental act of fly fishing is therefore an act of indirect allusion. As most of us know you can’t force the fly at your target and achieve satisfactory results. You must get the entire line moving in that direction first, sometimes in the opposite direction prior to that, before you can lay out your cast. Heck, in spey casting sometimes you go in a few all-together different directions prior to laying out your final cast. So by its very nature, the fundamental physics of the cast are an allusion in that they don’t allow for a direct presentation of the fly.

Secondly lets look a the presentation of the fly. In the traditional dry fly presentation the angler presents the fly up stream to a rising trout. In this classical style you lay the cast down ahead of where the fish is rising and let the fly drift back towards the fish to where the anticipated rise will be. So again we aren’t presenting the fly directly to the fish. There is nothing direct about it. In fact a dry fly riding properly on its hackles isn’t even penetrating the meniscus of the water. Your fly isn’t in the water and it only briefly passes through the fishes feeding window. How indirect an allusion is that?

Third there is the fly itself. The flies we fish with are impressionistic of the forage they imitate, and it takes some imagination to think that a fish might mistake these for a tasty aquatic invertebrate. As a result of this abstraction we must fill in the blanks with our mind when we see a fly, because in reality they are mere sketches of a bug. An Adams or a Simulator or a Copper John don’t look like much of anything specifically but most fly fishers will testify that the fish sure think they look like something edible. So the flies too are their own sort of allusion and indirect representation of what they are not.

Contemporary studies of the human brain reveal that we have all these fascinating hormones released therein, like dopamine, serotonin, melatonin, oxytocin or whatever, that can be linked to feelings of happiness, contentedness, bonding, boners etc. I can think of only a few more joyous occasions that the take of wild trout, whether exuberantly tenacious or quietly subtle. In this joyous moment of the take we get a surge of these hormones, I’m not which ones but I’m fairly certain based on purely anecdotal evidence and personal research into this phenomenon that its whole bunch of just about all for them. So it stands to reason that we become somewhat predisposed to seeking out these types of situations, and others like them.

So could it be that we as fly fishers are so in tune with things that are derived from the indirect, the allusion, the symbolic, and subtle, that we seek it out and express it in other parts of our life, through art, literature, and music?

Could be.

I’ll leave it up to the brain surgeons to do the science. Until we find out, I’m going make sure I do some more research this year.


One thought on “Literary and artistic allusion in fly fishing

  1. Pingback: Literary and artistic allusion in fly fishing « The Fiddle and Creel | Fly Fishing

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